Tag Archives: war

Free West Papua: 5 Songs Supporting The People

For many of us, West Papua is at the other side of the world, isolated and unknown. For others, the place is a well known human rights violation pit. Throughout the recent history of this occupied piece of land the people there have seen around half a million of their fellow natives be killed.

The fight is ongoing and the West Papua people ‘will not rest‘ until they are granted a referendum from Indonesia.

The occupied territory has long been put into song to support the people. Here are five songs titled ‘Free West Papua’.

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Cover photo disclaimer: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). Link to original photo here.

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


Music Action International

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.

Lis Murphy
Lis Murphy, creative director of Music Action.

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.

StoneFlowers26_Marc-Sethi_-3772-1024x681
Stone Flowers

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.

Harmonise kids

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 TwitterFacebook 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!!!