by Ayanna Jacobs-El
Music has been used to address the issues plaguing society throughout history. Artists like Bob Marley and Nina Simone used their musical platform to raise awareness of injustices, like racism and corruption, to help evoke positive change in the world. Each year, the Songs for Social Change Contest, led by Berklee faculty members Mark Simos and Christiane Karam, invites Berklee students to submit songs that discuss the social issues that resonate with them. This year the contest received over 100 submissions in which four prizewinners and nine finalists were selected. The prizewinners and finalists performed their songs at the Red Room at Cafe 939 for a packed audience of enthusiastic listeners.
The show started off with eight of the nine finalists. Sarah Khatami, author of “Marde Sefid Poost (White Man),” was unable to perform due to studying abroad in Valencia. The show concluded with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. Throughout the night, the songs ranged in genre and subject matter such as dealing with eating disorders, autism awareness, and sexual assault.
Daisy Stewart’s “Stockholm Syndrome” recounted a relationship involving domestic abuse. Her husky voice perfectly evoked the turbulence associated with the situation and towards the end of the song she stunned the audience with an improvised muted mouth trumpet solo. In a completely different style, rapper Tristan Simone performed his song “Glory,” which featured a slick old-school inspired hip-hop beat and lyrics about the intolerance people of different backgrounds face.
Some of the performances featured spoken word like Samantha Hozven’s “Don’t Pray For Me,” a powerful song about the Parkland shooting tragedy in which she sang and recited prose about her disapproval of how gun control is handled in the United States. Another that involved spoken word was Alida McKeon and Abigail Lim-Kimberg‘s “I See You,” a moving piece featuring the stories of sexual assault survivors that provided solace through extending emotional support to survivors as they overcome their trauma. Makele Clemmons‘s “79th Street” recounted the tribulations of being raised in the ghetto through a skillfully executed rap and a beautifully sung chorus while she accompanied herself on piano.
For third place, there was a tie between Jenni Rudolph and Makayla Colonello‘s “(Blame it On The) Black Dress” and Maria Landi’s “We Know.” “(Blame it On The) Black Dress” was a funky, upbeat female empowerment anthem addressing societies criticism of how women dress. The all-female band had the entire crowd bobbing their heads and tapping their feet to the beat while Jenni Rudolph sang the catchy tune with confidence. Maria Landi‘s “We Know” took on a more solemn tone and discussed the anguish associated with sexual assault. Accompanying herself on piano, her delicate voice recounted the story of a woman dealing with her assault and offered the encouraging message of “We Know,” to represent those who offer their support and love to help her regain her sense of self.
The second place winner was Berklee Groove Editor-in-Chief Dom Jones who performed her song “Grace.” According to Dom, the song was inspired by and dedicated to the people of her hometown, Oakland, CA. Accompanied by a funky electric guitar groove, Dom’s soulful voice delivered powerful lyrics depicting several vignettes of disadvantaged individuals trying to be seen for their worth in a society that couldn’t care less about them. Towards the end of “Grace,” Dom seamlessly transitioned to a rap about a man struggling to make ends meet while also having to pay taxes to the government that doesn’t value his life in which she delivered this fantastic lyric, “How can he continue to contribute to the genocide, the systematic imprisonment of his mind.”
The first place winner, Salem Davern, performed her emotional song “Awake” about the Parkland shooting. As her band played a somber alt-rock groove, Salem’s lyrics addressed the lawmakers who fail to pass legislation for tighter gun control. During the chorus, she sang the question of “how many incidents of violence till you’re awake?” Each time this refrain occurred the entire band punctuated the word “Awake” which helped to push the weight and importance of the question. Through “Awake” Daverne did a fantastic job of expressing the anger, pain, and sadness that the survivors and the families of victims of mass shootings feel.
Honorable Mention who performed in the showcase: Steve Martin — “Different”