Song-in-action Blog

Music and politics

Yoko K fuses music and social change at TEDxPotomac

Posted by Katina on May 22, 2010 at 1:45 am

It is very hard to put to words what Yoko K brings to the world of music and social change. This Thursday I had the joy of attending TEDxPotomac, a day-long gathering of thinkers, performers, activists, scientists, artists, etc. giving presentations on “Beyond Politics: Innovation, Inspiration, and Insight.”

Electronic musician, vocalist, and social activist Yoko Kamitani did a musical presentation in which she mixed the voices of people from around the world into an electronic music arrangement about genocide in Rwanda (you had to hear it to believe the genius).

Learn more about Yoko K’s presentation at TEDxPotomac. Tweet @TEDxPotomac and ask them to make Yoko K a TedTalk. It was that good . . .  Check out Yoko K online at and http:/home/katinara/public_html/

Watch Yoko K AON session from 2009:

AON Sessions: Yoko K. / Aphrodizia, “(Untitled)” from All Our Noise on Vimeo.

Filed under: Music and politics

Music hitting my heart

Posted by Katina on November 1, 2009 at 11:24 pm

“Music hittin’ your heart because I know you got soul”  Public Enemy, Fight the Power

Lately I have been in an old school state of mind. My best friend from college convinced me to go see the Brand New Heavies last weekend at the Birchmere. I am so glad I went. It gave me the chance to fall in love all over again with the group’s ability to fill a room with sound and bring voice to everything from the ups and downs of love to the power of following your dreams.

I think my favorite song by Brand New Heavies is Brother Sister. The lyrics move me:

There’s no need to feel you’re on your own

Just let your intuition guide you through

Take one step toward what you believe

Don’t be afraid to make your move …

Don’t be scared go out there

Stand up

Be strong go out there

Hold on

To the real things that matter

‘Cause no one’s gonna hand’ em to you

On a silver platter

I left the concert thinking – “boy I need to listen to live music more often.” It inspires me. The right song can make you want to move mountains, save the world, and fight for causes that you believe in. That’s what this blog is really about – music serving as the inspiration or catalyst for individuals and communities to bring about social change.

When I think about social anthems that really were about shaking people up and pushing them towards action, I always come back to Public Enemy’s Fight the Power. Watch Here

The words are so . . . . well, powerful

Fight the Power

As the rhythm designed to bounce

What counts is that the rhymes

Designed to fill your mind

Now that you’ve realized the prides arrived

We got to pump the stuff to make us tough

From the heart

It’s a start, a work of art

To revolutionize make a change nothin’s strange

A couple of days ago, I received an email about tickets for an upcoming Public Enemy benefit concert to benefit a homeless shelter in DC. The group has been on my mind ever since (and in my ears, much love to DJ Dredd for putting PE in the mix at Bhangraween).  For my readers that grew up during the height of Public Enemy, you remember how large the group’s presence was. Love them or hate them, the group had the energy and power to light things on fire with their music. I am really excited to see them in DC using their music to call attention to a problem that really needs the full force of America to solve it – youth homelessness.

So let me take a minute to plug the concert and the cause –

Public Enemy’s Number One – While Public Enemy have made ground-breaking hip-hop since their start over 20 years ago, they’ve also done their fair share of raising awareness for political and social causes. In an effort to help fight youth homelessness, Public Enemy bring their bass-heavy, manic live show to D.C. this November. Those who saw them at this year’s Virgin Mobile FreeFest know that Chuck D, Flavor Flav and crew still dominate socially and sonically. Virgin Mobile Presents PUBLIC ENEMY To Benefit The Sasha Bruce House, a homeless youth shelter. @ G.W. Lisner Auditorium • Washington, D.C. November 18 7pm Doors”

So for $25 (plus all those fees) you can Purchase Tickets and be part of the PE family again while supporting a great cause. The Sasha Bruce Youthwork  is a cornerstone of youth services to at risk children in DC. The Sasha Bruce House is the only open access shelter for youth in D.C.  For more information on the Sasha Bruce House and other SB Youthwork programs see

Fight the Power People,


President Elect Obama w/ Sasha Bruce Youthwork Work Crew

President Elect Obama w/ Sasha Bruce Youthwork Work Crew

Music and Manners in Iraq

Posted by Katina on October 10, 2009 at 5:23 pm
Peace and Music Academy photo by BBC News - http:/home/katinara/public_html/

Peace and Music Academy photo by BBC News - http:/home/katinara/public_html/

Sometimes it seems like good manners are hard to come by. Recently in the US, we have seen a spate of public figures act a fool for no good reason. When watching the news, I would think to myself, didn’t anyone teach Kanye West good etiquette or sit Joe Wilson down with Roberts Rules of Order? While standards of conduct differ around the world, there seems to be a call to action around civility.

Today – October 10, 2009 – The Washington Post featured a project in Iraq that exemplifies Song-in-Action. Karim Wasfi, conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, saw a way to link music and good manners as the country rebuilds. He created the Peace and Music Academy to “study music, and more important, etiquette in a war-ravaged country that at least for now seems to have forgotten some of its manners.”*

In addition to music, the Academy covers manners & etiquette, including how to behave in different social situations, how to dress appropriately, and how to speak and carry oneself.

How important are good manners for the future of Iraq? Consider the words of these Iraqi citizens:

  • Hussein Hammoudeh: “Survival has had to come first . . . We forgot all about good manners. It wasn’t easy what we had to go through.”*
  • Azal Abdel-Naseer: “People here forgot how to treat each other after the war.”*

My favorite quote about the Academy comes from a blog by the TheCatalystPoet on

“In a country full of war and hate, there is a lighthouse of hope shining in the dark seas of uncertainty and unrest. As most change, the youth is bringing this about. Iraqi youth meet in the former embassy to learn about music and better themselves for peace.”

If you would like to learn more about the Peace and Music Academy (also referred to as the Academy of Peace through Art) check out these posts:, Washington Post, BBC and Christian Science Monitor.


“You have a choice in life. You can choose a weapon, a Kalashnikov, or you can try a musical instrument” Karim Wasfi in “Iraq’s Academy of Peace and Politeness.”

* All quotes in this blog, unless otherwise indicated, are from “After Years of War, a New Decorum” by Washington Post Foreign Service writer Nada Bakri, 10/10/2009.

Dropping Knowledge: The theory behind the Song-In-Action blog

Posted by Katina on October 5, 2009 at 2:01 am

I have taught a class on the politics of popular music for almost ten years now – first to freshman at Duke University and most recently to graduate students in the Communications, Culture, and Technology program at Georgetown University. My favorite part of the course is the unit on Music as Political Action. I developed the unit based around Mark Mattern’s book Acting-in-Concert: Music, Community, and Political Action.  Mark theorizes that there are three separate, but often overlapping types of music-as-politics or Acting in Concert:  confrontational political action (ex. protest music), deliberative political action (i.e. debates/arguments/conversations around important issues) and pragmatic political action (i.e. doing something about it).

Mark’s work on pragmatic political action is the inspiration for this blog. He breaks the concept down as collaborative problem solving.  In the case of music-related pragmatic political action, music communities work together to first draw attention to shared interests, problems, or concerns, and then organize to address them.

There are many examples of pragmatic political action within music communities. Mark’s examples include the organization of Cajuns to address “economic marginalization, ethnic stigma, and cultural assimilation.” Years ago in “From the margins to the mainstream: the political power of hip hop,” I wrote about movements like Stop the Violence (STV) which was aimed at discouraging black-on-black crime and Rap-the-Vote .

Since teaching the pragmatic political action concept in my music and politics classes, a thought kept nudging me. How can I improve on an already great concept? Song-in-Action is this attempt. Mark’s work is really community focused and that’s appropriate for his work. But I was struck by the idea that it only takes one person to make a difference. Think about it. If one person can take a stand and make a start, others will follow behind.

The Song-in-action blog will expand pragmatic political action to include the idea that a single song (or person, or dream) can serve as the foundation for community, political, or social change.  It’s a work in progress; as the blog evolves let me know what you think. In later blogs, I plan to revisit how different groups within the hip-hop community join forces to become agents of social change.  I also plan to highlight the country music community, pop artists, rock stars, music teachers, fans of all sorts, and much more.



P.S. If you know of an example of a single person or groups making a difference through music, email me or tweet me! I would love to write about it or offer the opportunity for you to guest-blog on Song-in-Action.