RATING: 3 CHET BAKERS
While this was released back in November of 2008, I never got around to listening to it. Not sure why, but it just never happened. So I received a copy of this in the mail today and after ripping it to my Ipod, I put on the headphones and gave it a listen.
Now, with a project like this that is so absolutely entwined with a specific historical event, it's impossible to review it without giving it larger context. And while most reviews would focus on the music exclusively, I don't see how it's possible for THIS music, because it's tied into the Obama campaign and the emotions that many people felt when he was elected.
As I posted before in another blog post (click here for that) I explained that the day I voted for Obama was the first time I had voted. I had started following politics a lot more than I had in the past in the year or so before Obama came onto the scene, and so with my having voted for the 1st time I was kinda thrilled by the whole election process, although deeply disturbed and bothered by a lot of the racism and bigotry that permeated through the entire process.
The election of Barack Obama was seen by many as a turning point in our society. In our country's history. And to a degree it was. For the first time in our history, a president was elected that was not white. That was a big deal.
However, where many went wrong is that they felt that it was a turning point in how we deal with race, when if the last year and a half have shown us anything, it's that that did not turn out to be true. While much of the attacks Obama has suffered from his critics have been purely based in ideology, and whether it was Clinton, or Kerry or Edwards or whoever else who had won the presidency they would have been attacked as well, much of it was also steeped in racist and bigotry.
I don't think anyone could rationally say otherwise. I've gone into much detail on the different racist attacks on Obama on several blog posts over the past year or so, so I'm not going to do that again in this one. The bottom line though is that while we may have elected our first African American president, America has shown that it is not a "post-racial" world as some might hope or suggest. We clearly have not overcome our racist and prejudiced history.
Now, the entire Obama campaign was based around the words "Hope" and "Change". Obama was seen as someone who would bring respectability back to the White House (or perhaps simply bring it TO the White House) after he previous eight years had beaten many people down.
This release, "Yes We Can" sort of reinforces that idea. It's filled with songs, both old and new, from a wide range of artists from across the musical landscape. True to the Obama campaign of seeking to bring everyone together, this release brings in artists from different genres to sing songs of hope. Songs wishing for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow that will be decidedly better than our yesterday.
The release, a collaboration between Barack Obama's campaign and Hidden Beach Recordings acts as an Official Soundtrack of sorts, and really is a good one. You have artists such as Sheryl Crow, Kanye West, Adam Levine (from Maroon 5), Stevie Wonder, Yolanda Adams, Jill Scott, Jackson Browne, Keb 'Mo and others lending their names and music to this project.
Initially it was available on Barack Obama's website where the proceeds went to his campaign. Once he was elected, then the compilation went to the stores, and on Hidden Beach's website. This, much like Obama's campaign itself, is a groundbreaker. It's never been done, for a politician to have a soundtrack of his campaign.
And there were those partisans out there who took shots at Obama for this, and it just fed into the whole "Obama's just a celebrity" attacks, but that's going to happen anyway, so who cares?
Now as I'm listening to this, obviously it's kinda hard to separate myself from how things have transpired over the past year and a half. As I'm listening this album, and I'm hearing snippets of Obama's speeches sprinkled throughout the 18 tracks along with a couple tracks with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches, I find myself sighing and wondering what could have been. Not referring to the music, but the promises and the feelings that many Obama supporters felt that night when he was elected.
The feeling that things were about to change. Things were going to be better. Only they weren't. And they weren't. Since the election, as I've found myself being disappointed by the way the President has handled things, I've had to deal with conservative friends who are all too willing to gloat and laugh at the fact that I supported and voted for Obama, since things aren't going as I would like them to.
I constantly get the whole "Boy, I bet you're glad you wasted your vote aren't you?" and things like that. However, the vote wasn't wasted because he won by many more votes than my single one. So it's not like my vote was the deciding one.
Secondly, even after all that has happened, I would not vote for John McCain because I honestly feel that the situation would be worse right now.
I tell myself that it's one thing to say you're going to do this or that when campaigning, and another when you get into office. I'd like to think that while not everything will go the way I want it to, hopefully some good can be done. His first term is not done yet, so it may still be a bit early to judge his entire presidency on 1.5 years out of 4 (or possibly 8) so no need to stick a fork in him yet.
But it isn't as I'd like it to have been.
So with all that in mind I listen to the project and I hear his words about hope and change. I hear him talking about bringing a different mindset to Washington and then think about what's happened so far and it's disheartening, to be sure.
I hold out hope that things will get better. That as the song says, things are gonna get easier.
The Five Stairsteps - Ooh Child
aaron | MySpace Video
As it stands, the Yes We Can compilation is a nice checkpoint in time, though. How many of us have heard our parents or grandparents tell us about things they witnessed in the fifties, sixties or seventies? The moon landing, or the first TV's that were released.
Likewise, the Obama election WILL be one of those moments. The moment the country elected an African American man to the Presidency. No matter how the rest of Obama's term goes, we will remember that. We will be telling our kids and grandkids where we were the night the country, at least momentarily, forsook race for the possibility of a different and better tomorrow.
And the thing that so many conservatives laugh about is that Obama supporters were somehow foolish or gullible or naive to believe Obama would do anything. As if it's somehow a negative to be hopeful. To want to believe in something.
I'll never regret the fact that I voted for Obama out of a desire to help this country get better. It hasn't worked the way I'd like, but I'd rather hope for something to be and be disappointed, rather than be pathetically pessimistic about everything and just assume that everyone I talk to is lying to me.
I'd rather be someone who has to look back and say "Well, that didn't go the way I'd hoped" than be someone who constantly looks at everyone and everything and see a conspiracy theory or just assume that someone is going to fail.
That's no way to live your life.
So I will always treasure this album, not out of some loyalty to Obama or Hidden Beach Records, which I'm on record as being a fan of, but more because it symbolizes something to me. It symbolizes a moment in our history when we put aside our racial differences which should not matter in the first place, and instead celebrated the dawning of what we hoped would be a new day. It symbolizes that night when nothing could get us down. When we saw videos of people in the streets openly weeping tears of happiness because of what they felt this election meant for this country and for them.
And there are some very good songs on this album. You have the classics such as Stevie Wonder's "Signed Sealed Delivered" which was the official theme song of the Obama campaign, you have previous hit songs by Jill Scott (One is the Magic #) John Mayer (Waiting on the World to Change) and Sheryl Crow (Out of Our Heads) as well as new songs by Lionel Ritchie (Eternity) and John Legend (Pride in the Name of Love).
Three truly standout tracks on here have to be pointed out. The Eurythmics' Dave Stewart has a fantastic song on here called "American Prayer" which I have listened to several times already. It's a very upbeat and inspirational track and is a song that I had not heard prior to listening to this album.
Also, Malik Yusef feat. Kanye West and Maroon 5's Adam Levine have a track on here called "Promise Land" which is phenomenal! Yusef's spoken word segment is great and has some truly thought provoking lyrics such as the following:
And I know they don’t wanna see me cooped up in a benz
They’d rather see me cooped up these pens
Therefore I release the ink that’s cooped up in these pens
And let my art-ticulate
People are so slow to love, or so quick to hate
Now some things finna change because we say so
Lets stop looking at how bad things are, and focus on how well they may go
And this is a declaration
That we’ll be fair again
Especially to those Americans, who were Americans, before there were Americans
And a band named Ozomatli which I've never had the fortune of hearing before has a very solid track on here called "Love and Hope". The track has a very "Carlos Santana"ish feel to it, and I wasn't surprised to learn they opened for Santana during his "Supernatural" tour. They have a strong latin vibe to their song while also incorporating other genres of music into it such as rock and hip hop with their scratching.
All in all this is a good album, which some may view as "dated", as it's specifically tied into a single moment in time, but I say that's what makes it special and more than simply a random compilation of good music.
Check out the sampler below with a link to purchase this at Hidden Beach's website.
Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement by hiddenbeach