Browse Category: Music

Interview with Omar Thomas, Jazz Composer of Monumental LGBT Civil Rights Hymn, “We Will Know”

I recently got the chance to interview award-winning composer, Omar Thomas, about his new album, ‘We Will Know’, a monumental work of art that breathes new life into the word “movement”.

We Will Know Omar Thomas LGBT Civil Rights

Following the success of his debut release, I Am, Omar secured a grant in 2013 to compose, arrange, and produce an album to reconcile the perceived incongruities between LGBT and Black communities in the United States.

Per the virtual release event, existing at the intersection of black civil rights and LGBT civil rights, “We Will Know” is a historic, first-of-its-kind original work which invokes genres of music unique to the black American experience as a way of underscoring the experiences of LGBT persons in America over the past 90 years.

In Omar’s artist statement, he states: “The beauty and madness of this work is that it is a composition based on juxtaposition, promoting a social movement written in a genre (jazz) pioneered by a group that historically has an aversion to the group for which the piece is created. Though it is written in solidarity with the LGBT movement, it is anchored by styles and songs created by and for the African-American experience.”

Each of the four movements plays a specific role in framing the realities of LGBT persons across the country.

  • The first movement, “Hymn,” is a rallying protest song – that glue which holds together all significant social movements – which the LGBT movement has been without for all these years.
  • The second movement, “In Memoriam,” is a brief elegy that commemorates the lives of those lost and those facing real danger in the face of ignorance and fear.
  • The longest of the movements, “Meditation,” provides the listener a safe place for reflection and catharsis.
  • And, the final movement, “May 9th, 2012,” combines the original hymnsong with Charles Albert Tindley’s iconic black civil rights song, “We Shall Overcome,” to celebrate the day an American president (and also our first black president) first publicly supported marriage equality.

LGBT civil rights are at the forefront of contemporary social and political discourse. The power of music to serve, inspire, and archive movements is a necessary part of that conversation, one that Omar Thomas, a hauntingly talented musician and self-described ‘artivist’ is committed to facilitating through his music.

On Music, Movements, and Identity: Interview with Black and Gay Composer, Omar Thomas

SPECTRA: I’m gonna get right into it… “We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece in Four Movements.” That’s a bold title! And, if I must say, such a beautiful gift to black LGBT people, or any of us who live our lives at the intersection. What inspired the project?

OMAR: I got the idea to compose an LGBT civil rights piece after numerous failed attempts at sounding intelligible on an “It Gets Better” video.

SPECTRA: No… Haha! Really?

OMAR: True story. I really wanted to contribute to the message and success of the “It Gets Better” campaign, but couldn’t find the words. I’m not a writer. I’m a musician. So it dawned on me in that moment — that music is a language at which I’m adept, my chosen language of love and protest. I mean, clearly I was failing so miserably in English while trying to make that video. So I decided right then and there that I’d made my contribution to groundswell of awareness and support – “the movement’ – using my natural talent: music.

SPECTRA: Mmm, I love that. It’s a really beautiful thing to witness someone stepping so boldly into their purpose. Did you ever imagine you would release an album like this?

OMAR: To be able to communicate so effectively using music is a gift. It only made sense that my contributions to human rights take the form of a musical statement. And honestly, the creation of this piece felt inevitable, really, as if my growth as a composer, educator, and socially-conscious citizen were all leading to the creation of this work.

We Will Know Banner

SPECTRA: This is your second album. Your first won a Boston Music Award in 2013 for Best Jazz Artist. You’ve called ‘We Will Know’ one of your most important pieces of work to date. What hopes do you have for the EP?

OMAR: From the side of the music, I hope the movements in ‘We Will Know’ highlight the gamut of emotions that have underscored the LGBT civil rights struggle – and triumphs – of the past century. I want the experience of listening to the album to feel like catharsis, of the personally political kind.

SPECTRA: The album is definitely a conversation starter.

OMAR: Music is a commonality we all share. It’s just one of many, many commonalities we all share. And its universality makes it the ideal ambassador for the connections we share across experiences. And its convening power bring us all closer to the ideas of oneness, a singular human story that I truly believe is at the nucleus of the human experience.

SPECTRA: Omar, you teach “Harmony” at Berklee College of Music. (smile). Can you explain – to those of us with a limited jazz vocabulary — what that means? Listening to you talk about music, movements, and unity, it seems fitting as the name of a class you would teach!

OMAR: *laughs* Harmony at Berklee College of Music is the study of contemporary music theory. The study of melody, harmony, and rhythm in popular song. As music mirrors life and vice versa, I always find creative ways to discuss various aspects of life in my classes.

SPECTRA: Speaking of teaching, has your identity as a black gay man influenced or impacted your role as an educator in any way?

OMAR: I’d like to think it has been positive. I have a simple personal mandate: to live authentically and to do the best I can, as an educator, as a musician, and as a citizen, so that those who feel empowered by the labels of “gay,” “black,” and the combination of the two will feel seen, uplifted. I’m not the only gay black musician out there. There are many who came before me, whose shoulders I stand on, and more will come afterwards. I honour them by being visible.

SPECTRA: Somewhat related. On visible black and LGBT icons. Each year during black history month, I see the same names of Black and LGBT leaders mentioned e.g. James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Bayard Rustin etc. Many writers, political activists etc. As a young, gay, black, and aspiring musician, who did you look up to?

OMAR: Billy Strayhorn. Hands down. The right hand man to the great Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. So great was his talent, his poise, and his presence that literally no one cared about his orientation. Okay, maybe they did but they got over it. Who knows. I’m sure he had his own share of struggle. But he never minced words about his sexuality, nor did her ever hide. In the early half of the 20th century. In America. As a black man. As a gay, black man. What courage! His story has always resonated with me.

SPECTRA: I have to ask… especially given that you’re a black and gay musician who’s just released an EP calling for equal rights. And Macklemore just won a Grammy for Same Love. Where do you stand on musical accolades being about the music vs. the political messages they convey? Can we, actually, separate them?

OMAR: For me, being a musician, or a chef, or a writer, or a painter, or a dancer, is all about authenticity and vulnerability. If one’s art is to ring true, one’s identity must ring true THROUGH one’s art.

Anyone who is using their voice to further ideas of universality and oneness deserves to be commended, but only if they do so with respect to context, meaning where their contribution fits in the narrative of those who’ve come before them in this fight.

That being said, a positive message is a positive message, and good music is good music. These two concepts are mutually exclusive. If a work is to be critiqued based on the strength of its message, then so be it. If it is to be critiqued on its musical strengths and merits, so be it. If both are present and are formidable, all the better.

SPECTRA:Anything else you’d like folks to know?

OMAR: I’m encouraging everyone to start using the hashtag #iamtheintersection to continue the dialog about multiple identities, shared history, and oneness. You can follow me at @omarthomasmusic on Twitter and Facebook/omarthomasmusic to join the conversation.

Do yourself a favour and listen to the first movement, “Hymn” below. (I’m in tears every single time!)

‘We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece in Four Movements’ is now available for purchase on iTunes. A limited number of commemorative physical copies, which include comprehensive 4-page timeline of milestones of the LGBT movement over the past century, are also available for order on the official Omar Thomas website, www.omarthomasmusic.com.

Shishani, Queer Namibian Songwriter

African Women Musicians: Queer Namibian Songwriter Shishani Launches Debut Album Campaign

Shishani, Queer Namibian SongwriterHere’s some fantastic news from one of my favorite African women musicians: queer Namibian songwriter Shishani, has launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund her debut album!

Diaspora Art and “AfroSoul”

I rarely post about media that isn’t in the form of a review, but after seeing her perform live in Namibia last year, and hearing some of the tracks that’ll be included on the LP, I strongly recommend you give her music a listen.

Earlier on this year, I interviewed Shishani about her experience growing up away from her home country, Namibia, finding inspiration within its thriving art and music scene upon her return, and contributing to the movement to end racism, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination through her music.

In her popular single, “Minority”, Shishani calls for the world to embrace differences by acknowledging that each of us, in some way, is a minority. The video of the song earned a Namibian Music Awards nomination earlier on this year, and Shishani hopes to use the momentum to successfully fund her debut album.

Here’s a short note form Shishani:

“An African proverb goes, “It takes a whole village to raise a child” – I need your help to raise this one of mine.

I’m an independent artist and activist. In 2011, I started my solo career in Namibia – travelling back and forth to the Netherlands (where I’ve been based) and studying Cultural Anthropology & Musicology in between. After winning the Last Band Standing competition in 2012 (a Live Band version of “Idols” in Namibia), I started working on my debut album. I’ve been working on my album for the past 2 years. And it’s been a journey ever since. Now, all the stars have aligned – it is time.

My song, “Minority,” got nominated for “Best Single Non Album” at the 2012 Namibian Annual Music Awards. And recently the “Minority (Jazz Remix)” was nominated for Best Music Video at the 2013 Namibian Annual Music Awards. This song advocates for Human Rights, Equal Rights, Right to Love throughout our societies. Through social media this song has been able to spread, and I hope to reach even more through the release of my album.”

Shishani’s Indiegogo campaign goes till June 15th, so supporters of indie musicians have about a month to contribute.

The perqs include the usual: digital and hard copies of the album, T-shirts, other signed merchandise, and private performances. Undoubtedly, even newbies to Shishani’s music will need no convincing; her songs are, at once, catchy, sensitive, and inspirational. If Bob Marley, Nneka, and Tracy Chapman could birth a child together, she would be it. If you have any doubts, listen to the music that soundtracks her campaign video: pure talent, pure heart. The debut album will feature Shisani’s most popular singles, including “Minority” and “Raining Words”.

Support LGBT African Artists and Media Makers

If music isn’t your thing, and you stand more for movement, take pride in knowing you’ll be supporting an LGBT African icon in the making. Shishani is not the first queer Namibian or African artist to produce music or rise to stardom; there are other LGBTI African artists who have for obvious reasons have stayed mum on the subject of the persecution of gays on the  African continent.

As an outspoken member of the Namibian diaspora, Shishani graciously acknowledges that she stands on the shoulders of musical and revolutionary icons who weren’t afforded the same privileges she has, yet paved the way for her as an artist whose work is political. Still, it would be remiss of us to ignore the fact that her outspokenness is a risk to her career and thus, she is deserving of our respect and support as advocates for justice and freedom for everyone, everywhere.

Watch the Campaign Video

I’ll be getting my copy of her debut album, and I encourage you to do the same here. Note: Shishani plans to have completed production of the album by July 2013. For more information, check out her video campaign below, and visit her IndieGoGo campaign page.

 

Award-Winning African Artist Shishani Releases Video for New LGBT Equality Anthem, “Minority”

Shishani Namibia Lesbian Artist

“You’ve got rules telling me what to do
But is there anybody checkin’ up on you?”

Award-winning acoustic soul artist, Shishani, has just released the music video for her latest single titled, “Minority”, a catchy, upbeat, acoustic track that calls for freedom and equality for all people despite perceived differences.

Shishani got her big break when she performed at the 2011 Namibian Annual Music Awards in the capital city of Windhoek, where it’s still illegal to be gay. And though, she says, she’s made no real attempts to hide her sexuality, she hasn’t come out as an “out lesbian artist” till now.

“I wanted people to get to know my music,” she says, “Sexuality doesn’t matter. It’s like pasta — asking if you prefer spaghetti or macaroni. It just doesn’t matter… I’m an artist first, before being a gay artist.”

Born to a Namibian mother and a Belgian father, Shishani spent her early childhood in Windhoek, before her family relocated. Due to her mixed race ancestry, the curly-haired songstress is no stranger to discrimination, but is candid about enjoying a relatively liberal upbringing in the Netherlands, known for its liberal social policies, including legal protections of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) people.

“Being raised abroad gives you a certain freedom… It took some time before my parents were okay talking about stuff, but eventually we did. I was even able to live with my partner of four years…  But living in Namibia, it became so clear to me how much more people are discriminated against–and for a variety of different reasons, like their ethnicity and sexuality.”

Homosexuality is illegal in a number of countries in Africa, and Namibia is no exception. Even though Namibia has been independent for over 20 years, and its constitution views all people equal under the rights of the law, punitive colonial laws against sodomy (though not enforced) have remained. Thus, LGBTI people risk harassment  and violence due to a strong culture of stigma in part reignited by religious leaders and government officials.

In 2001, past President Najoma’s called for “anyone caught practicing homosexuality to be arrested, jailed, and deported”. And, just over a year ago, Namibia’s first gay pageant winner, Mr. Gay Namibia, was beaten and robbed shortly after securing his title.

But Shishani, who upon her return in 2011, found a safe haven in Windhoek’s art performance communities, is optimistic that the current climate for gays will improve. She recently became an honorary member of the board of Out Right Namibia (ORN), a human rights advocacy organization that aims to address widespread homophobia in the country, and is eager to continue evolving as an artist, while using her platform as a musician to advocate for freedom and equality.

Shishani Singer SongwriterSince her breakout two years ago, Shishani has released indie tracks such as “Raining Words”, an acoustic ballad about a new relationship, “Clean Country”, a soulful, melodious call to action to raise awareness about climate change, and–inspired by Alicia Keys’ chart-topping tribute to New York–“Windhoek”, a song that celebrates the beauty of her hometown.

As a student of cultural anthropology and self-identified activist, it’s no surprise that her music has been described as a fusion of sounds from such socio-political music icons as Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley, and Nneka. “Minority” is the first single through which seeks to address the issue of same-sex love.

Alluding to the potential controversy of her new single, Shishani says, “Two years ago, I was really just trying to get my face out there…. When I returned to Namibia, I started booking my own gigs, performing solo, writing new songs. When I was invited to perform at the Namibian Music Awards, I was afraid to perform “Minority”  because people didn’t know who I was yet. But to make a statement, you have to be strong.”

As an African musician who identifies as being a part of the LGBTI community, the lyrics of “Minority” no doubt challenge the infamous meme “Homosexuality is unAfrican.” But, Shishan insists, her song is about much more than being gay.

“In Namibia, it also makes a difference what ethnicity you are. “Minority” argues for equal rights for all people regardless of their cultural backgrounds, economic status, sexuality, religion,” she says, “There is so much systemic discrimination against people, for so many reasons.”

The release of “Minority” is timely; January is the month in which outspoken Ugandan LGBT activist, David Kato was bludgeoned to death in an anti-gay attack three years ago, sparking an outcry from fellow African human rights activists. January is also the month in which people in the U.S.–perhaps even all over the world–celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a powerful civil rights leader and icon. His call for freedom and equality of all people has been taken up by activists all over the world, including Shishani, whose lyrics echo his principles of love and unity.

“Homophobia all over the world comes from the same place; colonialism, apartheid, racial segregation. All our struggles are connected.”

When asked about being a visible lesbian African artist, especially in light of the hardships experienced by LGBTI people in countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, she says:

“My music is becoming more popular in Namibia. I’ve been working hard and trying to make my mark, so I feel stronger, now. I may lose some fans, but it’s okay. So many others have it way worse than me. So many others activists are risking much more. It is an honor to be viewed as a role model. So, if I can contribute to the movement through my music, I’m happy to, and I will.”

Check out the video of Shishani’s new single, “Minority” below. To learn more about Shishani, visit her website at http://www.shishani.nl.

 

10 Books, Films, and Music by Queer People of Color That Would Make Excellent Gifts

Shopping is Personal is Political

For Him For Her... Bullshit

It’s the last (shopping) weekend before Christmas. But if you’re anything like me, braving large, busy malls filled with mainstream goodies fueling the hyper-consumerism evident just one week before Christmas isn’t your cup of tea. Online shopping, despite the lure of its crowd-less aisles, fancy pop-ups, and steep discounts hasn’t proven to be that much better.

Constantly having to decide between clicking on “Gifts for Him’ and “Gifts for Her” irks the LGBT activist in me. Then there’s the constant temptation to forgo spending your hard earned money on holiday shopping (for family members who aren’t as supportive as they should be) altogether and getting yourself, instead, that heavily discounted Xbox with Dance Revolution bundle, flashing obtrusively on the top right corner of your screen just as you’re about to check out… Wait, I’m sorry, this isn’t about me. I digress.

*deletes Xbox Dance Revolution package from shopping cart… (for now)*

Luckily, I don’t have to deal with (most of) the Christmas shopping madness this holiday season. As per  my last post, in an attempt to facilitate important conversations with friends and family about my sexuality (so that I can make it through dinner without bursting into tears… or flames), I plan on giving the gift of media created by queer people of color. Luckily, over the past few years, there’s been a steady release of media that reflects the lives of LGBTI people with complex racial and ethnic identities while navigating a diverse landscape of cultural and religious beliefs.

A List of Books, Films, and Music by Queer People of Color

Any item(s) from the list below would make great holiday gifts to family, friends, or even to yourself. After all, getting our loved ones to accept us whole is as much of an ongoing process as it is learning to celebrate who we are for ourselves, so why not nourish your spirit this holiday season too?

Note: Because my experience is trans-continental, I’ve prioritized media created by LGBT people of color with various cultural, ethnic, racial, and national contexts. Also, if I’ve mis-labeled or mis-represented any of the media producers’ identities below, PLEASE let me know as soon as possible (with source) so I can update! 

 

Pariah Movie

PARIAH (Film)
Written and Directed by African-American lesbian, Dee Rees.

Themes: African-American, Family, Coming Out, Religion, Gender Identity.

This isn’t just another queer “coming out” movie. The main character, Alike, already knows that she likes girls; it’s coming out to her parents while exploring her gender identity (i.e. more masculine/feminine) that makes this one of my favorite films of all time. This coming of age film is packed with moments familiar enough to resonate with even the most conservative: first crushes (and first kisses), father-daughter bonding, mother-daughter loathing, and siblings who remain annoying as hell but will always be there for you. I loved Pariah so much that I wrote about it twice: My Afrofeminist Review and Coming Out as a Nigerian Boi.

Great Gift For: Everyone, really.

Saving Face Movie

SAVING FACE (Film)
Written and Directed by Chinese-American Lesbian, Alice Wu

Themes: Chinese Culture, Family, Career, Marriage

If I had to put my film picks in order, this would really be at the top. Saving Face is a drama-comedy about two young adults, who are driven by their careers and commitment to family, and thus, find love a tad inconvenient. Saving Face strikes the perfect balance between heart-warming and hilarious. I recommended it to my sister when I first came out and it helped her understand my sexuality, not through the white, class privileged narratives of the L Word, but in the context of our culture. Indeed, part of the film is in Mandarin as the lead characters search for acceptance in a small community in Chinatown, New York.

Great Gift For: Siblings

 

Circumstance Movie

CIRCUMSTANCE (Film)
Written and Directed by Iranian-American, Maryam Keshavarz

Themes: Iranian, Family, Religion, Government, Censorship

Two young women find love and attempt to escape their -er – circumstance of family and politics. What I love about Circumstance is that the lesbian relationship, though central, isn’t the only theme (or issue the women have to worry about) in the movie. Hmm, feels like real life, when religious dogma, traditional parents, and an oppressive government regime are equal (if not greater) thorns on the sides of LGBT  people in non-western countries–a reality that quite often goes above my white gay American friends’ heads. In any case, there’s an (awesome) sex scene that may be awkward to watch with parents (so you may wanna go grab some leftovers during that bit).

Great Gift For: American LGBT friends.

 

 

Gun Hill Road Movie

GUN HILL ROAD (Film)
Written and Directed by Latino straight ally Rashaad Ernesto Green

A Latino man is released from prison only to find that his son is in the process of saving up for gender reassignment surgery (i.e. transitioning from living as a man to living as a woman). To cuta a long story short, drama happens, followed by a stereotypical (yet believable) display of machismo, such as forced attendance at baseball games, and an awkward scene with a prostitute. But hey, that’s apparently how to be a “man’s man” (forget not doing things that land you in prison so that you’re around to love your wife and raise your children — that’s for sissies). There’ll be no shortage of issues to discuss after viewing Gun Hill Road, including the trappings of masculinity, femininity, culture as a barrier to individual expression, and really good acting. Says, the LA Times: “… the quietly commanding turn by newcomer Santana — whose outward embrace of an already well-internalized transformation leaps off the screen with equal parts joy, melancholia and bravery — is a standout.”

Great Gift For: Dads, Uncles, All the People with Testosterone in Your Family

 

 

Other Side of Paradise

THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE (Book)
By Chinese-Jamaican lesbian, Stacey Ann Chin 

Themes: Jamaica, Adoption, Family, Womanhood

The first time I saw Stacey Ann Chin speak, I thought to myself, “Damn, I need to be louder!” She’s known for thunderous performances, her constant swearing, her political poetry that takes no prisoners. But, if you’re a writer, you know how much it takes to bleed the way Stacey Ann does anytime she speaks. And when she writes… goodness, there are no words. Her memoir is a glimpse into the circumstances that birthed the beast: growing up in Jamaica, being raised by her grandmother, and the thrill, pain, hilarity, and confusion that comes with discovering womanhood. A must-read.

Great Gift For: Poets and Writers

 

Memory MamboMEMORY MAMBO (Book)
By Cuban immigrant lesbian, Achy Obejas

Themes: Cuba, Immigration, Culture, Family, Gender

So, I’m cheating here; I really want to suggest two of Achy Obejas books. The first, “We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?”, is a rich, diverse collection of short stories about a Cuban family’s journey from their homeland to the beautiful and broken promises of the United States, all the while grappling with new ideas of culture, gender, and sexuality. Her second, Memory Mambo, is a full-length novel centered around a familiar, yet nuanced immigrant narrative; Janua, a 24-year old Latina lesbian, searches for an anchor in the terrain of an new country (with a band of crazy cousins–blood and adopted–who keep dragging her into trouble).

Great Gift For: Cousins, Extended Family

 

Zami Audre LordeZAMI: A NEW SPELLING OF MY NAME (Book)
by African-American Lesbian Poet, Writer, and Activist, Audre Lorde

Themes: New York, the 50’s, Working Class Black Women, Class

From GoodReads: “Audre Lorde recounts the first half of her life in an amazing blend of her own poetry, popular songs, journal entries, and memories that are startling in their exactness and fairness. Her ability to recount her extreme loneliness and desire for companionship at being Black in gay scenes, gay in Black crowds and female and working class in the U.S. is a testament to her desire to create bridges…” I started reading this book and had to stop because I began resenting my work for constantly interrupting my love affair with this breathtaking novel about living “life at the intersections”, a subject for which Audre Lorde is well-known. Zami is moving, powerful, and filled with a tender, vulnerable love for humanity, despite its shortcomings.

Great gift for: Black women (who experienced the 50s in the US e.g. older Aunties?), feminists of all backgrounds

 

Ash Malindo LoASH (Book)
Written by lesbian Chinese-American immigrant, Malindo Lo

Themes: Fairy Tales, Cinderella, Love and Romance, Self-Determination

Who doesn’t love fairy tales? This re-telling of Cinderella’s love story is appropriate for ages 8 and up, says Amazon.com, making it the perfect gift for young cousins, siblings, and adult friends alike. Apparently, rather than fall for the prince who rescues her from an enchanted slumber, Cinderella starts a love affair with the woman her evil queen mother sends to kill her. I haven’t read it myself, but after reading glowing reviews I decided to gift myself the Kindle version. Incidentally, an accompanying book, “Huntress”, about Cinderella’s love interest, was published shortly afterwards. And, the author just released the first book in her new young adult sci-fi series. Juicy. Visit www.malindolo.com to learn more.

Great gift for: Young Children, Parents

 

OI AM (Music)
Jazz composition by gay Guyanese-American, Omar Thomas Large Jazz Ensemble

I grew up listening to Jazz, from the smooth of Miles Davis to the soul of Anita Baker to the afrobeat of Fela Kuti–my father’s influence. So when I left home, and became separated from my father, a part of me distanced myself from his favorite music as well… until I met Omar. I fell in love with Omar’s love for classic R&B, soul, jazz, and his talent for bringing those genres together in his compositions, which feel old school enough take you on a walk down memory lane, and new school enough to warrant Ne-Yo’s replacement as the official baby-making musician of the 2000s. “I Am” will be released on January 15th, but you can pre-order now on iTunes. I’ll be getting two copies — one for me, and one for my father, as a reminder that even though we are now worlds apart, our struggles and our love for each other remains, through heart, through life, and through music.

Great gift for: Dads

 

VicciVICCI
by queer Latina, Vicci Martinez

I don’t often have time to watch TV, but I remember when I heard that a queer Latina musician was rocking out on The Voice, a show similar to American Idol, in which contestants compete to be named “The Voice” of America; I looked her up on YouTube immediately and was blown away by the power of her voice (from a relatively small person!). She’s been quoted as saying, “I don’t look the way I sound”, which, though I get what she means, isn’t quite true; she’s absolutely beautiful in her gender non-conformity, and her voice, a reverb of yearning to live beyond measure, beyond bounds. The acoustic version of her new single, “Come Along” is a tantrum of emotions, familiar to anyone who may still be wondering how they survived being a teenager, and — as a member of the LBGT community — how to continue singing for freedom in a world  where your kind of love is seen as an act of rebellion.

Great gift for: Angst-Filled Teenager

 

Discuss! What do you think? Would you consider gifting any of these items to yourself, friends, or family? As an ally, have you read / watched / listened to any of the media above? What did that do for your understanding? Also, I’d love to open up this space for recommendations. Which books, films, and/or music or poetry albums would be great additions to this list?

African Women’s Organization Partners with Nigerian Artist NNEKA to Promote Women’s Rights Through the Arts

Originally published at Gender Across Borders.

On Thursday, February 16th, 2012, the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) hosted an event at their headquarters in East Legon, Accra, Ghana to officially ‘out-door’ musician and activist, Nneka Egbuna (“NNEKA”) as their Ambassador for the Arts.

Invited guests included Professor Ama Ata Aidoo (internationally acclaimed feminist African writer and academic), Nana Oye Mansa Yeboah, Chairperson of the Akuapem Community Foundation, and a diverse number of African women artists including Yasmeen Helwani Nsiah, Lady Jay Wah of Pidgen Music, Anita Erskine, Sherrifa, and Stephanie Benson.

Women’s rights organisations were also well represented including Adowa Bame of WISE (Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment), Lucy Mensah of WUAGG (Women United Against Aids in Ghana),  and Patricia Blankson-Akakpo of NETRIGHT (Network of Women’s Rights in Ghana).

The African Women’s Development Fund was founded 11 years ago by three inspirational women – Hilda Tadria, Joanna Foster and Bisi Adeleye Fayemi, who was also AWDF’s founding Executive Director until last year. They created an amazing organisation aimed at supporting women organisations in their work to make real change in women’s lives – to ensure the recognition and implementation of ALL women’s human rights (economic, social, cultural, political etc) across Africa.

Their continuous, dedicated efforts, despite the immediate concerns facing women in Africa, are commendable. Their milestones speak for themselves; in partnership with numerous organizations, AWDF has provided over 19 million dollars in grants to more than 800 organisations in 42 African countries. Yet, AWDF continues to push the envelope; their decision to include the Arts and Sports as two new thematic areas is just one of the ways that this organization demonstrates their commitment to implementing long-terms solutions in Africa.

In her welcome speech, interim CEO, Theo Sowa, emphasized the potential impact of leveraging the power of music and the arts as a platform for change:

The arts can be powerful catalysts of such individual and collective understandings. Artists can produce works that translate dusty words into clear and heartfelt understandings of issues and ways of dealing with them. Art can touch the souls as well as the minds of countless people, inspiring passion, anger, joy and other emotions that can catalyse action in ways that court cases and academic lectures and even protest marches may never achieve. Art can bring information and meaning into lives in ways that can be more real, more grounded and more influential than any number of texts. Arts – traditional or modern – are integral to our cultural lives… and changes in social, economic and political arenas will never truly take root without parallel changes in our cultural norms, beliefs and practices.

Photo Credit: Emmanuel Bobbie

According to Nana Sekyiamah, Communications Office at AWDF, the decision to invite NNEKA to be the organization’s first Ambassador for the Arts, was in part due to her “incredible passion, and commitment to using her gift of music as a means of provoking social change.” Sekyiamah added that “Nneka’s message is hard hitting in the issues she addresses (corruption, exploitation, the environment) yet its a message of one love and hope.”

The daughter of a Nigerian father and a German mother, NNEKA was born in Warri, Oil City in the Delta region of Nigeria at the height of its new found wealth in the mid 70s. Her lyrics reflect much of her history and life in Nigeria as well as her time spent in Western Europe. Her songs stress the issues of capitalism, poverty and war and are often loaded with moral and biblical messages and references, with some music commentators comparing her to Erykah Badu, Neneh Cherrynd Floetry.

Yesterday, NNEKA performed during the event and shared her thoughts on becoming the AWDF’s Arts Ambassader via a short video interview. During the interview, she shares, “It’s easier to use music [to promote change] than to stand up at a podium,” thoughts similar to that of Ama Ata Aidoo, who closed her speech by recognizing the power of music and the arts to change people’s lives.

I have seen traumatised children respond and come to life in music workshops; have seen communities that have been fighting for years come together over games of football; have seen the power of film to touch people’s hearts and change their thinking; have experienced writers whose works have changed my life and motivations.

Learn more about the Africa Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) at their website, www.awdf.org.


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