Musicians Unite for Human Rights in China

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(In the leadup to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) run occurred around the world, to raise awareness of the human rights atrocities committed by China’s communist regime, including the persecution of Falun Gong – ToT)

One of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is “…to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” An interesting point seemingly overlooked by the IOC in their choice of China as the 2008 Olympic site. With the Chinese communist regime’s atrocious record of human rights abuses it is clearly trade dollars over ethics.

To help raise awareness of what’s going on in China, a new disc has been released: “Songs to Save the World,” brought to you by the Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR). In the tradition of the 1960’s American protest-song movement it’s a collection of all sorts of musical genres and styles, with a focus on human rights.

 “Freedom First”, the opener for the collection, comes from “Light Club” a three piece band born of socially conscious Connecticut musicians. It’s a great introduction to the project and sets the tone for the disc. Acoustic guitar layered over the electric and cymbal splashes with snippets of social commentary from around the world are delivered in this upbeat tune. True to their name, Light Club carries the torch of human rights musically. As the band says, “…we rock for a cause and that is trying to make there be full freedom of speech, expression and spirituality in the Far East. We don’t like people to be bullied around by their own government.”

Although not geared towards a specific government or current state of affairs, track two delivers a personal message of love, loss and redemption. Similar in style to “Freedom First”, US Project’s “His Way” has a pop-rock vibe sounding reminiscent of the Dave Matthews Band. Spearheaded by singer/songwriter/drummer Scott Berendt, the band delivers a light and airy song featuring acoustic guitar and electric violin laced with interesting hand-drum flourishes.

Equally interesting is Jeff Saphin’s “Song to Save the World”. A hush toned David Bowie-like vocal line opens this track that poses the question “what if there were a song to save the world.” It builds momentum from a single guitar line to layers of electro-pop with a subtly funky bass line. The track has an unusual cadence peppered with strings and a big drum kit sound.

From big and brassy the mood turns reflective and fades into the quietly beautiful classical guitar piece from Freddy Clarke: “Innocent Beauty in a Shimmering Gown.” The simplicity in the composition juxtaposes with the prior track and commands attention subtly. Clarke, citing influences as diverse as Igor Stravinsky and John Cage, has a simple sense of grace in this understated piece. The guitar’s perfect tone and resonance puts the listener into almost a dreamlike state.

This dreamy mood is redirected from reflective to up-beat as the listener is brought back to life with the up-tempo reggae/world beat groove of “Rising Sun”. This infectious track from KT’s Universal Love Band is laced with a mix of Jamaican and African influences over the rhythmic bass playing of KT herself. The song is spirit lifting in both cadence and message proclaiming “let go of giving up and rise up again.”

From roots reggae we voyage into the light and folksy “We Want Freedom for the People” by Swedish band Yellow Express. They’ve got a 60’s folk-pop sound that’s a dead ringer for vintage Fleetwood Mac—with sunny vocals over a catchy bass line layered with lilting flute parts. But under the airy composition is a voice of oppression speaking directly to the Chinese regime “what scares dictators is when people know what’s going on… we want freedom for the people, let us stand up for human rights,” a message straight to the heart of the Olympic matter.

Angelic Voice

That message is accentuated on the next track as well with “Truth Shines Through”. This is clearly the standout of the disc. Stunning in its simplicity, the song features the angelic voice of Sara Effner over an acoustic guitar played by her father Randall. There’s a symbiosis of instrument and voice that only a true closeness between musicians can yield.

The track, inspired by the true story of a Falun Gong practitioner’s journey to Tiananmen Square, resonates with truth and clarity that quietly fades out and into Canadian band Universe 326 and “Eliminate the CCP”—no hidden messages here in this modern rock track anchored by guitar tones reminiscent of the Cure.

Staying on track the collection continues with the resonance of the organ in “Feels Like 1936 again”. Performed by Courtney Dowe and Sterling Campbell the song parallels today’s political climate with the German Olympics of 1936. Courtney’s warm smoky-toned voice begs, “(how) can you host an international track meet when you’ve got a labor camp right down the street?”

More subtle but equally intense is “Flushing (a Heart Divine)” from Leadville Jim. This solo performer from the heart of the Rocky Mountains opens with a softly strummed acoustic guitar and builds the song into a heartfelt, upfront vocal performance. With nothing but the guitar and his voice, sans any bells or whistles, the listener is captivated by the intimacy of the performance. The tune’s weighty subject matter is based on a true story out of Flushing, New York where Falun Dafa practitioners were accosted by a mob outside the public library.

The weightiness is lifted towards the end of the disc with the happy feel of “Set Them Free,” a toe-tappin’ tune with simple vocal lines served over the warm guitar tones of Michael Feltz. He chose this specific track for the collection based on his belief that, “All people, inside and outside of China alike, deserve to live without fear of oppression, persecution, or tyranny.”

This opinion is shared by the next artist, musician and human rights activist, Marcus Gale, and “One Torch.” The tune harkens back to the Woody Guthrie sound with its rootsy flavor and was written expressly for the Human Rights Torch Relay. It has a catchy, sing-a-long chorus sung over a strumming acoustic guitar and has become a theme song for the relay.

The disc wraps with an instrumental piece from Tyen “Give Them Wings”—an instrumental containing piano over ethereal synth work. It’s a nice, reflective closer for the disc.

The ebb and flow of this collection is remarkable, being able to transition seamlessly from seemingly incongruent musical styles. It packs a punch in its message which is summed up by Yellow Express, “The Chinese regime has weapons, money and propaganda tools. But we have our songs, our hearts and our firm determination to make a change!”

 

By Stacy Towar-Fogarty / Epoch Times Staff

The original Epoch Times article can be found here:  http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/arts-entertainment/human-rights-torch-cd-released-3053.html

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