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December 18, 2008

Shouting Out for Amnesty

by John Oseid

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." Article 1 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights is as noble and absolute a proclamation as there is. But how many of us are familiar with it? Now's your chance to brush up on your human rights awareness.

To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the declaration's signing, top musicians from around the world gathered (digitally) in the U.N. General Assembly to implore that the struggle for rights continue. The thrilling result is the above video to the anthem "The Price of Silence." Think of the project as "We Are the World" for the new century, except this time the star performers actually come from around the world.

Proceeds from the song go to Amnesty International; you can contribute by buying it off iTunes. The video was produced by alternative media LinkTV, which has lyrics and artist profiles on its Web site.

After actor Laurence Fishburne delivers a stately intro, Stephen Marley and Natalie Merchant get the show started. My favorite Mexican pop star Julieta Venegas chimes in with Andrea Ecehverri of the Colombian alternative rock duo Aterciopelados. "The Price of Silence" is, in fact, a reworking of "Canción Protesta," off their 2006 album Oye.

Lately, I've been hearing a lot about the Zimbabwean-American songwriter Chiwoniso. After hearing her sing a few strong verses in Shona for "The Price of Silence," I'm eager to explore her music more. Exiled Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo sings a prayer, while others add Arabic and Urdu touches. One-time exiled South African elder statesman and jazz trumpet star Hugh Masekela (and former husband of Miriam Makeba) lends his 69-year-old voice to a little rap:

If you're not jealous of your freedom
You're going to find yourself in serfdom
If you're not jealous of your liberty
You're going to find yourself in slavery,
Fight for your rights!

Throw in some verses by Natacha Atlas and Sudanese rapper Emmanuel Jal--more to come from him in a future post--and you've got a collaboration that is stirring and timely. Oh, and it's got a really danceable groove.

More music:
* The acclaimed, socially active Colombian duo Aterciopelados' brand-new album Río is getting major praise. Here's the psychedelic video to the title track, a prayer for the salvation of the dirty Bogotá River.
* If you're feeling nostalgic, here's Bob, Billy, Bruce, Tina, Huey, Lionel et al, giving their all for "We Are the World."
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.
* Make a Difference: Resources for caring travelers.

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