musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Worthy Causes & Activism (Page 1 of 3)

What we leave behind: the importance of organ donation

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (brettharvey.co.uk).

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (brettharvey.co.uk).

There’s an amazing story behind this pretty folk song, “Slow Decay,” and its compelling video. Sarah McQuaid, a singer/songwriter, and Brett Harvey, an award-winning filmmaker, teamed up to create a heartwarming short film to raise awareness about organ donation. This sounds very important, but it doesn’t stir the soul — until you watch the video and learn about Bill Conner and his young daughter.

Five months after his daughter Abbey died at the tender age of 20, Bill decided to honor her memory by cycling from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Abbey’s organs were recovered for donation. He stopped off in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1,400 miles into his journey, to meet with the 21-year-old man who was the recipient of her heart, after being given just 10 days to live. After a long hug, the man put a stethoscope to his new heart, and Conner was able to hear his daughter’s heartbeat. He was given a recording to bring with him as he continued to spread awareness about the life-saving practice of organ donation.

The body fails / These bones won’t last forever / So I ask myself what are the things we leave behind – “Slow Decay”

In the realm of organ donation, this question touches on both the physical and the spiritual — that is, what do we physically leave behind that others can use, and what do we leave behind as a lasting legacy of our lives? Giving part of ourselves, literally, so that someone else may continue to live is one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow, and it’s an act that conveys tremendous compassion and caring.

If my organs are of use, I hope they find a happy home. – “Break Me Down”

In this line from elsewhere on McQuaid’s album, the meaning is more obvious and literal. In the film, a mother, warmly portrayed by Mary Woodvine (Eastenders, Doc Martin, Casualty, Poldark, Blight, The Lark), takes the long cycle journey, which is delicately intercut with flashbacks of her daughter’s life. After the final frame, links for donatelife.net, organdonor.gov and organdonation.nhs.uk appear, so that viewers can learn more and register to become an organ donor.

McQuaid, Harvey, Conner and all the fine actors in this deeply affecting video are based in Cornwall, England. This short film was a collaborative effort to shine a light on this beautiful act of generosity and shared experience, a quiet but important story that might otherwise have never been told. As Harvey explains, “I was struck by the simple humanity of the act, and the notion that we live on through others after we pass away. I had wanted to tell a version of this story for a while, and as soon as I heard Sarah’s beautiful song I knew it was the right fit.”

Sarah McQuaid - Photo by Phil Nicholls (www.philnicholls.co.uk)

Sarah McQuaid – Photo by Phil Nicholls (www.philnicholls.co.uk)

“Slow Decay” is from McQuaid’s fifth solo album, If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, which has garnered rave reviews from publications around the world. She’s currently touring in the UK and Ireland, which will be followed by a U.S. tour in September and October.

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Iskwe and Tanya Tagaq stand up tall for Canada’s indigenous people

Iskwe

It has always been my great pleasure to celebrate and support strong, talented female artists, and never have I been more proud than in these current times, when women are speaking out with a single voice against many years of injustice. When one comes across an indigenous woman making a powerful statement on behalf of her people, there’s even more reason to rejoice. Iskwe is of Irish and Cree/Dené descent, and on her new song, “The Unforgotten,” she is joined by Canadian (Inuit) throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Their creation is powerful and entrancing, with political overtones and a haunting presence. It weaves together ancient rhythms and traditions with modern sensibilities.

Written at the time of Canada’s 150th anniversary, the song is, in the words of its creator, meant to celebrate Canada as a special place to live, as well as to “remember, honour and acknowledge our dark corners as well.” Iskwe states that it is a community song “to be shared by all people – a round dance where everyone holds the hand of the person next to them, forming a circle that connects us with our ancestors, as one.” You can listen to “The Unforgotten” on Spotify.

I’m proud of who we are, as Indigenous people. I’m proud of what we’ve fought for, and how we continue to fight for our culture, our languages, our children, our women, our men, our earth and our water. But I’m also proud of all my non-indigenous family and friends who continue to fight along with us. This song is for all of us. Let’s all dance together! – Iskwe

Iskwe will be performing during the 2018 Canadian Music Week Festival in Toronto, on May 11.

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Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos introduces new album and becomes an advocate for mental health

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit; photo by Jean Claude B

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit; photo by Jean Claude B

It’s brave to write from the heart and let strangers learn about your inner thoughts and insecurities. It’s braver still to openly discuss your life honestly, in an effort to help others. Michael Angelakos has “come out” (so to speak), shedding his front man role in Passion Pit and his focus on being a commercial artist to become a highly visible advocate for those with mental health issues. To coincide with the release of Tremendous Sea of Love, he has founded The Wishart Group, an artist-driven organization focused on developing “programs and services that better serve and promote the mental, physical, financial, and creative well-being of artists.”

The group will be bringing together professionals from all disciplines, from researchers and scientists to lobbyists and advocates, to generate funding for mental health research, develop healthcare for artists, support new therapeutic treatments for mental illness and more. To introduce this campaign, he has been sharing his personal struggles with bipolar disorder, including this interview with NPR.

Angelakos is putting his money where his mouth is. Royalties from the sales of the new album are being donated to the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at Broad Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From first creating Passion Pit in his Emerson College dorm room 10 years ago to realizing considerable success with their unique brand of romantically-tinged synth-pop (thanks in no small part to Angelakos’ dreamy falsetto), the band has come a long way, giving him a strong platform of support from which to champion mental health awareness. And that’s a very good thing indeed.

And the music? It’s classic Passion Pit, steeped in their distinctive sound that has won them an army of fans, from Boston to far beyond. It can be streamed via Apple Music and on Spotify, and is available on Amazon. This is the band’s fourth album.

web | facebook | the wishart group

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Poor Prognosis: The AHCA and America’s Mental Health Care

Prognosis_1000x473

[This article was originally published on The Depression Army blog. Thank you, Dr. R., for editing. Note – this was originally written May 29. Three and a half weeks later, the Senate has indeed written their own AHCA proposal, and their “discussion draft” can be seen here].

People who struggle day-to-day with a mental health issue don’t usually spend a lot of time following politics. When the world is closing in, it becomes necessary to shut out all that extraneous noise, push away the distractions and focus single-mindedly on one’s well-being. However, with a new administration comes proposed changes to the American health care system that may make it more difficult for the less wealthy among us to find adequate mental health support.

Difficult as it is to take in all the information, ignorance is not bliss. People who are struggling need to be informed about — and sometimes even stand up for — one’s basic right to decent mental health care.

Mental Health Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare)

On HealthCare.gov, the official site of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there is a mental health and substance abuse coverage page that clearly states the legal requirements of all ACA Marketplace health care plans. This includes behavioral health treatment (for example, psychotherapy and counseling), mental and behavioral health inpatient services and substance abuse treatment. Specifics depend upon where you reside and your health plan, but the law states that all ACA plans prohibit spending limits and must cover pre-existing conditions, which includes any mental illness. The ACA also provides “parity protections” for mental health services. This means that it enjoys the same protections as any other kind of health coverage in terms of deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket limits, treatment limits and care management.

In fact, there’s an entire government website devoted to mental health, with clear information about how the ACA has improved access to mental health services for many people, regardless of where they live and what type of plan they have. This official source says, “As of 2014, most individual and small group health insurance plans, including plans sold on the Marketplace, are required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Medicaid Alternative Benefit Plans also must cover mental health and substance use disorder services. These plans must have coverage of essential health benefits, which include 10 categories of benefits as defined under the health care law. One of those categories is mental health and substance use disorder services.” In the ACA program, mental health care is seen as an essential health benefit.

Despite the improvements to mental health care since the ACA first went into effect in 2014, a study by researchers at NYU’s Langone Medical Center found that mental care access in the U.S. is still inadequate. Nearly one in 10 Americans who had mental health problems in 2014 didn’t have insurance that would allow them access to treatment. For approximately 10.5 percent of people, there were delays in receiving professional mental health treatment due to insufficient coverage, compared to 9.5 percent in 2006. In 2014, 9.5 percent of those suffering with mental health issues couldn’t afford to pay for psychiatric medications, up from 8.7 percent in 2006.

The AHCA – Just Passed by the House of Representatives

The American Health Care Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 4, seeks to roll back federal guarantees of mental health coverage and substance abuse treatment, instead leaving it to the discretion of individual states. Under the new plan, states can also opt-out of requiring that insurers cover pre-existing conditions. Other Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) left to the states to provide or not provide include emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, rehabilitative services, chronic disease management, pediatric services and prescription drugs. The AHCA, as currently written, allows insurers in states that have opted out of covering EHBs to charge people more for their health insurance if they have pre-existing conditions.

What Do We Stand to Lose?

The ACHA bill leaves critical mental health care treatment and prescription medication coverage for poorer people up in the air. Depending on where you live, there may be state-provided financial assistance for psychiatric evaluations, counseling and potentially life-changing psychiatric drugs — or not. Should this bill go into effect, coverage that you’re currently receiving from your insurer, whether it’s through your employer or through the federal ACA marketplace, might go away. In a worst-case scenario, those families who need certain medical coverage for pre-existing mental health conditions may have to consider moving to a state where insurers will cover them. Unable to get proper care in their community, people with a serious mental illness are increasingly ending up in local jails, a sad development that is straining law enforcement. Mental Health America states that 1.2 million people living with mental illness are in jails and prisons every year. The Sentencing Project study referred to in the article found that six out 10 of those states with the least access to mental health care (Southern states) also have the highest incarceration rates.

The New Health Care Proposal: Here’s What Happens Next

As the House’s AHCA bill moves to the Senate for approval, the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) has issued their findings on the House’s proposed bill. The CBO estimates that the AHCA will leave 23 million more people without insurance by 2026 than if the ACA were to stay in place. They also discuss the dangers of leaving coverage decisions to the states. A CBO breakdown confirms that a state opting out of covering mental health care and prescription medicines, as well as pre-existing conditions, could cause out-of-pocket expenses to significantly rise for that coverage, leaving many priced out of the healthcare marketplace. The good news is that the U.S. Senate is unlikely to approve the House bill and in fact, they’re writing their own version. The bad news is that there are senators who may not heed the warnings in the CBO report.

What Can You Do?

First, don’t despair! There are many people who are aggressively fighting these radical changes to a healthcare system that, although flawed and in need of fixing, many people rely on. However, if you’re someone who is especially sensitive to mental health issues, it is imperative that you add your own voice to the choir of discontent. Indivisible is a nationwide organization that encourages people to take local action to express their concerns and tell their personal stories. Town Hall Project has an interactive database of town hall meetings by members of congress that constituents can attend. Add yourself to the mailing list of upcoming events in your area. If you’re unable to attend a meeting in person, you can also contact your senators directly to tell them how important mental health care coverage is for you and your family. You can also contact your House Representatives. When your representatives aren’t legislating in Washington, they should be back in their states to meet with their constituents. You can view the senate schedule and house schedule for 2017.

Above all, keep yourself well-armed with information! Important decisions are being made right now that could impact your mental health care and essential support services. If you believe that healthcare is a basic right, and that those living with mental illness should have the same rights as anyone else who suffers from a crippling affliction, Speak Out and Speak Loudly!

Your voice matters, and the voices of millions of sufferers will be heard in the voting booths!

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Letter from a Jilted Lover

Letter from a Jilted Lover

Dear Beloved,

This is very difficult for me to write, but it’s extremely important that I do so. I have tried to be patient. I offered my gifts to you freely, as a lover does, and all I expected in return was that you would respect me and treat me well. But something sinister has come between us that threatens to rip us violently from our warm embrace. Read more >>

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Introducing Tunisian singer-songwriter and activist Emel

Emel Mathlouthi

Photo: Alex + Iggy

Tunisian musician Emel Mathlouthi, known as Emel, is a visceral artist who prefers that you connect with her music on a purely emotional level, rather than study it in depth. But it is nearly impossible not to want to translate and analyze her Arabic words, once you know her story. With her unique blend of traditional Tunisian acoustic music, electronic beats and fiercely independent lyrics, her work gained widespread recognition after she recorded “Kelmti Horra (My Word Is Free)” in 2007 and it became an anthem of the Arab Spring. She found herself being called “the voice of the Tunisian revolution” and was invited to perform at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

On Ensen, her second album, she incorporates diverse musical styles, with influences such as Joan Baez, Massive Attack, Björk and Egyptian protest singer Sheikh Imam. The album, released in February on Little Human / Partisan Records, was recorded across seven countries on two continents with several producers. This included her primary collaborator, French/Tunisian producer Amine Metani and Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Sigur Ros). The music has an expansive, cinematic feel that accompanies Emel’s powerful, heartfelt vocals.

Here is the official video for “Ensen Dhaif (Human, Helpless Human).”

Emel Mathlouthi now lives in New York, where she relocated after living for a while in Paris. In 2008 during the rule of Ben Ali, she was forced to move from Tunisia after her music was banned for her messages about personal freedom and government corruption. Her debut album Kelmti Horra was released on World Village in France in 2012. NPR covered her music in 2013, in a piece called “Emel Mathlouthi: Voice Of The Tunisian Revolution,” and fellow Tunisian singer and composer MC Rai said, “She has so much courage to sing that around that time. When the dictators in Tunisia, the old regime, were in the top of their power — and for her to even have the courage to sing that, when she was living still between France and Tunisia — I thought she really was a true artist, because that’s what the art is about.” Four years later, her music was once again at the center of a grassroots uprising, as she sang “Kelmti Horra” in the streets of Tunisia, hours before Ben Ali fled the country. Here are the lyrics, translated from Arabic.

You can learn much more about Emel Mathlouthi’s life, music and inspiration from an in-depth Pitchfork interview.

Emel is currently in Europe on tour, and she’ll be performing a string of dates across the U.S. beginning on May 3 in Washington, DC. See the list of shows below. Her new album can be purchased from Partisan Records (CD, vinyl or digital) or on iTunes.

5/03/2017 – Washington, DC – DC9
5/04/2017 – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live
5/05/2017 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
5/06/2017 – New York, NY – (Le) Poisson Rouge
5/09/2017 – Evanston, IL – Evanston SPACE
5/10/2017 – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center
5/13/2017 – Seattle, WA – Seattle Meany Center
5/14/2017 – Vancouver, BC – The Rio Theatre
5/15/2017 – Portland, OR – Newmark Theatre
5/16/2017 – San Francisco, CA – Swedish American Hall
5/17/2017 – Los Angeles, CA – Echo

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Introducing… Nano Stern

Nano Stern

If this year has a “global theme,” then it most certainly has to be the issue of immigration. Nearly every day we hear of the struggles that so many people face when trying to flee war-torn regions or hopeless economic conditions for a better life for themselves and their families. The world’s artists who speak out against injustices and celebrate our planet’s diversity are providing an essential public service, especially in our troubling times of rising xenophobia and nationalism.

Nano Stern is one such artist who uses music to celebrate diversity and denounce intolerance. An internationally recognized Chilean human rights activist, poet and folk rock artist, Stern recently released “Festejo de Color” (“Festival of Color”), from his recent album Mil 500 Vueltas. In this beautiful and timely song, he addresses the subject of migration and speaks of the mixing of different cultures in a far more positive light than current news stories.

(see an English translation of the Spanish lyrics, courtesy of Google Translate)

The song was written as a tribute to his grandparents, who had to flee Eastern Europe during World War II. What began as a personal story became a recognition for the journey of all migrants, as they overcame challenges and celebrated their new lives in their adopted homes. Issues of intolerance and nationalism are pushed away in favor of the colorful mixing of races, cultures and ethnicities. Fastejo is both the Spanish word for “festival” and an Afro-Peruvian music and dance that the song is based on. In the song, you’ll also hear traditional rhythms from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

In writing “Festejo de Color,” Stern used décima, which is improvised poetry from Spain and Portugal that dates back to the 17th century. This form of poetry was first introduced by Chilean singer/songwriter Violeta Parra, but Stern is one of very few artists who are using this ancient form. On the album version, he’s joined by Peruvian Festejo legend Susana Baca and celebrated Argentine and Columbian musicians Pedro Aznar and Marta Gomez. These three musical guests represent the most common origins for immigrants moving to Chile, so this song really “walks the talk” of bringing disparate cultures together to form a single voice.

In this KKUP interview, Stern discusses the personal meaning behind the song.

As the grandson of Jewish refugees who fled persecution to resettle in Chile, Stern’s upbringing is rooted in his own family’s musicial traditions and activism as well as the highly influential Nueva Canción movement, which was spearheaded by Chilean musical activists as a protest to Pinochet’s dictatorship. Those who suffered at the hands of this oppressive regime still inspires Stern’s artistic vision. At 15, he joined Chilean underground band Mattoral, which added the South American rock and punk tradition to the mix that included jazz and classical elements along with folk traditions. This results in a powerful stew of indigenous Chilean, European and African musical languages.

Stern’s many admirers includes Joan Baez, who said “[Nano] may be the best young Chilean songwriter of his generation. With his lyrics, melodies, message, delivery, humor and heart, he gets my vote.” And in fact, he was the only Latin artist to be invited to perform with her at the Beacon Theater in New York City for her 75th birthday celebration, which was aired nationally last year.

“In the measure that I’m able to vibrate strongly, other people will resonate. If that frequency is intense, other things around it will vibrate together with it. Music in the end is that. We can put aside words, and genre, and tradition. In the end, it is all about a movement of air that makes our bodies move. It’s the most mysterious thing.” – Nano Stern

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Holly Miranda and Friends Record Midnight Oil, for Standing Rock

Midnight Oil - for Standing Rock

This beautifully uplifting song, “Midnight Oil,” was originally written in 1978 by Cris Williamson, an American singer-songwriter and political activist. Fast-forward almost 40 years, and the song is stumbled upon by Detroit-born musician Holly Miranda at an upstate New York record store, just a few days after the Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting. Deeply moved by the song and its message of hope, she decides to record it.

“Don’t let the midnight oil burn low, no don’t let it burn out, let’s see how things turn out in the end.” – Midnight Oil

Miranda learns more about Williamson — that she was a teacher who became an underground folk legend, feminist and activist, founding Olivia Records, the first female-owned and female-focused record label. As the new version of the song came together, with accompanying musicians and The New Asylum Choir, the two women got together to find a worthy cause to dedicate this powerful anthem to. They chose Standing Rock, because of the ongoing need to stop the Dakota pipeline and the importance of safe drinking water, which is about as basic as it gets.

Holly Miranda and Cris Williamson ~ photo by Irene Young

Holly Miranda and Cris Williamson ~ photo by Irene Young

“Midnight Oil” can be purchased at CDBaby, with all proceeds going directly to Standing Rock and the North Dakota Sioux Tribe. A huge assortment of talented musicians volunteered their time and talents to show their support and make this song a reality. This includes Ani DiFranco, Saturday Night Live’s Sasheer Zamata, Jaime King, Kyp Malone (TV On The Radio) and actress Natalie Morales (Parks and Recreation, The Grinder).

Musicians:
Garrett Lewis – Piano
Josh Werner – Bass
Jared Samuel – Mellotron
Jon Ulman – Drums
Maria Eisen – Bari Sax
Ginger Dolden – Violin
Pete Lanctot – Violin
Holly Miranda – Vocal

The New Asylum Choir:
Jared Samuel
Garrett Lewis
Stevie Weinstein-foner
Sasheer Zamata
Ani Difranco
Kyp Malone
Jesse Smith
Nico Turner
Lizz Winstead
Natalie Morales
Laurel Sprenglemeyer
Joan Wasser
Ambrosia Parsley
Ximenia Sarinana
Sally Kohn
Gracie Coates
Rachel Ruggles
Sharon Sulami
Jenny Wade
Cyrina Fiallo
Marnie Herald
Simone van Seenus
Trish Bendix
Jen Rosenstien
Lacey Story
Meg Ghiroli
Jaime King
Libby King

As it stands now, the fight for indigenous peoples’ rights and the universal right to clean drinking water unfortunately seems to be far from over. Take a stand by supporting this important cause and enjoying some fine music at the same time.

Standing Rock: web | facebook | tumblr

Holly Miranda: web | facebook | twitter

PURCHASE “MIDNIGHT FOR OIL” TO BENEFIT STANDING ROCK

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For those ‘election blues’ – Hillary for Humanity by The Femmedy Trio

In this never-ending, reality TV show, continuous gruesome train wreck of an election season, a little levity is in order. For your viewing pleasure, it’s “Hillary for Humanity” from The Femmedy Trio. It’s a collaboration between Vacationeer Jeff Grace (writer/director of the video) and brand new musical comedy group, The Femmedy Trio (who wrote the music and lyrics).

The Femmedy Trio is Stacey Hardke, Gabi Van Horn and Dahlya Glick.

Jeff Grace: web | instagram | twitter

The Femmedy Trio: web | facebook | twitter | instagram |youtube

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Division Men (and other artists) Cover Eagles of Death Metal for Play It Forward Paris Benefit

This has been one seriously intense year. In our final band posting of 2015 (save for some commentary about the music biz – coming soon), we’re remembering the horrific attacks in Paris and letting everyone know about the Eagles of Death Metal’s Play It Forward campaign. They have asked musicians in all genres of music to cover their song “I Love You All The Time.” For every cover version that is sold, EODM have pledged to donate 100% of publishing royalties to the The Sweet Stuff Foundation. This organization, run by Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme, has been donating funds to families affected by the Paris attacks. Artists taking part include Ed Harcourt, Jimmy Eat World, My Morning Jacket, Alain Johannes, Florence + the Machine (featuring the Maccabees), Kings of Leon, Imagine Dragons, Mini Mansions,The New Pacific, r00ms, Savages, Sinner Sinners and the Dean Ween Group. Another band that has recorded a version of the song for this great charity is Texan duo Division Men. The video was filmed in Paris on December 2nd while the band was on tour, and the song was recorded on December 19 in Austin, Texas. All proceeds from the song go directly to victims of the November 13 Paris attacks.

Covers are available from Prime Music, iTunes and Spotify, and you can also donate directly by visiting their Play It Forward campaign page.

“I made a plea to artists and business people alike to come together to use our solidarity as proof that we are stronger together, and that we can make a difference.”

– Josh Homme


play it forward charity | the sweet stuff foundation | division men
eagles of death metal: facebook | twitter | instagram

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