It’s hard to believe that 2020 is halfway over. A lot has happened, yet at the same time, it feels like nothing has. It is normal to feel heavy on your feet during these times when we need to spend most of our time at home, unable to travel or connect with friends and family and unable to take action. Taking action doesn’t necessarily mean going out on the streets. It could be just getting out of bed at 7am to finish a project, pushing yourself to perfect a skill, reading a new book or even just going to the gym. In times like these, we turn to music for inspiration. In this first edition of Xiaolin Sound, we will talk about how over the years, iconic artists have used music as an outlet to express themselves and inspire us to take action, covering everything from eco-activism to women’s rights, anti-racism and spreading positivity in general. I will also share my 10 favourite “action” picks of the month from local as well as international artists and producers, with more detailed highlights below.
Nina Simone – Feeling Good
Born in 1933, jazz-soul singer Nina Simone is a legendary female icon known for standing up against racism in the music world. When she performed at her first piano concert at the age of twelve, her African-American parents were forced to sit at the back of the room in order to make room for the white patrons. In that moment, she had refused to start playing until her parents were moved back to their original seats in the front. This encounter greatly affected her and led her to become a big advocate for Black Rights through her songwriting. Since her graduation from The Juilliard School, she has gone on to become one of the most successful singers in the world with her uniquely soulful voice and her ability to reinterpret popular songs of the time into a unique blend of jazz, blues and gospel. Her most well-known song, Feeling Good was written in 1965 and talks about starting fresh and finding peace and happiness after overcoming adversity.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
One of my favourite songs by Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On, written in the early 1970s, is taken from his brother’s experience in Vietnam. The song opens with a homecoming party for a war veteran, and beneath it lies a veiled sense of uneasiness, which begs the question, “What’s going on?” What starts off as a celebration turns into a plea to stop the war violence.
Massive Attack – Be Thankful For What You’ve Got
British band Massive Attack is one of biggest advocates against climate change. In order to reduce their carbon footprint on their tour this year, they had announced that they would complete the rest of their European tour on train. They have also announced that they would donate four years of their tour data to a report on the music industry’s carbon footprint. In April 2019, the band made a surprise appearance at an event in London held by activist group Extinct Rebellion, where they performed a live remix of their song Hymn of the Big Wheel. One of my favourite songs by them is Be Thankful For What You’ve Got.
Aretha Franklin – I’m Every Woman/Respect
Selected as the final song in my “pick of the month” list, Aretha Franklin’s music needs no introduction. Most of Aretha’s songs evoke a strong sense of feminist confidence, encouraging fellow women to be confident and proud to be a woman. Her powerful voice commands respect her lyrics make us feel powerful.
Maximus MMC – Wave Of Emotions
Hong Kong-based French producer Maximus MMC’s debut EP Bleu is a collaborative work with NYTimes writer and Pulitzer price winner Ian Urbina, who has written a new book The Outlaw Ocean, based on reporting in the ocean that he has been conducting in the past 5 years. The book chronicles a diversity of crimes offshore, including the killing of stowaways, sea slavery, intentional dumping, illegal fishing, stealing of ships, gun-running, murder with impunity and much more. This EP is inspired by the book and features samples that were extracted from Ian’s audios and videos that he has been recording during all those years of reporting by the ocean.
Mr. Ho – Contam1n8
Record collector and DJ-producer Mr. Ho is one to watch out for in the Hong Kong scene. He has been collecting music and DJing in clubs over 15 years and is the co-owner of Klasse Wrecks, the cult Berlin label that has been bringing out some of the most highly anticipated and sought after records in electronic music in the recent years. Since relocating back to Hong Kong after a stint in Berlin, Mr. Ho has recently released the banger EP Homeboys along with Luca Lozano, his label partner. My favourite song from the EP Contam1n8 is a slow-moving rave track with a groovy bassline that just makes you want to get up and move.
“ACTION” Pick Of The Month – Full Playlist:
- Feeling Good – Nina Simone
- What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
- Be Thankful For What You’ve Got – Massive Attack
- Contam1n8 – Mr. Ho
- Power (feat. Jasnau) – Lauer
- Cause oui! – Cassius, Mike D
- Fear Of Expression – B12
- There’s No Future In The Past – Tony Lionni
- Wave Of Emotions – Maximus MMC, Ian Urbina
- I’m Every Woman/Respect – Aretha Franklin
CreditLead image: David Redfern/Redferns via Getty Images