‘Get up, stand up': A personal playlist from author Karen Walrond

Photo Credit: Karen Walrond/Chookooloonks.

Karen Walrond is a ONE Mom, author, and former engineer and lawyer. This post originally appeared on her award-winning site ChookooloonksIn this piece, Karen puts her own stamp on ONE’s agit8 project by creating a Spotify playlist of her own. Read why she chose each song, then listen to her songs in the Spotify playlist below.

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 historically the music of the subversive masses:   throughout its history, it has long been a part 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 during World War II:  while they were there, apparently, many Trinidadian women would prostitute 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 at the 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 do this.  And so, for this month’s playlist, here are my favourites — simply click this link to hear them all.  Fair warning, though: listening to these songs all at one time might make you want to go commit a little civil unrest.

Listen to Karen’s songs here: 

More about Karen’s picks:

“Yell Fire!” by Michael Franti — This song, off of his album of the same name, was inspired by his trip to the Middle East, specifically Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  I love that song’s beat just inspires action.

“Big Yellow Taxi”, as performed by Counting Crows featuring Vanessa Carlton — This song commenting on the envirionment, originally by Joni Mitchell, was inspired by her first trip to Hawaii.  “I took a taxi to the hotel,” she said, “and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance.  Then I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart … this blight on paradise.  That’s when I sat down and wrote the song.”

“Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen — This song won Bruce Springsteen an Academy Award.  He wrote the song for the movie Philadelphia, the first mainstream movie dealing with the issue of HIV/AIDS.

“32 Flavors”, as performed by Alana Davis   — This song was actually originally written and performed by Ani Difranco.  I love its lyrics of self-determination — it feels very feminist to me.

“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” by Marvin Gaye — In my opinion, very few artists do activist music more beautifully than Marvin Gaye.  This song depicts the sense of helplessness in the ghettoes of inner-city America.

“One Love/People Get Ready” by Bob Marley — As a West Indian, I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least one song from the Caribbean, and no singer/songwriter did activism in the West Indies better than Bob Marley.  This song of peace was named the song of the millennium by the BBC.

“Peace Train” by Yusuf Islam — Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, is a controversial singer/songwriter, no doubt.  But if ever there was an anthem for peace, this song is it.

“Versions of Violence” by Alanis Morrissette — This song, which Alanis recorded in a dressing room, appeared on the compilation “Songs for Tibet,” created for “the promotion of peace, basic fundamental human rights, including the freedom of speech and religion.”

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” by U2 — U2 is known for their activism — after all, their lead singer, Bono, is one of the cofounders of ONE!  This is my favorite of their songs, written about Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Cult of Personality” by Living Colour — This funk/metal band is one of my favourites, and this song, about misguided hero worship makes me think about who I admire as a hero, and question whether their values are truly my own.

“Better Way” by Ben Harper — Another song that appeared on the compilation album “Songs for Tibet,” this song suggests Ben Harper’s frustration with the American political system.

“Where is the Love” by The Black Eyed Peas — This song is a commentary by the group The Black Eyed Peas about the violence that exists throughout the world.

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman — This beautiful song is “a narrative tale of generational poverty,” and the desire to break the cycle.

“Imagine”, as performed by Herbie Hancock, featuring P!NK, Seal, India.Arie, Jeff Beck, Konono ˚1 & Oumou Sangare — This is quite possibly my favourite performance of John Lennon’s famous song of peace.  I particularly love that  it features Konono N˚1, a musical group from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Oumou Sangare, a beautiful singer from Mali.

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