We’ve all experienced the emotional crescendo, and the accompanying symphonic ebb and flow that dredges up deep thoughts and feelings within, when a particular piece of music really stirs something inside. Some songs, and even certain artists, just seem to have that innate ability to really speak to others with the language of music, lyric and sound. Everyone knows the sensation you get when a particular composition sends tingles down the spine, or when every follicle of hair stands on end as that blissful feeling of connection makes you feel like you’re one with the songwriter who can speak deep truths to the soul.
Music has an incredible ability to draw out our emotions; it can make us laugh or make us cry, it can lift our spirits, help us to meditate, inspire us to create or take action, and it has the incredible power to unite us together. Nothing else in this world can cross so many boundaries, give us purpose and understanding, and help us through our challenges and struggles. Our songs are our stories, spoken in a universal language that can bridge the cultural gaps between people groups and help us empathize with one another. Every culture, every time period, and every community of people has its own way of expressing their perspectives, which are particular to those unique persons and places.
Not only does music help communicate the thoughts and feelings of certain places and peoples, it can also help us learn about and get through times of struggle, injustice, and uncertainty. At the turn of the last century, many were living through times such as these, which continued, as we know, on through the nineteen twenties and thirties. Many are familiar with American music during these times, by folk artists such as Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. Still more of us are accustomed to music inspired by that earlier folk tradition, through the folk revival musicians of the sixties and seventies, such as Bob Dylan and the late Pete Seeger. What all these musicians have in common is their passion for making songs for others to sing together, which can remind us of great stories with historical significance, help us cope with difficulties in life, and also inspire us to take action in times of oppression and injustice.
In our present day and age, it seems as if most of the true folk musicians, at least the protest singer-songwriter types, must be hiding deep in the underground of local music scenes all across the country. I, for one, haven’t heard about much of anything coming out of any genre of modern music, that comes even close to critiquing the plethora of social ills and worldwide dilemmas we are facing today. Perhaps I’m just out of touch with music nowadays, since I can’t devote as much time as I used to, in trying to find new songs to listen to and seeking inspiring artists to follow. However, there is one group in particular, which goes by the name Hurray for the Riff Raff, which I have been very impressed with, just in the last year. Their song titled “The Body Electric,” was named the Political Folk Song of the Year by NPR in December of 2014.
One thing about Hurray for the Riff Raff that is quite striking from the very first listen, is that their sound hearkens back to a musical time and place we’ve traveled through once before. Like the folk revival musicians who were inspired by the traditional songs of their predecessors, Alynda Lee Segerra, lyricist and singer for the group, seems to be channeling that same passion and energy that has been lifting us up and motivating our spirits to unite and take action for the last hundred years. And one of the most inspiring aspects of Segerra’s style is her ability to discuss contemporary issues through her words and songs. In the interview she did with NPR, in conjunction with their recognition of her work, she says,
“There is a weaponization of the body happening right now in America. Our bodies are being turned against us. Black and brown bodies are being portrayed as inherently dangerous…It is the same evil idea that leads us to blame women for attacks by their abusers. Normalizing rape, domestic abuse and even murder of women of all races is an effort to take the humanity out of our female bodies. To objectify and to ridicule the female body is ultimately a symptom of fear of the power women hold.”
The topics brought up by just this one song are longstanding issues that our country still has yet to deal with, as it often gets sensationalized, glossed over, and then brushed aside. Our culture is one where racism continues to be dismissed and even justified. Women, as well, are too often used, abused, and objectified, and for many, violence is just a part of everyday life. Our society is sick and in need of some healing medicine. We need a movement inspired by music that can bring us together and help us remember our common humanity. We need to stop listening to the fear mongering of news media propaganda and the Rupurt Murdoch owned infotainment industry. We have to stand up, hand in hand, singing songs of freedom and solidarity, and wrest our power from the hands of greedy, corporate-lead politicians who seem to want some sort of dystopian oligarchy.
Central to all of this, of course, is the fight to end cannabis prohibition and free ourselves from the tyranny of nonsensical drug policy. Marijuana has always been an important facilitator of creative expression in music, and our voices need to join in song for the liberation of both the animal and plant kingdoms. Actions of environmentalism and causes that fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and imperialism all need a common, unifying musical rally cry for us all to join in together and sing! We shall overcome…deep in my heart, I do believe!!