By Barclay Martin, new channels coordinator for Unbound
It is an outlandish thing to make your living as a singer/songwriter, and one of the lessons it taught me early was that in order to make it, you have to hustle.
You have to release the notion that just because a morning of coffee and scratching in a notebook renders a song the world is compelled to respond. There’s a brawn to art, the idea that beneath the lustrous promise of a new creation there is muscle and metal driving it. With each release, there is a constant chirping in my brain, beckoning people to pay attention for a moment to what I’m doing. It is a daily battle for a sliver of presence in a world more infinitely layered than we could ever know.
Yet the battle is waged daily.
Voices of Unbound: Madagascar, a collection of songs I helped produce during a month-long visit to the island nation, gave me the chance to release that battle. There, I began the process of setting ego aside and letting some incredible music take hold in that space. Because I’ve learned that while the world may not need another sequence of my personal musings, it is in desperate need of connection.
The voices that have never had a platform to speak possess the vision to help us see ourselves from a different perspective. That is infinitely valuable.
Art can do this, if we let it.
I have always been inspired and awed by the folk heroes who used their songs to raise awareness, to speak of injustice and to deliver it in a way that people could access. If we are to understand each other, messengers like these are needed.
Folk singers, in the traditional sense, had no platform to impart their opinions in relative anonymity as we do now, but instead delivered their songs, without filter, in the presence of the audience. Flesh and bone, wood and steel. There’s an inescapable grace that comes with this kind of vulnerability, and our world needs more of it.
In search of that spirit, I stepped into the arena of those whose voices have never been heard. Their studio is in the streets, alleys and fields where they make their home. These songs were born of the gorgeous imperfection of a community resolute in the challenges they face – a place and people teeming with life.
Because for all of the ills harbored in our world, I choose to believe that the solution lies in each one of us. Spending a month with musicians and communities in Madagascar who offered their songs and space in their lives for us, gave me the resounding sense that this is true.
Just as human rights attorney Bryan Stevenson said that people are better than the worst thing they have ever done, so it is with society. When you look between the cracks that appear on the surface, you catch a glimpse of its heart.
I can assure you, it’s worth a look.
Having the courage to truly know one another might be our greatest response to the increasing impulse to disconnect and divide despite the crescendo of innovations that promise connection.
This music comes to us with no agenda, except an invitation to know those who made it. In a world more fiercely divided and fearful than ever, perhaps that’s what we need most.
Each song in this collection calls us to feel something, not to be distracted from feeling too much. It has become my opportunity to pause, and learn about what it means to make music and engage with the world at ground level. Throughout this collection, and across our world, you will find human courage in the form of song.
I am listening.
These are the folk singers of our time.
Hear the music of the Malagasy people. Visit unbound.org/music.