“The greatest voice is the voice of the people - speaking out - in prose, or painting or poetry or music; speaking out - in homes and halls, streets and farms, courts and cafes - let that voice speak and the stillness you hear will be the gratitude of mankind."
---- Robert F. Kennedy
When we created the Speak Truth to Power (STTP) Speak Up, Sing Out Music Contest in partnership with the GRAMMY Museum, we did so to display the power of art - in this case, music - as one way to help realize Robert F. Kennedy’s vision of a world defined by justice and equality. For the past three years, the contest has called on young people to use music as a vehicle for change, to create new songs that both raise awareness and inspire action towards solving a pressing human rights issue.
To encourage students to start preparing for the 2019 contest, we spoke with our 2018 contest winner, Ming-An Fasquelle, a 10th grader from Burbank, CA to learn more about her song writing process.
The 2019 contest will launch on September 24th. Students can learn more about the contest and enter here through May 13th.
What inspired you to enter the Speak Up, Sing Out Music Contest?
The realization that there is a platform through which I could channel my frustration regarding the issues of today’s world and showcase my own frustrations and those of this country’s on a global stage. It [was] my chance to contribute to a movement that is bigger than the song, something that goes beyond the music, but can be best understood through the lyrics and melody of a song. I [also] wanted to take the opportunity to write a song that didn’t choose to communicate a message that is “easy” to talk about, and instead [focus on] one that remains controversial and important to keep discussing.
What inspired you to choose the human rights issues your song is about?
In everyday life, there is a still a consistent mistreatment towards people of color and while slavery and Jim Crow laws no longer exist, these systems have left institutionalized racism […] that many Americans fail to recognize. Also, I took into account the hypocrisy of the constitution that claimed all men were created equal and free […] when slaves had no freedom. To say today that people of all races are free and equal ignore[s] the fact that African Americans still continuously fight against socio-economic discrimination in wage gaps and in housing zones, white supremacist movements, societal discrimination, mass incarceration, and police brutality. As I am half Chinese as well, I personally identify with this racism.
What was your process for writing the song?
When researching and listening to many civil rights and old slave songs, I recognized that many of them began with hand claps. So I sat in my grandparents’ apartment at 4:00 A.M., turned on my voice memo recorder, and began to clap my hands and the song emerged from that. Then I took out my piano app on my phone and recorded a very simple chord progression for the song. From there, I began to write the first thing that came to my mind, something that was evident but needed to be said: “It’s been years, still gotta fight.” I [also] had to [decide] how much of my own view I wanted in the song, how much I wanted to criticize hypocrisy, how much to reference past civil rights leaders, laws, and allusions to slavery, and finally how much I wanted to sing about how far we’ve come. The most rewarding part was finally being able to look back at what I wrote and knowing that someone was going to resonate with those lyrics.
What does activism mean to you?
Activism to me means having the courage to be part of a movement that is willing to question a threat to justice of any kind, and not allowing criticism or other obstacles to dissuade you from fighting for what is right. Activism can be channeled in any way such as through writing, music, sports, science, politics, media, etc.
What motivates you to create?
The best songs I have written come from that place of having to cope with sorrow and solitude, feeling unheard and belittled. I don’t need to worry about what others think and who might judge me for it – I simply need to sing a little by little, my misery dissipates.
What is the best advice you can give to other students who are entering the contest?
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. No issue is too big or too small. There is no one right way to musically address the issue. Have fun with your creation and write about something that truly nourishes your artistic desire to create.
Any final thoughts?
Every voice matters.