Despite what you might think by looking at the charts or listening to the radio there are young musicians out there who are politically engaged and writing protest songs. The ability of young people to use social media to mobilise politically has been so important in the last few years of dramatic worldwide upheaval. In music, these mediums allow independent voices to be heard and shared across the world. Raye Zaragoza is one such musician, and she has recently released her album Fight For You, which is partly a response to the North Dakota pipeline protests.
‘Using music for social change has really changed music for me,” Zaragoza said, in a recent interview. “I noticed you can do so much with music to reach people and promote change.” This concise collection could do just that, such is its quiet power. She has also released a music video detailing the key issues around the situation in North Dakota and has committed herself to spreading the political message of environmentalism and rights for indigenous people (she herself is of Native American heritage).
The opening track on the album is called ‘American Dream‘ and she says she means for the title to be in inverted commas, such are her thoughts on that frayed concept. This understated song is a response to the political turmoil in America right now and lyrics like ‘I’ve been thinking about war and I can’t take it anymore‘ and ‘hate can’t be the face of the American Dream’ are sung with a perfect sense of empathetic understanding it almost breaks your heart. Her voice floats beautifully over the acoustic instruments and there’s a directness to the music which allows the message to shine. Change is a choice and it can start with you, she sings and you know she’s right.
In the River is a protest song about Standing Rock and a response to the fear about the impact of oil and gas on the environment but there is also a general message here about the importance of community. Raye does not turn to anger when she sings of these troubles, this is too important to do that. Driving to Standing Rock is her personal story of travelling to the protests and trying to make a difference – there’s an innocent naivety to this song, perhaps, but we can’t just leave waging heavy peace to the old white guys (no insult intended to Neil Young who has done amazing things his whole career for environmental issues).
The best song here is the title track Fight For You where her voice really shines and a more uptempo beat drives the song. This is a call to action for people to work together for a better world. There’s a real connection to nature in her lyrics and her political ideology is always encased in hope and humanity. Take my hand and we’ll see this through, stand up for what’s right, don’t walk silently into the night. Music has the power to unite people and this song is a beautiful attempt to wake people up to the problems around them.
Raye is not just a protest singer as there are some sweet love songs on this album too. Bushwick Avenue is a great slice of New York romance. Speedway is about escaping heartache and there is a real sense of place evoked in this song too. In a way these two songs seem more naturally suited to her singing style but that just impresses me even more – this singer didn’t need to write about politics but she wanted to, she couldn’t just sit around writing about love when terrible things were happening to the world.
Raye’s songs have a pop sensibility and an accessibility which means she has the potential to crossover to a wider audience than just traditional folk, which is a good thing. Sure there is a simplicity to some of these songs but this is part of their appeal. This is just the beginning for an artist who has something unique to say and a talent to make people listen.
Raye’s Pledge Music campaign is still ongoing if you wish to purchase the album from the artist: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/rayezaragoza