Music Action International is a highly interesting charity based in the UK that uses music as a connection and healing mechanism. I contacted Lis Murphy, the creative director of the project, and asked her a few questions about their work and the power of music.
For those who are not familiar with Music Action International, what is the charity about?
We are a collective of people from around the world who use the power of music to overcome the effects and causes of war, torture and armed conflict.
How did the charity start?
I set up the organisation a few years ago. My first job after studying music was working in Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina a few years after the war ended. I was very moved by the people I worked with who became close friends in the way that music was used as a tool to express emotions to difficult to talk about and to bring people together in a joyful and positive way. When I came home to Manchester I worked with refugees and asylum seekers in museums and art galleries and then decided with a group of friends that we needed to bring more music to peoples’ lives in a thoughtful and ethical way to really transform lives not only of war survivors who had lived through horrific experiences but also to connect us all together.
A band that formed through Music Action, called Everyday People, was performing in the beginning of February at the London Remixed Festival. Can you tell us a bit about this band?
This is an amazing group of teenagers who have been forced to flee their country because of war and are now in London without friends or family. They come from DR Congo, Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kurdistan, Iran and Afghanistan. We created a beautiful project in partnership with British Red Cross to support these young people through writing and performing their own music, supported by a highly experienced team of international musicians, some of whom also come from a refugee background.
What are some of the other music projects happening at Music Action?
We create music with torture survivors who are highly traumatised with our programme “Stone Flowers”, their music is really powerful and uplifting. We also support people who have recently arrived from war or conflict in drop-in centres through singing together in a choir, we also bring children of all ages from different backgrounds together in schools to work with refugee artists and write their own music towards interactive performances involving 300 school children.
Music Action International recently ventured to Sierra Leone. How did that go?
It was amazing!! We were made to feel so welcome and it was such a joy to work with young people living on the street who have been affected by conflict who shared so many creative ideas, who were desparate to have the opportunity to learn and who were incredibly insightful and engaged with writing and performing music collaboratively in all their different tribal languages.
How can music help people who have suffered?
We know that music, when used in a particular way physiologically changes the heartbeat, breathing and stress hormone levels in an incredibly positive way. Heartbeats synchronise when people sing together. Music connects people with themselves and with others. With people who experience trauma, all of these are incredibly important, as well as bringing people out of isolation and bringing back positive memories of the home they have lost.
How does this job affect the professional musicians within Music Action International and their music development?
We are really lucky to have such an amazing group of people who have joined our movement. There is such a great vibe at our performances that people often say it was the highlight of their working year. Having the opportunity to meet and work with people from across the globe, to share ideas, ways of working and philosophies on life is something really compelling and life-changing for everyone involved.
“Our main aim is to get the message of people we work with who don’t have a voice to more and more people.”
What are some of the favorite protest/socially conscious musicians, current or old, at the office of Music Action International?
We’ve just had a really interesting discussion in the office, so thank you for the question!! We of course love Sly and the Family Stone who wrote the song “Everyday People” as they were the first the first major multi-racial, mixed-gender band in rock history. Bob Marley was also a key peace activist. As well as the lead figures or musicians who represent protest movements or social causes, we love scenes and spaces that build movements that encourage activism and movements of positive change.
What is on the horizon for the charity and for the music groups within?
We are expanding our programmes in the UK to connect with and support more people affected by war & torture in schools, drop-in centres and with torture survivors. We are also going back to Sierra Leone and are developing programmes with local organisations in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Our main aim is to get the message of people we work with who don’t have a voice to more and more people.
How can musicians help and work with Music Action International?
We need more people from around the world passionate about what we do to join our movement and share the music and stories from people affected by war, torture and armed conflict who don’t always have a voice. You can sign up to our newsletter here, or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Thank you very much for participating and for helping to create music! Anything else you would like to shout from the rooftops?
Thank you too!! We are shouting no words from the rooftops, just some sounds for ya!!!
According to the code of ethics of various journalist groups around the globe some of their main tasks are to be vigilant and watch over its societies. Journalists and media shall honor the responsibility their voices hold and lend those voices to the voiceless part of the population. They shall hold the ones in power to account and be courageous in seeking the truth.
Musicians do not bear the same responsibility exactly although it can be argued they have a powerful voice that often reaches across international societies. So it can likewise be argued they shall use that voice responsibly. Some musicians hide their socially conscious message for they believe in creating music solely upon feeling and heart. Others are more explicit in their lyrics or performance and send a strong message of protest out into the ethos in every single song. The Four Fathers are of the latter type.
The band hails from the UK, where there has never been any lack of protest music. The band recently released their second album entitled How Much Is A Life Worth?. The band’s main songwriter, Andy Worthington, is (besides being a musician) a journalist and an activist and a source on various issues such as Guantánamo and the so-called war on terror. I contacted Andy and inquired further about the band’s new album, his activism and his take on the protest music of today.
For those not familiar with your music, who are The Four Fathers?
We’re a group of fathers, from the borough of Lewisham, in south east London, and we got together in 2014 because we had all had various musical endeavors in our youth, and wanted to revisit them. We started off playing covers, but I soon started writing new material, and pretty soon my political consciousness found songs to be a useful vehicle for musical storytelling; protest music, essentially.
You are a journalist and an activist as well as a musician. How about the rest of the band?
We’re a mixed bag — a gardener, a teacher, an architect and a full-time dad. Fortunately, we’re all left-wing politically, and the other band members have been happy to follow my forays into topical political songwriting.
You recently published your second album. Can you tell us about the production process?
We found a local studio for our first album, ‘Love and War’ — Perry Vale Studios in Forest Hill, and liked it, so we returned there for our second album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ We recorded the new album over several weekends in 2016, mixed it in early 2017, and then released songs as online singles until the album’s release in November.
How does the state of the world affect your songwriting, i.e. do you find it hard to strike a balance between releasing a song in time with a current issue and releasing it when it is ready as a piece of music?
I think there’s something to be said for being very topical, but we don’t have the facilities for that, and, in general, it takes me some time to come up with the lyrics, once I have the tune. (I don’t know where the tunes come from, but they generally come to me while cycling around London on my bike). To give two new songs as examples, one, ‘Grenfell’, was inspired by the terrible and entirely preventable fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London in June 2017. The tune — and the lyrics for the chorus — came to me quite quickly, but I spent the summer working little by little on the rest of the lyrics. For ‘I Want My Country Back (From the People Who Want Their Country Back)’, which is about Brexit, the tune — and, again, the chorus — came to me quite quickly after the referendum in June 2016, but I decided the lyrics were too literal, and I wanted something slightly more poetic, and that took me many months to work out. A video of us playing ‘Grenfell’ live for a German film crew is here, by the way, and we hope to record both songs in a studio soon.
What came first for you, the music or the journalism?
I was going to say the journalism, but in fact I’m from musical family, and was in choirs as a child, and in bands as a teenager and in my 20s. I also did some studio-based work in my 30s. I began working seriously as a writer in 2002, when I began writing my first book, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, about Stonehenge and the British counter-culture, which was published in 2004, and I then followed up with a related book, The Battle of the Beanfield, in 2005. In 2006, I began researching and writing about Guantanamo, which I continue to do to this day, along with other writing and campaigning, and it was alongside this that I got involved with my friends in what became The Four Fathers.
What made you want to use these two mediums to tell stories?
I suppose telling stories and/or the desire to communicate take many forms, and people find whatever vehicle suits them. For some people, that’s just one field, but I’ve always been interested in different forms of expression — writing is a big thing for me, of course, and it’s liberating that writing lyrics is in some ways different to journalism, but I’ve always loved singing, I’ve played the guitar since my 20s, I’ve also loved photography all my adult life, and continue to do that in various ways, and I’ve also engaged in other media — in film-making, for example, as the co-director of a film about Guantanamo, ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo’, and recently as the narrator for ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, a documentary film about the destruction of social housing in London, and the residents who are resisting the destruction of their homes. See: http://concretesoldiers.uk
What are some of the stories you care about?
I care about human rights and social justice. I want to see Guantanamo closed, as an icon of lawlessness in the “war on terror,” I want to see the rise of racism and xenophobia challenged, and I want to see the horribly greedy and aggressive form of current capitalism that has degraded the world and that is currently beginning to cannibalistically devour all but the rich in the western countries of its origin to be resisted and broken, so we can have a better system. That’s what my involvement in social housing campaigns is about, but it’s just as important here in the UK for people also to find way to, for example, save the NHS, the greatest achievement of the UK, from being destroyed by the Tories.
What are the main differences you find between writing a book, a media article or a song lyric?
Well, a book is a huge project, in general, and a real challenge — although it is one I hope to do again. As for media articles, because I’ve been writing them for over ten years, often on a daily basis, I find them generally easy to do, especially as I largely self-edit my work, but lyrics are definitely more elusive.
Besides the writing, journalism and music, do you partake in other activism or social engagement?
I’m involved in various forms of campaigning, as well as writing and playing music, and since 2012 I’ve also been cycling around London on a daily basis taking photos across the whole city. Since last May, I’ve been posting photos once a day on Facebook, on a page called ‘The State of London’, and I hope to expand this project this year.
Performing protest music such as yours, do find that it lands on deaf ears so to speak or do you feel there is willingness to take in music with a message?
I don’t think that there is, in general, an interest in protest music as there was when I was growing up. As a child of the 70s becoming a young man in the early 80s, politics was everywhere — the Sixties, and the protest music of the likes of Bob Dylan, was like the recent past, and a heady source of inspiration, and in my own teenage years the punk scene exploded into life, with its interesting crossover with the roots reggae scene. Both the singer-songwriters of the 60s and the 70s, aspects of the punk and post-punk scene (the Clash and the Two Tone movement, for example), and the roots reggae music of the late 70s, which I particularly love, and which was, of course, often militantly political, provided the direct inspiration for what I write for The Four Fathers, but I find that in general political protest has been cynically expunged from most modern-day music. It can still be found in aspects of youth culture — in the grime scene, for example — but there’s very little crossover in general between different scenes, so the general situation would seem to be one on which politics have been marginalized by self-censoring rock bands, by a bland corporate pop world, and by a juggernaut nostalgia industry, safely peddling people an aging facsimile of their youth. As a result, we’ve been trying to move more towards taking part in political events, where there’s a guaranteed audience that is probably prepared to listen as well be entertained.
Do you find that there is an abundance of protest musicians out there today or on the contrary?
There are many, but they tend to be scattered around the country — and around the world. However, I’ve started to try getting some of them together, and in November, at the Birds Nest Pub in Deptford, a celebrated music venue, I put together an evening, under the heading ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’, featuring three bands (including The Four Fathers), two spoken word artists, a rapper and a socialist choir, and it was a huge success, and a clear demonstration that you can be both entertained and politically aware. I hope to do more gigs along the lines throughout 2018.
Who are some of your favorite protest singers or socially conscious artists?
I still listen to many of the artists I grew up listening to, so lots of roots reggae and West African music, which I’m a huge fan of. I love Fela Kuti, I love Bob Marley, and numerous Jamaican artists from the same period, and I also love the conscious musicians of America from the same time — Gil Scott-Heron, for example. Currently, I have a lot of time of some of the spoken word artists I know here and in the US — Potent Whisper here in the UK, who tells complex political stories in rhyme, and the Peace Poets from the Bronx in New York, who also perform uplifting spoken word pieces rooted in political struggle. I know them from my Guantanamo work, and my annual visits to the US to call for the closure of the prison on the anniversary of its opening, every January.
“If everyone who claims to care about the state of the world actually did something, it would make a huge difference. But you have to believe it, shake off your apathy, stop shopping and screen-watching all the time, and actually do something. Remember: we are many, and they are few.”
What is on the horizon for The Four Fathers and for you?
More playing, wherever we can find what we hope will be appreciative audiences. And more recording, as we start work on our third album. We are always open to invites and suggestions.
Thank you very much for participating and for the music you make. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
Just my mantra from our song ‘Fighting Injustice’: “If you ain’t fighting injustice, you’re living on the dark side.” If everyone who claims to care about the state of the world actually did something, it would make a huge difference. But you have to believe it, shake off your apathy, stop shopping and screen-watching all the time, and actually do something. Remember: we are many, and they are few.
Check out Andy and The Four Fathers at the following sites:
Originally from Sierra Leone, Yasmin Kadi brings to the world fun loving beats with a layer of messages that resonate the importance of always being your true self. Having had to flee her home land at a young age Yasmin learned that the world can be a cruel place. She never gave up though and fought to do what she loved which was making music and helping others. I contacted Yasmin who was kind enough to tell me more about her upcoming album, her activism and some Sierra Leone music recommendations.
For those not familiar with your work, who is Yasmin Kadi?
I’m an Afrobeats/pop singer-song writer chosen by BBC Introducing as some of Londons best new music. And I’m originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa.
How did you get into making music?
I’d always written songs from a very early ago and even though I didn’t produce beats then, I constantly wrote top lines and melodies.
How much music was around your youth? Did you grow up with a strong presence of music around you?
My dad was a huge music lover, and always played the likes of Bob Marley, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers etc. He used to play a whole mixture of generations and in every genre of music. Good music was good music lol.
“If musicians are looking to make positive change in the world through their music, I would say stay true to your own sound and who you are. Do not try and sound like the current and biggest selling music if that is not you. Diversity and difference encourages people, especially the young generation. It encourages them to be themselves and be OK with being themselves and feel they are good enough.”
In previous interviews you have spoken about having to flee your home country of Sierra Leone with your family when you were young. Do you direct those events and the events since then into your music or do you rather use the music as an escape from that? Or a mix of both?
It’s a mixture of both. As artists and writers, some of our work is biographical and some fictional. Mine is a mixture of both. Depending on what I’m feeling and issues that I feel responsible to highlight in my work. It also depends on the production and how I’m feeling in the studio or where ever I’m writing.
How much of your music and lyrics is direct activism? Do you prefer to partake in socially conscious activities outside the music?
Music is subjective, so I leave it to the audience to decide how they perceive my work. Because each listener has a different life experience to the next, every individual’s uptake or interpretation will be different to the next.
Out of my music, I work with a few charities that help some of the issues we face today like the refugee crisis and the mudslide and flood victims affected in Sierra Leone. So I’ve work with ‘Help Refugees UK’, ‘Women for Refugee Women’ and ‘Street Child’. I think my time is better spent doing something and helping organizations who are actually doing productive work, helping people and making good, positive changes, rather than ones who just shout and point fingers without doing anything.
What do you hope to achieve with your music?
If I had a choice on how my work is perceived, I’d say it’s to give hope and highlight issues the underdogs in every walk of life faces. Highlight the issues in a fun loving criminal way.
What advice do you have for young musicians looking to change the world?
It depends oh how they are looking to change the world? Is it for the better or worse, to spread love or hate, to divide or unite people? If musicians are looking to make positive change in the world through their music, I would say stay true to your own sound and who you are. Do not try and sound like the current and biggest selling music if that is not you. Diversity and difference encourages people, especially the young generation. It encourages them to be themselves and be OK with being themselves and feel they are good enough. It also highlights that they don’t have to be like the boys and girls on TV – the unrealistic picture perfect images we get bombarded with daily.
What are some of your favorite socially conscious musicians out there, active or not?
I’m a fan of Billy Bragg. Google him. He’s great! I also like Alicia Keys. Apart from the fact that she is a great writer and vocalist, she is advocating and putting her money where her mouth is and showing that we don’t always have to cover our face in make up! Or war paint as I call it sometimes ha ha. That is a HUGE message and she is doing it by being a living example and not wearing makeup.
What should someone who knows nothing about the Sierra Leone music scene check out?
Sierra Leone music is a lot of fun. It’s a shame a lot of the artists don’t have the platform to be heard. I was very lucky and never gave up. If people want to hear more SL music, they should check out the likes of ‘Emmerson’. He is a Sierra Leonean artist that mainly sings in Creo/Patwa (our native language) but he is very socially conscious and not afraid to call out very high profile members of the SL community, who he feels are doing injustice to the people and the country as a whole. Just google Sierra Leone musicians, you might be pleasantly surprised.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is a lot of artist don’t have control on the work they put out. For me, I own all the rights to my work, I fund it with help from people who support and buy my music, so I can put out what ever I think represents me as an artist.”
Looking at the state of the world today, do you feel like musicians are using their voices to the maximum or do you feel there is a lack of awareness among musicians?
I honestly don’t think musicians are lacking in awareness on issues that we all face in the world today. What a lot of people don’t realize is a lot of artist don’t have control on the work they put out. Especially those signed to labels. Obviously some major artists have a lot of creative control but a lot more don’t. Its simply a business to a lot of the labels and they have to cover costs, overheads and big wages, so generally they have to put out what they think is going to sell the most. For me, I own all the rights to my work, I fund it with help from people who support and buy my music, so I can put out what ever I think represents me as an artist.
What is on the horizon for you? When can we expect a new album?
We can expect an album in the next few months and it is going to a lot of fun. I’m a bit of a workaholic and have work extremely hard on it, with a lot of passion and love and I’ve worked with some of the best producers who have produced for the likes of Stormzy, Rihanna, Emile Sande, Arian Grande, Wretch 32 etc. So I’m super excited and proud that I stayed true to my self and made the type of music that I wanted to make!
Thank you for participating and for the music you make! Anything else you would like to shout from the rooftops?
Thank you very much and feel free to stay tune on my work, life and the new album via my socials below. Lots of love and God bless.