The power of music goes beyond what you hear — it has the ability to comfort, to educate, to empower and to connect individuals even if they are on the other side of the world. Music has the power to bring revolutionary change in a peaceful manner during challenging times. Mollie Stone, a conductor of the Chicago Children’s Choir, has been able to experience the unifying power of music throughout her career in South Africa and the U.S.
Through her extensive work with South African choirs and her project “Vela Vela,” Stone raises awareness about the significance of music for South Africans and its role in political and social issues like the anti-apartheid movement and the current struggle against HIV. She also emphasizes the importance of maintaining authenticity when learning and teaching music from different cultures.
With her mother constantly playing South African music in their home in Chicago, Stone was already familiar with world music as a child. Quite naturally, she became drawn to South African choral music when she learned national songs linked to the anti-apartheid movement as a member of the Chicago Children’s Choir during her teenage years. When the South African apartheid was in the process of ending, learning those songs felt very relevant to Stone. “It was happening half a world away, but it was really interesting since it paralleled our own Civil Rights Movement,” Stone said on the phone.
She gained a newfound love for South African music when the Choir went on tour in the country in 1996. She loved the music for its beautiful sound and the way it united South Africans in helping them form a new national identity after apartheid.
However the complex rhythms, the rich vocal tones, and correct pronunciation in those South African songs were all lost with the simplified versions that Stone learned in the choir when they returned to the U.S. “South African music unfortunately is one of the most butchered by transcriptions,” Stone explained. “When you try to notate South African music, it really just destroys it…It ends up sounding nothing like South African music.”
In recalling her frustration, Stone also explained that the simplification of South African music risks feeding the harmful stereotypes that music from different cultures are inferior to Western classical music, which would be a poor influence on younger generations. “If we teach music from other cultures well, [young people] will grow up to care about the rest of the world and not just think that America is the center of the universe…If we dumb it down, we’re teaching our kids something that’s really wrong and really racist in the long run.”
To address this problem, Stone created “Vela Vela” during graduate school to allow teachers and students in other countries to learn South African music directly from South Africans. With this project, Stone and her friend returned to South Africa to record natives teaching their songs through oral tradition — the way they’re supposed to be taught. Despite the numerous logistic and technical challenges in producing “Vela Vela,” it was all worth it when the teaching DVD was met with success. “It [allowed] Americans to hear what South Africans actually sound like when they sing their music,” Stone said.
“Vela Vela” also highlights the crucial role of music in South Africa’s persisting issues of government corruption, poverty, and HIV, the spread of which has been a dire problem in the country’s society.
“There are many reasons in which one in three people are infected,” Stone said solemnly. Open discussion about HIV is discouraged because of the danger of becoming a target for violence. Many women who don’t have control in their relationships or their sexual safety contract the virus when their partners don’t want to use condoms, which contributes to the large population of children and orphans infected with AIDS. “Only in the past few years have things changed so that people now have access to anti-retrovirals that enable them to live with the virus,” she added.
South Africans continue to fight for change with the limitless power of music. “In South Africa, people always adapt their choral music to use in different struggles, and so singing songs that helped them be successful in the past gives a sense of hope and determination that they’ll survive this current struggle. […] When they sing, they feel they’re a part of a community but they’re individuals,” Stone said.
“To see that as a conductor is really inspiring because in America, we don’t often sing music that is really connected to anything that we’re dealing with, especially politically and socially,” she continued. “To have music be such a part of everyday life sort of comes naturally in South Africa in a way that it doesn’t here or in anywhere else that I’ve ever seen.”
Today, Stone continues to share her passion for South African music by teaching workshops across the U.S. wherein she expands her students’ musical knowledge and lets them see how music from different cultures can connect with the issues in their own lives. “They feel like they’re in solidarity with people in their own communities and in other countries when they sing the South African songs about HIV…If we sing songs about the anti-apartheid struggle, we’ll talk about inequality.”
She also recounts the many times the faces of her advanced students light up with joy when they realize that singing South African choral music helps them better understand compositions from Brahms or Bach. “Everything is so connected, and to break down that wall is so exciting.” Stone believes fervently devoting herself to teaching her workshops as authentically as possible gives her students the chance to become more global citizens by learning music from different cultures without feeling self-conscious.
The enthusiastic reactions of her students motivate Stone to continue growing as a passionate teacher, conductor, and individual. “It’s amazing to have that constant balancing of being open to the world around me and then bringing it back to my students, and then learning from them how to share the things that turn on all the lights in my head, my soul, and my voice.”
A woman contracts malaria. A man suffers his first stroke. A war robs a family of their lives. As much as we lament these misfortunes, we still feel detached from them—keen on viewing disasters as hypothetical scenarios rather than as distinct daily possibilities. How differently would we react to these events if we could fathom their yearly impact? Daily impact? If we could pinpoint the escalating rates of births, deaths, and disasters by the minute?
Spreading awareness of global trends is the aim of the Live World Clock. A counter developed by Poodwaddle, this embeddable widget illustrates the scope of global events by projecting their quantitative impact in real time. Users are able to toggle between durations—years, months, weeks, days, and even time from the present moment on—and scroll through live statistics, including those measuring global population, death rates, the spread of illnesses, and human environmental impact. Among the most striking of these findings are the death tolls from disease, the staggering amount of carbon dioxide emissions, and our multiplying national debt: numbers that continue to escalate tremendously, even as our lives seem to continue independently of rapidly evolving global factors. Though the Live World Clock functions merely as a mathematical, research-based projection of these statistics, it serves as a staggering illustration of misfortunes, deaths, and harmful human trends that continue without a foreseeable end—numbers that will only continue to rise if we fail to offer immediate aid.
Interfaces like the Live World Clock emphasize the need for quick collective action. The old maxim states that time stops for nobody—but when it comes to the global problems we have the power to control, it’s now easier than ever to inform ourselves about these trends, take a stand against escalating issues, and stop the clock on war, disease, and other calamities in our world.
The Live World Clock is also available here.
“The Borderlands is a place that inspires those of us who look for the light in the shadows.” — Raechel Running
Raechel Running’s life is a river winding through contiguous regions, braiding currents from each to create multicultural art. A photographer, she assembles images from throughout the American Southwest, Mexico, and South America, incorporating textiles, paint, and small objects to create multimedia experiences of people and places. Her compositions astonish; their beauty is original, sometimes iconic, and always bold.
Much of Raechel’s portraiture and other compositions capture popular culture in an at once desolate and vivid part of the world: the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. There, everyday elements of cultures combine, even as the politics of national identity–Mexican, Anglo, Indigenous–contrast acutely. Raechel’s lens interprets everything from borderland cowboy culture, farm life in the valley, and small town relics to the wild places of rivers and deserts, and does so by blending artifacts of the old and the new to be found in all of these places.
“I believe words and images are stronger used together,” she says. “Since I was twelve years old, I’ve kept journals and notebooks. I integrate the journaling process into my photo illustrations. Sometimes a quote or an image I’ve found inspires a new way to tell the stories.”
Leaving her home in Flagstaff, Arizona, Raechel spent five years in Northern Mexico’s Sierra Madre Range and in rural villages throughout Chihuahua and Sonora. She has lived in the Casas Grandes Valley, an archaeologically and agriculturally rich area only 100 miles south of the US-Mexico border. About this, she says, “As I learned more about the history of the region, my work changed. I went into the fields and deep into The Sierras. I visited ranches and rodeos, cock fights, spiritual ceremonies and documented everyday life.”
Paquimé, as the Casas Grandes Valley was called in Pre-Colombian times, was a trade and cultural hub among indigenous peoples who arrived from all directions. It’s still a place of migrations and fertile valleys, and home to a center for artists who are reviving the distinctive ceramic art of the village of of Mata Oritz.
More than 450 potters now work in Mata Oritz, a village that was on the verge of desertion just thirty years ago. This renaissance began with an inspired friendship between native resident and master potter, Juan Quezada, who experimented with local clay and pigments, and US anthropologist, Spencer MacCallum. They have worked together for nearly four decades. Today, Mata Oritz potters are world renowned.
In 2006, MacCallum invited Raechel to be an artist-in-residence, to live and work in Mata Oritz, in an 1870 adobe house. The dream was to create a center for travelers, artists, and researchers interested in the region. Today, the village is home to a renaissance in the Mata Oritz (Paquimé) ceramic arts and the development of contemporary iterations of that ancient style. Raechel has since contributed numerous photographs, as well as website design and writing to the success of this dream, known as the Center for Casas Grandes Studies.
Most recently, Raechel helped organize an exhibit in partnership with the Flagstaff Cultural Partners, Borderlands Sierra Club, Northern Arizona Univeristy, and volunteers from No More Deaths. The dynamic community exhibit is titled “BEYOND BORDERS, The Fence, The People, The Land” and explores the cultural and land connections of the Southwestern U.S. and Northern Mexico Borderlands.
The sister exhibit, Raechel’s third exhibition of her visual odyssey in Mexico, is titled “NEPANTLA: Tierra Entre Medio/Between Worlds”, and is at the Flagstaff Photography Center through the end of November. It is a response to the hardships and tensions in the region, and the survival of beauty amidst it all. Raechel says, “In my art and activism I try to overcome despair and to make visual connections for people to foster kinship and hope in these times of change. Borders exist between people and countries but it is also the place where we can unite.”
Raechel is now collaborating with author Craig Childs on a project that combines words and images. The work is supported by The Better Bombshell, a publication project that aims to generate insights into emerging female role models.
Raechel uses her work to advance many non-profit organizations that serve social and environmental needs. Among them is the Mexico Program of One Heart World-Wide, which trains community members and outreach workers to provide obstetrical and neonatal care to indigenous women in Mexico’s Copper Canyon region. These women, called Tarahumara (or Rarámuri in their own language), represent only 3% of the Mexico’s population but account for 38% of all maternal deaths. Most live in small settlements at least three hours away from the nearest health post and a least a day away from the nearest facility equipped to handle deliveries.
One Heart President and Founder, Arlene Samen, says, “Raechel has done so much to highlight the plight of the Tarahumara women in the Copper Canyon, who die needlessly at home due to lack of access to care. Through her photography, Raechel has brought much-needed attention to the cause.”
As Raechel puts it herself: ”What I have learned from my time in Mexico is, it’s not about being afraid but about the spirit of resiliency and courage to dream against the odds. ”
Organizations Raechel supports with her work:
One Heart World-Wide | www.oneheartworld-wide.org
One Heart World-Wide improves maternal and neo-natal health among indigenous, Tarahumara communities in Mexico.
Somos La Semilla | www.somoslasemilla.org
Somos La Semilla is a grassroots organization that works in Southern Arizona and Mexican border towns to create healthy food networks.
The Amazon Aid Foundation | Raechel Running bio
The Amazon Aid Foundation is a non-profit that raises awareness about environmental issues in the Amazon through creative collaborative art, music, and science projects.
Published July 11, 2013
“Having my life revolve around the ocean seems to have a comfortable rhythm,” says surf artist Erik Abel.
Based in Ventura, California, Erik surfs, makes art and travels. He comes from a coastline rich in the history of melding surfing and art, of surfers drawing inspiration from the ocean to tell their story through visual expression. But, how does surf art differ from other art forms?
Erik explains: “Surf art has waves and surfers in it and is usually painted by somebody who loves riding waves. Maybe that’s the only difference; only a surfer can really make surf art. I kinda like that.”
Visual exploration is a key theme in the artist’s highly stylized and graphic, ocean-related art, which is created on wood with acrylic, markers, colored pencils and other media.
“My art is mostly simple and direct. The color, shape and composition take charge over meaning or content. I’m a very visual person,” he says.
“My eyes need to be stimulated when I look at something not my brain. My brain gets enough exercise when I close my eyes at night…I need art to calm me down and keep me sane with nice pretty colors and big shapes.”
Erik’s work is found enlivening not only the walls of surfers but the advertising and products of creatively inspired surf and skate companies, including the promotional artwork for this month’s world surfing tour event, the Reef Hawaiian Pro, which features the newly crowned 11-times world champion, Kelly Slater.
A line of skateboard graphics for a new US company are in the pipeline and Erik is the next artist to feature in a new t-shirt line for Ventura’s Coastal Classics.
And, stretching the traditional concept of the canvas, Erik is fresh from a live art showcase at the Sacred Craft Surfboard Expo in Del Mar, in which he live-painted a surfboard as part of The Board Art Benefit – A Surfer’s Perspective.
The Board Art Benefit, was held in aid of the charity, SurfAid International, and brought together 26 of the world’s leading surf artists and surfboard shapers, including the legendary surfer and shaper, Gerry Lopes. The collaboration saw artist and shaper partner to create live art on 13 surfboards, all of which will now be auctioned in coming months.
Erik teamed up with local Ventura surfboard shaper, Robert Weiner of Roberts Surfboards, for the event. Together they helped to raise much-needed funding so SurfAid can continue to deliver its community-based health and emergency response programs to isolated communities in the Mentawai, Nias, Telo and Banyak islands. Many of these communities have been devastated by numerous natural disasters, including the Boxing Day Tsunami (December 2004), Nias Earthquake (March 2005), Mentawai Earthquakes (September 2007), Padang Earthquake (September 2009) and Mentawai Tsunami (October 2010).
Of the Board Art Benefit Randal Schober, Executive Director of SurfAid International USA said: “We were honored to have Erik and other prominent surf artists be a part of the recent Board Art Benefit. The unique collaboration of board shaper and artist attracted thousands of interested attendees and brought awareness to our mission. We are very appreciative to Erik and the other artists for generously donating their time and talent to support SurfAid.“
The not-for-profit organization was founded by physcian and surfer, Dr Dave Jenkins in 1999 after an eye-opening surf trip to the Mentawais when he found he was the first doctor to ever step foot in an isolated local village and found women and children dying from malaria, malnutrition and inadequate living standards – things that he knew were treatable and preventable.
While Erik is inspired by the natural world, he says that it is also inspiring to think about the effect art can have on modern culture and beyond, which is why it’s important for him to support the work of SurfAid.
“It takes honesty, compassion, and integrity to start an organization that goes into isolated areas to help with basic needs, especially after big natural disasters. It is respectful and inspiring to know that there are companies and people out there who actually give a damn,” he says.
In line with his philosophy of the potential for art to positively impact the world he has also launched the Fish Outta Water Project, in which he leaves free artwork in public places, encouraging strangers to take them.
In between his busy professional schedule and community projects, however, there will always be time for his biggest inspiration, surfing, Erik says.
“The surfing lifestyle will always be the biggest influence in my life until I am unable to surf anymore. There is nothing more exciting than going to a different country and culture to hunt waves.”
As they say, only a surfer knows the feeling.
Erik Abel’s public art project | Fish Outta Water Project
Roberts Surfboards | robertssurf.com
Board Art Benefit | www.boardartbenefit.com