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Culture

From hip-hop to classical, musicians toast Obama

Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2009-01-29

Music with impact has been one of the more extraordinary results of Barack Obama's election campaign and his eventual inauguration. From classical to rock, soul and hip-hop, we look at the variety and sheer quantity of music in the campaign.

Politics and music have rarely come together in such close harmony as they did for the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States of America.

 

Musicians, both known and unknown, from all genres including hip-hop, rock 'n' roll, reggae, soul and classical wrote, adapted and performed a huge body of music in celebration of Obama's campaign.

 

What was equally unique about the outpouring of music is that so little of it had of the usual "read-between-the-lines" subtlety. Most of it  was an unashamed celebration of a unique moment in American history.

 

On the eve of his inauguration the new occupant of the White House gave a platform to a dream-team of stars in a concert brimming with emotion and expectation. Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé, U2 and Herbie Hancock among others, wowed the crowds in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

 

 

On the day of the inauguration, Soul legend Aretha Franklin sang "My Country" in front of the vast crowds assembled at the Washington Mall.

 

 

The inauguration also saw some of the big names of the classical world perform on the Mall and on television around the world. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero on the piano, Itzhak Perlman on the violin and Anthony McGill on the clarinette performed "Simple Gifts", a special composition penned for the day by John Williams, better-known for writing the scores for blockbusters movies such as "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones".

 

 

It did not take official sanction to pursuade many other artists to get in on the game. For many artists, bands and record labels, just being part of the day, officially or unofficially, was a way of gaining attention for themselves.

 

Writing songs for campaigns and elections is nothing new and American musicians have never kept particularly low political profiles.

 

In 1960 Frank Sinatra changed the words of hit tune "High Hopes" to promote his friend J. F. Kennedy, and the song became the signature tune of the young president-to-be's election campaign.

 

 

Some music was also recycled from previous campaigns. Bruce Sprinsteen's "The Rising" was sung in 2004 in support of then-Democrat candidate John Kerry - and it came back last year as the campaign song for Obama.

 

 

But what is totally unprecedented is the sheer quantity of music written in support of Obama. A huge number of artists found themselves engaging in the election process through their music. This was especially true of the hip-hop community and some huge names in the genre, including Jay-Z (who performed a concert in Washington at the Warner Theatre on the eve of the inauguration), Eminem, Nas, Kanye West and 50 Cent.

 

 

In this clip "Yes We Can" (the catchphrase of the Obama campaign) a big group of household names in American popular music joined Wil.I.am of the Black Eyed Peas in support of their candidate.

 

 

If many of the songs dedicated to Obama have enjoyed complex rythms and melodies, Stevie Wonder broke his support song down to the very simplest - a one octave scale sung with Obama's name.

 

 

Almost as simple is the adaptation of "Over the Rainbow" by Clare and the Reasons - where the only lyric is the name "Obama".

 

 

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the Obama musical phenomenon is its global nature. Artists around the world, not just in the USA, put their creative energy towards supporting and celebrating their candidate.

 

Docta Musica, from Cameroon, mixed English and French in support of his new American hero. Samba Mapangala, from Kenya, mixed English and Swahili in his song "Obama Ubarikiwe" - which translates as "Blessed be Obama".

 

In the United States and across the world, in part helped by modern communications technology, an outpouring of enthusiasm and even propaganda by artists and musicians has been one of the more extraordinary hallmarks of Obama's rise to power.

 

 

 

 

Date created : 2009-01-21

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