It's possible that I am the least hip person on the earth. That is, I turn 51 this week, I live out in the woods with a wife and a dog, I'm a Methodist, and my idea of an excellent time involves...a book. Not even an e-book, just a p-book. So you're forgiven for not wanting to immediately copy my Spotify playlist.
But this week, I'm in tune with the planet. iTunes free song of the week is being downloaded almost constantly even as you read this, is a song called People Power that—well, listen to it in the background. It's sensational.
It's sensational because good musicians made it—an all star cast from the top of Africa to the bottom. Talib Kweli you've heard of—even I've heard of. And maybe Zap Mama, and just maybe Angelique Kidjo. But I didn't know South Africas Zolani Mahola, or the Moroccan reggae artist Ahmed Soultan, or the Motswako star Jabulani Tsambo, better known as Jabba, or Hip Hop Pantsula, which is a great name. You can hear what the continent sounds like right this minute.
And you hear about the hottest topic there right now: climate change. Not just because the world's nations are meeting in Durban, where they're as usual failing to reach agreement on what to do. But also because the Horn of Africa s drying up and blowing away in an epic drought.
Therefore, these musicians don't bother with the usual sentimental soft-sell that usually accompanies "cause songs." It's no "We Are the World"; instead, it's urgent truth-telling. It's in six languages, but they're all pretty clear. Here's Jabba:
The people are dying. We're fed up.
This coal mining stuff is a set up.
This whole buying time is a Shut up! Shut up?
And here he is again, in words that work in Setswana and English both:
The weather is crazy
Our leaders are lazy
Their attitude doesn't amaze me
"People Power" is sensational for one more reason: in the hands of our grassroots global climate group 350.org, it's turned into a powerful organizing tool. The group set out to build a "Radiowave," with the song cascading down the continent from the north towards the Durban conference; in country after country local organizers have been all over the radio, using the song to explain the climate crisis.
And now it's leaking out into the broader world, thanks to iTunes and many others. I hear politicians all the time saying that people don't really care about climate change, that their day-to-day issues matter more. Maybe so—but if I was a political leader and I turned on the radio this week, I'd start to worry just a bit.