Covering African, world & roots music

NOTE: New pages are now located at

Old web pages:  Newsletter   Photos   Articles   Videos   Best of   Links

Web This website


Some recent instances of music & social change joining forces
(Updated Jan. 26/09)

On this page:
Music for the Inauguration (Jan. 21/09)
Willie Nelson: "A Peaceful Solution" (Dec. 30/08)
Fojeba's take on Canada's 2008 political crisis (Dec. 7/08)
"Playing for Change": Peace through Music (Nov. 27/08)
Obama Songs: Celebrating the President in (world) music (Nov. 27/08)
"Let's Find a Way": A Toronto musical project to help children suffering from HIV (Nov. 22/08)




Later on this page, are links to numerous "Obama songs", but after watching him become the President on Jan. 20, two other songs stuck in my mind:

"Bourgeois Blues"
Odetta's take (video here) on the song written in 1937 by Leadbelly about his experiences in Washington when he and his wife couldn't find a place they were allowed to eat. The problem is that they were with Alan Lomax (who was recording Leadbelly for the Library of Congress) and his wife. Neither white nor black restaurants would accept the mixed group.

Odetta -- one of the great civil rights icons -- sadly died last Dec. 2. Last fall, seriously ill in hospital, she had a poster of Obama put up in her hospital room to inspire her. She was determined to perform at his inauguration. I believe her spirit was in Washington yesterday.

"Only In America".
Written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil in 1963, the original version, written for the Drifters, included the lyrics:

Only in America
Land of opportunity
Can they save a seat in the back of the bus just for me

Only in America
Where they preach the Golden Rule
Will they start to march when my kids want to go to school.

That didn't last. Atlantic's Jerry Wexler said "Are you guys nuts? They'll lynch us!". The new, more upbeat version, the writers felt would still work as ironic commentary, having a black group sing lyrics that were obviously not true:

Only in America
Can a kid without a cent
Get a break and maybe grow up to be President

However, Atlantic once again turned it down, and it ended up being performed -- quite un-ironically -- by the white group, Jay and the Americans.

The story of "Only in America" is here. Jay & the Americans perform it on this video (with a patriotic American introduction by Canadian Paul Anka).

In 2007, the Drifters' version was included on the double CD, A Change is Gonna Come: The Voice of Black America, 1964-1973 (photo). It was the second cut, right after the title song, which was Otis Redding's take on Sam Cooke's original -- now one of the iconic "Obama songs".


Afropop's Inauguration Coverage

Enjoy Afropop Worldwide's excellent coverage (text and photos) of the Inauguration and the “Africa on the Potomac” Inaugural Ball featuring the legendary Samba Mapangala and the Boys Choir of Kenya.


  WILLIE NELSON: "A Peaceful Solution" (New: Dec. 30/08)

n April 2007, Willie finished the song, "A Peaceful Solution", something his daughter Amy had dreamt she had heard him sing many years before. He's now recorded five different versions of the song, and has made it available to anyone to record or set to video. His slogan: "Share the dream. Share the song".

This is Willie's own "jazz version".Click the button on the right to hear dozens of other versions, or see this page for the story of the song.

And in a very related mode, you can see his video of "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth".



Earlier this year, Toronto (and Cameroonian-born) singer Fojeba (Jean Baptiste Foaleng) recorded what is still one of my favourite "Obama songs": "Fired Up, Ready to Go".

But he's also passionate about what he sees happening in his own adopted country; after observing the recent political mess ("The stakes are too high", he sings) the night after the nation witnessed saw politically divided rallies across the country, he recorded a new song, "Divided We Fall, United We Stand", and set it to a video.

Listening to Fojeba, seeing the images in his video brings to mind Buffalo Springfield's classic -- and sadly, still timely -- 1966 song, "For What It's Worth"

There's battle lines bein' drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong...

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singin' songs and carryin' signs
Mostly sayin', "Hooray for our side."

It's time we Stop, hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look - what's goin' down?



PLAYING FOR CHANGE: Peace Through Music
New: Nov. 27/08

"Playing for Change" is a movement to connect the world through music. A documentary, Playing for Change: Peace Through Music will be released in 2009. A Variety review of the film's showing at a Tribeca film festival began, "Wanting a movie to end so you can run out and buy the soundtrack may not seem like huge endorsement, but in this case it is".

Here are a few moving samples from that film:

  • The trailer
  • "Stand By Me": The wonderful Ben E. King song, here recorded by musicians playing across the globe -- together -- thanks to the work of director Mark Johnson
  • An interview with Johnson on Bill Moyers' TV show, ending with another cross-global recording of "One Love"

This project is more than a movie: it centres on a a non-profit foundation helping to provide resources to musicians and their communities around the world. Click the link at top for the website.



"OBAMA SONGS": Musical celebrations (Updated Nov. 27/08)

"It's been a long time coming
But I know
A change is gonna come"

More than 40 years ago, Sam Cooke sang, "A Change is Gonna Come". Now, change has come. The musical world has been celebrating -- in anticipation -- for months before the election. Here are a few goodies:

"Transpacific Sound Paradise" (WFMU in NYC) features a 3-hour, all-Obama world music soundtrack here, complete with playlist and some videos.

Not enough? Check Obamasongs on YouTube: over 1000 Obama music videos! Here are a few of my favourites:

And from Toronto:

  • Cameroonian Fojeba with "Fired Up, Ready To Go"
  • And originally from Kenya, Adam Solomon has just recorded his tribute, "H.E. President Barack Obama". He says, "I have been playing this song for a long time. I didn't want to record it, or perform live till the elections were over and victory was declared". Listen here. (Windows Media)

Finally, Obama's own pick. The U.S. bookstore, Borders, had asked various public figures for their top 5 book, music & film choices. Obama's list included one CD: Kulanjan, the classic 1999 recording featuring Toumani Diabate, Taj Mahal, Kassemady Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate, Ballake Sissoko and others.

A couple of essays about the Obama victory with a musical orientation both on the No Depression website:

  • ND editor Grant Alden wrote an Election Day column about Mavis Staples and the significance of Obama's election
  • Don McLeese in a year end-column discusses it in the context of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" and other inspirational music.




LET'S FIND A WAY (new: Nov. 22/08)

A project dedicated to bring attention and relief to children affected or infected by HIV, millions of whom are orphaned, homeless hungry or dying as a result of the virus.

"Let's Find A Way" is a song written by Phil Koochin and Kevan Ehman, and recorded in three versions (English, another in 13 languages, and a rap/spoken word version with Ursula Rucker and Boona Mohaammad) by a huge raft of musicians including: Waleed Abdulhamid (musical director), David Clayton Thomas, Zaki Ibrahim, Orpheus Choir of Toronto, Kgomotso Tsatsi, Fatima, Ruth Mathiang, Valu David, Lizzy Mahashe, and many others.

For more information, or to buy the song, see the Let's Find a Way website... click the link at the top of this section.