Healing and Connecting Through Music: Inside the Weathervane Music winter concert

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J Pope (left) and Songs in The Key of Free will play Weathervane’s winter studio concert | via Facebook

The folks behind Weathervane Music don’t necessarily consider themselves activists. The Philly nonprofit is more of a champion for independent music through its ten-years-running documentary series Shaking Through.

At the same time, the do look to elevate artists working for social causes, artists who see working for a better world as much a part of what they do as making music. Gabe Greenberg, Creative Director of Weathervane, emphasized a growing need to showcase artists who support social justice issues or provided an unheard perspective. That’s something they’re doing with their winter studio concert at Miner Street Recordings this Friday, December 7th.

The show will open with a performance by Songs in the Key of Free, a group that works to challenge mass incarceration and reform the prison system. Headlining is J Pope and the HearNow, the project of Baltimore singer and rapper Jasmine Pope, who makes activis,-driven songs with her jazz/funk ensemble.

Greenberg says this shift was in part prompted by the 2016 election; in its aftermath, he says, there has been a palpable threat to freedom of expression. “When you think back to the 60’s, activist music used to be incredibly prevalent, and mainstream artists were going out there and making bold political statements,” Greenberg says. “With the DIY scene, it became cool to be apathetic and not care. Now we’re seeing more bands saying ‘no, this is important, and affects my day-to-day life.’ The need to be intentional and mindful is growing, we want to feel a sense of connection.”

Photo by David LaMason | via jpopeandthehearnow.com

J Pope and the HearNow combines soul, hip-hop and funk fusion, verses flowing with the rapid-fire rhymes of vocalist J Pope. In her Shaking Through episode, J Pope talks about her work at an HIV / AIDS prevention and awareness center, and about the issues in the healthcare system. Greenberg commented, “[Pope] has told me stories about playing at bars that are more rural, with people who are conservative, or Trump supporters. Music is a connective force, it gets people of different political ideologies to be in the same room together.”

In conversation with HearNow drummer and Baltimore music promotor Dan Samuels, we discussed how activism and music intersect for members of the band. Samuels works with organizations to find, sustain the lives of and promote the work of tradition-bearing artists. Percussionist Gabe Pickus runs The Baltimore Wisdom Project, a program that teaches team-building to kids through arts education. Part of that is a program called Olam Ubuntu, which brings Black and Jewish children together to learn about each other’s history and strengthen the communities’ relationship. J Pope advocates for making healthcare more accessible to vulnerable populations in Baltimore.

J Pope and The HearNow have brought their music to countless community events, including a rally for education reform, a vigil after the nightclub shooting in Orlando, and to the streets during the 2015 Baltimore Uprising. “We want our music to be healing, to be therapeutic and to inspire hope,” Samuels commented. “I believe that humanizing and empathizing with populations and people who are different than, or that you don’t have regular interactions with, is near impossible. Sometimes a concert is the best way to meet someone different, whose story you haven’t heard. The power in this show, I think, is the triumvirate of stakeholders whose missions, vibes, and love are similar.”

Photo by Holli Stephens | via facebook.com/SongsintheKeyofFree

Songs in the Key of Free is a series of songwriting workshops, in which Philly musicians and songwriters celebrate the musical talent of those behind bars. Their work is all about using music as a restorative, rehabilitative and human way to heal people. Weathervane is planning an upcoming Shaking Through episode that will record a song written by an inmate in the Philadelphia prison system and performed by now-released prisoners. “Being able to express yourself should be something that everyone has access to,” says Greenberg. “It’s healing, it’s part of what makes us human. To take that away from people is a terrible thing. Any time we see a group of people that are using music to show the importance of creative self expression in our culture, that’s something we want to support.” 

August Tarrier and Miles Butler are the founders of Songs in the Key of Free. Tarrier had been teaching at SCI-Graterford through Villanova University, and saw the disparities in the prison system and the way that incarcerated people were dehumanized, denied the privilege of full citizenship. She asserted, “People who are incarcerated, especially for lengthy terms, or even lifetimes, are deliberately and intentionally being made invisible to us. We aren’t giving them a chance to be seen as human. Songs addresses the wounds inflicted by the carceral state. Our aim is to dismantle the boundaries it imposes, the silence it imposes, to counter its vast power — one human at a time.”

Find out more information about the Weathervane Winter Studio Concert here. Check out music by J Pope and the HearNow and Songs in the Key of Free below.

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