Dark times demand music that elevates. And these are dark times, no matter which side of the political wall on which you choose to plant your feet.
Happily, there is some great music – on the horizon, and already in the shops – that suggests that, though humankind continues to fail to live up to its limitless potential on many fronts, there are still great artists making great art.
And guess what? They come from every corner of the world, as they always have. Though they might not be coming here for a while.
When the tide begins to turn against the idea of multiculturalism, it is clearly the job of the artist to steady the ship by offering a clear example of multicultural harmony through art. That's part of the reason I've been digging RDGLDGRN, (pronounced RedGoldGreen) a cross-pollinating hip-hop-based trio whose members hail from California, Haiti and Romania, but who found creative common ground in Reston, Va. - within the Washington D.C. metropolitan area - where they met through mutual friends.
This week, the trio released a new single, dubbed "Opera," and it offers a stirring mash-up of acoustic and electronic stylings, rock elements and world-beat groves, all run through a hip-hop filter. It's refreshing and forward-looking stuff, not least because it spits out a relevant message.
“There’s a saying that we learned from protesters in Germany against the government and the country’s treatment of the Syrian refugees - it is that no human being can be illegal," says Green (aka Pierre Desrosiers) in a press release heralding the single's arrival. "That idea inspired this video (for 'Opera'). The aggression of the music and accent mirrors the way you view the speaker all the way from the beginning of the track to when it’s finally deconstructed at the end." The full album isn’t due until spring, but you can check out "Opera" now through YouTube, and you should.
Iranian-born, Netherlands-raised post-modern R&B singer Sevdaliza has rush-released a new single, "Bebin," in direct response to what she calls in a prepared statement "the inhumane political climate." The haunting, minimalist marriage of techno and hip-hop is sung mostly in the Farsi language, though an English translation is provided via Sevdaliza's Bandcamp page, where you can download the single, and her Soundcloud page, where you can listen to "Bebin" for free.
Writes the singer, "As I will not be able to travel to the United States for indefinite duration, take this message without lights, camera, action. I am solely a messenger. In the act of love, there is no place for racism nor bigotry. " Correct.
Since Japandroids hail from Canada, you might still be able to catch the band in concert during the tour behind its freshly released "Near to the Wild Heart of Life," a life-affirming slab of raucous rock 'n' roll with punk undertones and some surprising new melodic twists. Fans of the Hold Steady, please waste no time digging into the anthemic declaration of individual liberty that is the title track. Be forewarned: It's likely to get you all fired up. There is no Buffalo date planned yet, so you might consider catching Japandroids twin-night stand Feb. 17 and 18 at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto.
Speaking of Toronto, that city will also host another vital band not slated to hit Buffalo. The Flaming Lips released "Oczy Mlody" a few weeks back, and though it does not directly address the current discord, it does something at least as important – it encourages the imagination to journey to a safe, vibrant, inclusive place where everyone is welcome, if they know how to chill. (That's an increasingly big "if," moreso by the day, sadly.) If you're bummed out with the way things are going, take a mental health break and let this music take you away for a while. The Lips play March 18 at the Rebel Complex in Toronto.
What unifies these seemingly disparate artists? They come from different parts of the world, were raised in divergent cultures, were exposed to different religions, speak different languages. And yet, they are united in the belief that music acknowledges no borders. And their work suggests that we all might have a lot more in common then we realize.