Giant Steps Music, the San Francisco based organization where musical and social innovation collide, is back with the release of their sophomore album, What If. The album is slated for release on March 8, which also marks International Women’s Day.
What If is the result of Giant Steps’ Music Action Lab 2.0 that took place in the Fall of 2017 throughout the Bay Area, with the monthlong program ending in Ixtapa, Mexico. The Music Action Lab is an innovative residency uniting musicians from around the world to create social impact music, and to nurture the next generation of musical change makers.
Music Action Lab 2.0 featured nine musicians across the globe including GRAMMY-nominated drummer and founder of an ecocultural nonprofit (Ernesto “Matute” Lopez), an award-winning percussionist and global TED Fellow from Kenya (Kasiva Mutua), an Oberlin and Juilliard-trained cellist whose work as a global music educator has included work in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkmenistan and El Salvador (Avery Waite), a cultural catalyst and multi-instrumentalist bandleader bringing Turks and Armenians together (Sevana Tchakerian), a semifinalist in the EuroVision contest (Rona Nishliu), a Sony Records recording artist alum and jazz saxophonist and composer (James Brandon Lewis), a Tanzanian multi-instrumentalist/percussionist (Kauzeni Lyamba), a Japanese-American pianist and flautist (Erika Oba), and California native and bassist (Chris Bastian). Full biographies of each member can be found at http://bit.ly/GSmac2-bios
Drew Foxman, the founder and executive producer of Giant Steps Music adds, “The primary inspiration behind the release is the unique and diverse talents of this year’s collective that joined the Lab for its second season to catalyze our mission to build a global community of musicians that create music to advance social change. Facilitated by leaders in the music and social impact industries, our collective gained insight, skills, and tools in a month-long curriculum that informs the creation of the music.” In one month of workshops and rehearsals dedicated to advancing social causes as part of the Music Action Lab, the Collective created a suite of eight original compositions and arrangements on the album What If that address issues of gender inequality, human rights, neocolonialism, and more.
The title of the album What If captures the heart of this release—addressing and exploring disparity and injustice through the lenses of gender and women, human rights, and water, while bringing across a message of inspiration by calling listeners to actively participate in ending injustice.
It is no coincidence that the album’s release day is on “International Women’s Day.” The lead off track “Overlooked” is an upbeat, uplifting representation of women in society—and the courage, strength, and resolve to face the indignity of discrimination and inequity with power and grace. Other timely and socially conscious themes run throughout the album. For example, the track “Monuments” builds over a haunting jazz-inspired groove that challenges the concepts of monuments as a physical structure, cautioning the celebration of war and violence over the fragility and transience of life, while “Agua” is a love song to water, our most precious resource on earth that calls listeners to treat it as if she were our mother, lover, spouse, or friend.
The title track “What If” is inspired by the global human rights framework and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. “What If” is a call to each and every one of us to actively work, support, defend, uphold, and persevere to protect the fundamental rights of all. This melodic ballad integrates spoken word in the spirit of African-American civil rights leaders to both point to the possibilities of fulfilling the human rights mandate—while freely revealing its shortcomings without a legal mandate to uphold it. “New Babylon” (for Delasi) is a tribute to Ghanaian rapper Delasi Nunana, who was refused entry to the U.S. after his selection to the Music Action Collective. “New Babylon” speaks to the inequities intrinsic to the nation-state system, and the inequality between the rich and developing countries, the global North and the global South. The song “Right Again” was created in a workshop with incarcerated men in San Francisco Jail #5, as part of the Music Action Lab global music residency, while “Kesaule (live)” is a traditional folk harvest song from Tanzania that is a percussive, upbeat, uplifting celebration of people working together as community to create safe, vibrant relationships and ways of living in unity. The song was recorded live from the Collective’s debut performance at Ashkenaz World Music Center in Berkeley, CA.
Although the Music Action Collective’s debut album Foundation received critical acclaim from The Huffington Post, KQED, and Jazz Weekly, What If takes the structure built from the first sessions and builds upon it. Foxman concludes, “The artistry is on a whole other level as we’ve grown up from our pilot season. This is less a compilation of songs from musicians around the world than it is a cohesive statement on rights and justice from the participating members who have come together to create a unified and quite unique sound. It fits nicely into our catalog since it touches universal social justice topics of rights.”
What If – Track Listing
New Babylon (for Delasi)