The Daily Gazette
Writing songs that right wrongs
By Matthew McKibben
Monday, January 19, 2015
ALBANY — Simple songs or chants can often serve as a uniting force to provoke social change.
One believer in that idea is Taina Asili. She conducted a workshop Sunday at the Albany Social Justice Center, where visitors were given an opportunity to analyze songs by artists such as Pete Seeger and Nina Simone. The group of eight then broke into four teams to craft their own songs about social change.
Though it was no coincidence that the workshop was held the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the group also discussed the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, where police officers killed unarmed black men.
“Sometimes the simplest of songs can lead protests and we remember them decades later as songs that really led to change,” said Asili, who calls Albany home, but has traveled all over the country spreading her message.
She said she was thrilled to have the opportunity to hold a workshop in her hometown the day before MLK Day.
“To be able do this, the day before a holiday that celebrates a man that strived for social justice, is really amazing,” she said. “I couldn’t pass that opportunity up.”
The Albany Social Justice Center, located on Central Avenue near the state Capitol building, is a grassroots community organization that, through its programming and projects, confronts the roots and structures of oppression. The center often rents out its space to groups looking to build strong community activism.
Amani Olugbala of Albany dissected Simone’s song “Mississippi Goddam” and was amazed at how much courage she had to write the tune.
“For a black woman to say the word ‘goddam’ back then was not easy, and it took a great deal of courage,” she said.
Tonya Abernathy of Troy, a friend of Asili, said the workshop gave her a platform to stretch herself creatively.
“Attempting new things often takes you out of your creative comfort zone and can be helpful,” she said. “The ability to come into a safe place and, through music, speak your mind.”
Gaetano Vaccaro, Asili’s husband, said the ability to bring social injustices into the mainstream through music is extremely important.
“By discussing social ills and injustices in music and creating anthem-type songs and chants that look to reverse those problems is amazing,” Vaccaro said. “I think it is something that all songwriters look to accomplish.”