Tag Archives: folk

A Protest Music Interview: Laetitia A’zou

The impact of Joan Baez has long been known to reach far and deep. Her shining voice and lyrics of protest, whether those being her own or one of her perfect covers, have resonated with several generations by now.

One musician from Paris, France, felt that impact in an empowering manner. Laetitia A’zou used this power to create her own songs of protest. Two albums into her career and she is now slowly working on her third effort. She explained to me via email how this newest piece of work will out scale her previous efforts, production wise. As a side note she also explained how there is an often overlooked amount of protest in Disney songs.

First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Laetitia A’zou?

I’m a folk/opera/swing singer (Laetitia A’Zou, The Andrews Sisters Revival). I am inspired by all the great pop-folk artists from the 60’s to the 80’s. I perform American Music on stage, aiming to share feelings, emotions and music. 

When and how did you get into making music?

I started music at a very young age, entering the Conservatoire at 6, where I studied violin, music theory, choir singing and orchestra. What triggered it was my parent’s listening to a lot of classical music, and I fell in love with one of Mozart pieces, hearing the violin. It was the beginning of a great adventure. 

Folk music has always been there, my father listening to a lot of french ballads and american folk music (Joan Baez most of all). I started my folk career in 2010, playing covers during open mic’s, while starting composition and song writing. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger… were my main source of inspiration. 

Has your music always been political or protest driven?

Yes and no. My folk music is what I like to call mainly protest songs, my aim being to heighten awareness to subjects like poverty, social injustice, war, overworking… This being said, there is another side to my music : I also write ballads

I read that when you heard Joan Baez the wheels started turning for you. Can you tell me a bit more about the influence Baez had on you and your music making?

What I love about Joan Baez is how powerful her voice is, without needing much more instruments than her guitar. Her compositions are both simple when it comes to the melody of the voice, and incredible picking. All the songs she covered are perfectly chosen and very delicate. I love how she both sings ballads and protest songs, without going up to political driven. This is, for me, the perfect balance.

You’ve released two albums so far, your sophomore album being ‘Protest Songs’ (2015). Your second album sounds considerably more subtle, almost like a live version with a very close, personal sound to it. What was the main difference for you in creating these two albums? And do you have a new album in the making?

The first album, The Girl on the Bench, consists mainly in ballads, with only 4 protest songs. More than anything, I worked on the melodies, the lyrics, also writing about History, which is also a passion of mine. To do that, I invested a lot in production, hiring professional singers, percussions, violin and guitar players. In Protest Songs, however, I have decided to focus more on writing less poetic and more protest driven lyrics. Inspired by the work of Pete Seeger (called the pioneer of folk) who wrote very catchy and simple protest music. I thus decided to record mainly guitar/voice, but added a small choir (10 teens) to give it, indeed, a sound of live performance. At the time, music was often played during diners (people REALLY listened) and people used to sing in a good-natured atmosphere.

There is indeed a real difference between the two albums. I do have a new album in the making. I am taking my time for this one, which I also want a bit different from the first 2. I want to make it bigger, more orchestral, and twice as impactful as the other albums. Two songs have already been recorded.

How is the Paris protest music scene in your opinion? Are there many artists using their voice responsibly?

Unfortunately I am an old soul. I live by the music from the 50’s to the 80’s/90’s and am not quite aware of today’s protest scene. We used to have incredible protest singers, with George Brassens, Yves Montand, Maxime le Forestier, Léo Ferré… Today, the one great singer I can think of is Melissmel. She has an incredible power when she sings, and is political driven, with one of her most powerful song: “Aux Armes“. 

Photo by Taline Maras

What do you hope to achieve when you play your songs for people? How do you feel people are receiving songs of protest these days?

What I hope for is to people to listen and to think. We are all triggered by different subjects, especially today when everything is getting harder in almost every way. My protest songs are hard and really sad. The ones that usually get people stop and listen are The Village and the Prisoner’s song. Both are about destruction : war and death penalty. When people listen to something that triggers their interest, they start thinking and get more aware. And then they listen more when the subject comes around. I do not believe in politicians listening to us, but I do believe in the power of people coming together against injustice. 

Are you following other active, socially conscious musicians? What contemporary music inspires you?

Melissmel, whom I was referring to, is an artist I regularly listen to, and of course still Joan Baez. Paul McCartney has some very interesting protest songs worth listening. Other than that, I am today focusing on my opera career and listening to a lot of opera music. I am also very interested in the evolution of the themes of the songs in Disney music, a lot of them being about the status of women, loss, colonisation, songs too often overlooked because they are Disney songs. 

Do you partake in any activism outside the music?

It depends on what you call activism. I am completely into the respect of nature and ecology. I try as much as possible to help homeless people, whether it is by giving them a meal, or just talk. The french people has recently signed a petition (now 2 073 767 signatures) to sue the government and make it hold its promises for the climate. Other than that, I am not actively involved

If you could form a band with 4 people, living or dead, who would you choose?

I would go for those I consider as geniuses : Paul McCartney, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and John Moukarzel

What’s on the horizon for you?

To keep working on the album, on my opera singing and on my thesis in Egyptology. Keep it simple but powerful.

You can check follow Laetitia on Facebook and the previously mentioned Bandcamp page for the full sonic experience. Cover photo by Taline Maras


A Protest Music Interview: Raye Zaragoza

Cover photo by Terry Bruce Herring

Since releasing her debut album ‘Fight For You’ (2017) Raye Zaragoza has been titled a protest singer, and she is fine with that. Injustice and inequality inspire her to write songs that can power protesters in their fights for nature and fellow people. But Raye is also more than just a protest singer as she explains in the interview below. She tackles anything that inspires her with an enormously soothing voice and vulnerable honesty. Raye was kind enough to take time while on tour to answer a few questions about her music and activism.

First off, for those not familiar with your work, who is Raye Zaragoza?

“Hi everyone! I’m an LA-based, New York City-born singer-songwriter. My latest album Fight For You is a collection of songs of social justice and finding your voice. I’m very passionate about writing about topics that are not talked about in mainstream music such as politics and indigenous rights.”

How and when did you get into making music?

“I started writing songs in my late teenage years, but I’ve been singing and playing guitar since I was 12. In middle school, I had a little band with my friends and we played Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton songs at local restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen, New York (where I lived in my pre-teen years). I grew up doing musical theater, and always knew I wanted to be a performer, but it wasn’t until my late teenage years that I realized being a singer-songwriter is what I always wanted to be doing.”

When did you realise you could use your music to spread messages of protest or activism?

“Although I had written some social justice songs before this, I really started writing songs with an activist message during the Standing Rock movement. During that time I realized how much a song can comfort and inspire people who are fighting injustice. Speaking up can be a vulnerable and scary thing, and music can truly make you feel stronger and not alone. Many of my songs from Fight For You were written about Standing Rock and my journey there.”

How do you feel people are receiving your political music these days?

“With the exception of the expected occasional backlash, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s really been amazing to hear stories about how the songs have comforted people in tough times.”

How important is it for you to send out a specific message in your music? Are all your songs tackling a political subject?

“No — not all of my songs are tackling a political message. I write songs about all kinds of subjects — like nature, love, heartbreak, New York City, California, and anything else that inspires me! I’ve definitely been labeled as a protest songwriter after this album, and although I don’t have a problem with that, it’s definitely not all I do. I like to write songs with light-hearted messages too!”

Photo-by-Ursula-Vari-with-quote.jpg
Photo by Ursula Vari

Do you find it hard to balance between being political and poetic in your lyrics?

“I think that’s exactly my favorite part about it — when the poetry meets the politics. When a verse or a line can help make sense of the madness around us. I feel like social justice music is really what keeps the movement moving and the activists inspired — so for me, even if it’s a challenge at times, finding the balance is the most rewarding part.”

How do you see the current music scene, is there an abundance of socially conscious music today or a lack of people using their voice and talent for good?

“I think there are definitely more and more artists speaking up through their music. I think regardless of whether an artist writes social justice songs or not, it’s very important to be vocal on their platforms. People look to artists for guidance and inspiration — so it’s important we share a positive message.”

What are some of your inspirations or favourite protest musicians out there, active or not?

“I love Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. I also love my friends Calina Lawrence and Nahko Bear who are doing so much as activists and artists currently.”

Outside the music, do you partake in any other activism?

“Absolutely. Whenever I’m not on the road, I am very involved in my indigenous community in LA. Last year, I participated in the Run4Salmon, and March to Oak Flat — two indigenous rights causes very in need of support (everyone should look them up!). This year, I hope to return to both and continue to contribute to the protection of indigenous sites around the country.”

Photo 2 by Ursula Vari
Photo by Ursula Vari

What is on the horizon for you?

“I am currently working on my next album that will be released in 2019. I am also touring around the US, Canada, and Europe for the rest of 2018!”

Thank you very much for participating and for the music you make. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

“Thank you for having me! if you’re hearing of me for the first time, I hope to meet you at a live show soon!!!”

You can catch Raye currently on tour. Check out her webpage for further details.