I come by my love of story in part, I think, from my homeland of Trinidad. Trinidad is the birthplace of calypso, a type of music based in African and French roots, and which pulsates in the soul of every Trinidadian. Growing up, my parents (like all Trinidadian adults) would host these epic parties for their friends. My sister Natalie and I would wait upstairs patiently, until the part of the evening that would inevitably arrive when the grown-ups would move all the furniture out of the way, turn up the calypso, and start the dancing. This would be our cue: Natalie and I would come downstairs in our pajamas, and, rum having made our parents far more lenient than usual, they would open their arms inviting us to join them.
One of the earliest calypsos I can remember is the classic "Jean & Dinah," by the famous calypsonian, Sparrow. I remember having my arms around the waists of my parents, dancing wildly with their friends as we all sang at the top of our lungs:
Jean and Dinah, Rosita and Clementina
'round the corner posin', bet your life it's somethin' they sellin'
And if you catch them broken, you can get them all for nothing
Don't make a row! The Yankees gone, and Sparrow take over now!
Although I suspected the lyrics were vaguely naughty, I didn't exactly understand them at the time. It wasn't until I was an adult I discovered their real meaning.
The thing about calypso, you see, is that it has always been the music of the subversive masses: throughout its history, it has been used as a form of political expression and social commentary. "Jean and Dinah," for example, is about the departure of the United States Air Force from their bases on Trinidad after World War II: while they were there, apparently, many Trinidadian women would support themselves and their families by prostituting themselves to the American airmen; in his 1956 hit Sparrow was commenting on their desperation now that the war was over.
So, more than "vaguely naughty," it turned out. In fact, despite the jubilant tempo, the song had a pretty bitter subtext, about the exploitation of local women in Trinidad.
I love that music can do this: that it can expand the story -- and it's why I so often include a "song of the day" at the bottom of my posts. So when the ONE Campaign invited me to pull together a playlist of my favourite songs of activism, I leapt at the chance. The request came in support of their new project, AGIT8, celebrating the protest songs that have helped shaped history. It's their hope that showcasing these amazing songs will inspire people come together and raise the voices for social good.
I can't tell you how much fun it was to put this together. And so, for this month's playlist, here are my favourite songs of activism -- simply click on the image below to hear them all. Fair warning, though: listening to these songs all at once might make you want to go commit a little civil unrest.
This post was written for The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. ONE works to convince governments (the US, as well as others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate proverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way. If you'd like to hear the songs on Spotify and learn more about why I chose them, please click here.
And if you enjoyed the music and you'd like to help, please consider adding your voice and join ONE by clicking here, or simply filling out the form below. Your information will remain confidential, I promise. And if you're already a member, and would still like to help, I'd love if you'd spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and followers.
That's all there is to it. Because ONE never asks for your money, just your voice.
As always, thanks so much, friends.