CROWDFUNDING RADAR: Social Consciousness and Christmas with a Spin
Crys Matthews (photo by Jeff Fasano)
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. In a normal year, that wouldn’t be so remarkable, but in 2020, “interesting” is a high bar to clear. For several days after Election Day last week, America had no idea who its president would be in January, the electoral equivalent of an “It’s Complicated” relationship status. Thankfully now that question is answered. But all of this civic mindedness got me thinking about how much music and government have intersected in recent years, arguably more than at any time since the Great Folk Scare of the ’60s. While there aren’t any songs about the strangeness of presidential vote counting (for the record, I would pay money for a song about the Electoral College if written by Amanda Shires or Todd Snider), there are plenty of folks with things to say about the state of the world. This week, I’ve got two socially conscious projects from some extremely talented artists, and I am topping it off with my first Christmas album project of the year.
Crys Matthews – Changemakers (click here to view project)
One of the things that keeps me doing this column is that I learn as much or more about new artists as the readers do. I’m not sure how Crys Matthews slipped by me, but I’m very glad her campaign landed in my inbox. Matthews almost punted her new social justice album, Changemakers, to a year where musicians weren’t grounded from touring. Two things changed her mind. The deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and an Ani DiFranco quote about people making records “as in a record of an event.” The first song from the album, “How Many More,” is powerful and leaves me wanting to hear more of what Matthews has to say. The album is available only on CD, with no digital or vinyl tier. One backer perk for the Kickstarter campaign to fund the album is access to Matthews’ Changemaker roundtables, where she and friends join virtually to talk about the social justice legends who influenced her work, and their lessons for today. Other rewards include autographed album art and access to a virtual album release party.
Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet – Social Distancing (click here to view project)
The multiethnic and cultural barrier-smashing music of the Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet alone is a statement against nationalism and isolation. But for the past 15 years, the group has been mixing some amazing hyperkinetic jazz with messages about multicultural acceptance and political activism. As the title might suggest, COVID-19 shaped much of the band’s new album, Social Distancing, including a partnership with poet Kitty O’Meara for a spoken-word piece around her poem “And the People Stayed Home.” They’re also turning up the levels on their already percussion-heavy sound by working with Peruvian engineer Julio Ortega to “record as Peruvians,” mixing percussion instruments at the same level as the trumpet-saxophone frontline. For their Kickstarter campaign, the group has put together some fun backer perks to go along with the social distancing theme as well as with their unique instrumental style. In addition to the album in digital and CD formats, they offer an art print of O’Meara’s poem; a Social Distancing mask or neck gaiter; and the literal “jawbone of an ass,” aka a quijada, autographed by percussionist Freddy “Huevito” Lobaton.
Ruut DeMeo – Beloved Christmas (click here to view project)
If you’re one of those people groaning right now at the mention of Christmas music before Thanksgiving, know I’m on your side. But this is actually months later than campaigns for holiday music typically run and, in this case, there was enough of a unique spin to catch my attention, despite my distaste for hearing “Angels We Have Heard on High” before Santa rides through the Macy’s Parade. Ruut DeMeo is a Finnish-American novelist and musician who has also made a bit of a name for herself for her piano-driven covers of rock songs on YouTube. For Beloved Christmas, DeMeo is mixing the holiday traditionals present on any album with some traditional Finnish carols you won’t hear on your Dean Martin Holiday Collection. There aren’t a lot of unique backer perks for this Indiegogo campaign, just the album in various quantities, a song dedication, and a house concert. Still, imagine your family’s reaction when you break out that holiday classic “Arkihuolesi Kaikki Heitä.”