It could be argued that music has been around for as long as humans have walked on Earth. When we are born, one of the first things we do is cry and scream, and to calm babies down, lullabies are sung. As we grow up, music becomes the soundtrack for joy and mourning; the rites of passage in life are marked by wedding songs and funeral blues. We use music as a guiding light and a way to express what is inside us, but it's also a language that binds different communities together. Countries use music. Religions use music. Protest movements use music. Everyone needs a song to sing or listen to.
The enormous span of the social function of music is covered in an awe-inspiring box released by Smithsonian Folkways Records, simply titled The Social Power of Music. It consists of a 124-page book and four CDs covering more than eighty songs in a wide variety of genres and languages. This is truly folk music as it can be heard around the globe: Buddhist chants, spirituals, prayers, folk songs, dance songs, marches and blues; songs that address abuse of power and songs that reach to the sky; songs for celebration and contemplation; familiar songs by well-known names like folk-poet Pete Seeger and new discoveries like the Danish folk singer Inger Nielsen.
The four discs are divided into four different sections: Songs of Struggle, Sacred Sounds, Social Songs and Gatherings and Global Movements. Each section is introduced by a short, but substantial essay, followed by notes to each track. Most of the notes are rather brief, and yet every song note takes up a whole page of the book with plenty of blank space that could have been used for more information about the song. It feels like a missed opportunity, but that is a minor quibble considering the effort that went into creating this impressive document. There's a selected reading list for those who want to know more, and the attention to detail is reflected by the choice of typeface. The headlines are written with the typeface Martin, "a non-violent typeface inspired by the remnants of the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968."
Many of the songs on the box set are collective efforts, voices working together in choirs and groups, but there are also examples of strong solo recitations where the individual represents a community or a part of history. One of the most poignant moments is the the song "Why Need We Cry?" by Cantor Abraham Brun, a Polish-Jewish holocaust survivor, who sings a song of hope in defiance of the horror of Nazi fascism. Elsewhere, Lebanese musician Marcel Khalifé sings the mesmerising oud-ballad "The Passport."
The strength of the box is exactly that it embraces many different perspectives and seeks understanding rather than division. While Smithsonian Folkways has issued important collections of different genres, including the iconic Anthology of American Folk Music, The Social Power of Music is one of the most ambitious releases from the label in terms of its musical scope. It is a rich resource of folk music that speaks across languages and genres and gets to the core of the one thing we all have in common: We are all humans with hopes and fears, dreaming about a better world without injustice and a need to express our sorrows, joys and protests in song.
Track Listing: CD1: We Shall Overcome - By The Freedom Singers; This Land is Your Land - By Woody Guthrie; De
colores([Made] of Colors) - By Baldemar Velásquez & Aguila Negra; Union Maid - By Bobbie McGee;
If I Had a Hammer - By Pete Seeger; Reclaim the Night - By Peggy Seeger; Estoy aquí (I Am Here) -
By Quetzal; Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) - By Sammy Walker; We Are the Children - By
Chris Kando Iijima, Joanne Nobuko Miyamoto, & Charlie Chin; I Woke Up This Morning - By Fannie
Lou Hamer; I Fell Like I'm Fixin' to Die - By Country Joe McDonald; El pobre sigue sufriendo (The
Poor Keep On Suffering) - By Andrés Jiménez; Ballad of the ERA - By Kristin Lems; Where Have All
the Flowers Gone - By Pete Seeger; Blowing in the Wind - By THE NEW WORLD SINGERS; Quihubo
raza (What's Happening, People) - By Agustín Lira and Alma; Solidarity Forever - By Joe Glazer; Joe
Hill - By Paul Robeson; Joaquin Murrieta - By Rumel Fuentes; Which Side Are You On? - By The
Almanac Singers; Legal/Illegal - By Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger. CD2: Amazing Grace - By The
Old Regular Baptists; Come by Here - By Barbara Dane; Will The Circle Be Unbroken - By Strange
Creek Singers; Peace In The Valley - By Paramount Singers; Zuni Rain Dance - By Members of Zuni
Pueblo; Calvary - By Shape-note Singers at Stewart's Chapel; Northfield - By The Old Harp Singers
of Eastern Tennessee; The Call to Prayer / Adhan - By Ahmad Al Alawi; Zikr (excerpt) - By Sheikh
Xhemail Shehu & Members of the Prizren Rifa'i tekke; Buddhist Chants and Prayers - By Tu Huyen,
Hai Phat, Tam Thu & Hai Dat; Kol Nidre - By Cantor Abraham Brun; Dayeinu - By Raasche & Alan
Mills; Night Chant - By Sandoval Begay; Hark, Hark - By Carolers from the Black Bull, Ecclesfield,
UK; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot - By The Princely Players; The Old Rugged Cross - By The Paschall
Brothers; Madre de Dolores (Mother of Sorrows) - By Hermanos de la Morada de Nuestra Señora de
Dolores del Alto; San Miguel (Saint Michael) - By Francia Reyes; I'll Fly Away - By Rose Maddox.
CD3: Party Down at the Blue Angel Club by Clifton Chenier And His Red Hot Louisiana Band; San
Antonio Rose by Los Reyes De Albuquerque; Jolie Blonde (Pretty Blonde) by Austin Pitre; Shake
Your Moneymaker by John Littlejohn; Beer-Drinking Polka by Flaco Jiménez & Max Baca; In Heaven
There is No Beer by The Goose Island Rambers; Sam (Get Down) by Sam Brothers Five; Golden
Slippers / The Butterfly Whirl by Lester Bradley And Friends; Sligo Indians / Paddy Clancy's / Larry
Redican's / The Rambling Pitchfork by Tony DeMarco; La Entrega de los Novios (The Delivery Of
The Newlyweds) by Lorenzo Martínez; Rock Dance Song (Cree/Metis) by Francis Eagle Heart Cree,
Boy Joe Fayant, And Leo J. Wilkie; Pow Wow Song by Chippewa Nation; Mary Mack by Lilly’s Chapel
School, Alabama; Johnny Cuckoo by Janie Hunter & children at home; Rooster Call by John Henry
Mealing and group; Joy to the World by Elizabeth Mitchell; Oylupnuv Obrutch (The Broken Hoop
Song) by The Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra; Liberty Funeral March by The Liberty Brass Band;
Junkanoos #1 by Key West Junkanoo Band, The Star Spangled Banner by unknown orchestra; Mardi
Gras Medley (excerpt) by Rebirth Jazz Band. CD4: 1. Viva la Quince Brigada (Long Live the 15th
Brigade) - By Pete Seeger; A desalambrar (Tear Down the Fences) - By Expresión Joven; Muato mua
N'Gola (Women of Angola) - By Lilly Tchiumba; Un gigante que despierta (An Awakening Giant) - By
Luis Godoy & Grupo Mancotal; Hasret (Longing) - By Melike Demirag; Prisioneros somos (We Are
All Prisoners) - By Suni Paz; Funeral do lavrador (Funeral of a Worker) - By Zelia Barbosa;
Izakunyatheli Afrika Verwoerd (Africa is Going to Trample on You, Verwoerd) - By South African
Refugees in Tanganyika; The Boy with the Sunlit Smile - By Mikis Theodorakis; Hidup di Bui (Life in
Jail) - By Gambang Kromong Slendang Betawi & Kwi Ap; Man and Buffalo (Kon Gap Kwai) - By
Caravan; Why Need We Cry? - By Cantor Abraham Brun; El palomo (The Dove) - By Grupo Raíz;
Hvem sidder dér bag skaermen (The Roadmaker) - By Inger Nielsen; Mon' etu ua Kassule - By
Musician Supporters of the MPLA; Le temps des cerises (Cherry Blossom Time) - By Yves Montand;
Chongsun Arirang - By Singer from Central Korea; The Passport - By Marcel Khalifé; Inno della
Resistenza (Hymn of the Resistance) - By Choir of FLN Fighters.
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