It’s the one year anniversary of the release of difrent:, on the International Day of Peace, 2011. Years went into making difrent:, and many trials and tribulations beyond my control delayed it’s release, but it seems it was destined to happen as it did. I have given my career and voice to building a global movement for equality, systemic change, and human rights. difrent: was the first album I released reclaiming my born name, Said, after music industry professionals had claimed “I could never have a career in America with an Arabic name.”
More than three years before it’s release, when I had begun tracking for the album, I’d decided to record ‘Aheb Aisht Al Huriya,’ one of the most beloved, classic Egyptian anthems to freedom, reinterpreted, entirely new music. I intended to make a statement, a beautiful call for unity rising out of the Middle East. I asked my father to teach me the words to the song, and the band wailed it out in one take. It was my identity, stretched across the biggest conflict of our generation, screaming to come out as the crisis reached boiling point, that compelled me to record the song. Zeitgeist isn’t an accident. It occurs when thousands of people simultaneously, and independently, are swept up in the convergence of history and their identity. It is inevitable. It doesn’t occur by choice, but out of dire necessity.
From the first days of 2011, it seemed as though the album’s themes were unfolding across the globe, one after another. The day the Egyptian revolution started, “Aheb Aisht Al Huriya” was already done, ready for release. Film-maker Matt Kohn shot a video of me two days later on a snow covered rooftop in Greenpoint, New York City, with the Manhattan skyline in the background, with me, making an appeal for a global movement, flipping the translated lyrics line by line, page by page in a poster board pad – in a post-apocalyptic, East-meets-West Subterranean-homesick blues mashup. In the end, there was nothing subterranean about it, but rather, homesick for a world in which we lived as one, as the biggest wave of revolution in decades was about to unfold.
We released the video and song immediately, along with the first of several pieces I wrote in Middle East and US press on how and why change in the Middle East and North Africa could not come through national or regional movements, but only through a global movement for a more equitable economic system. The struggle could not be limited to Tunisia, Egypt, or the Middle East and North Africa alone. We needed, and still need, not an Arab Spring, but a global one – the great movement humankind has waited for and dreamt of for thousands of years. We need an idea big enough to elevate our dignity, and commit us to sustained non-violence across borders to create a society in which we live equally with each other and our planet.
I continued writing throughout the spring and summer while preparing for the album launch, and the first single, “Take A Stand”, was released as a free download via the Huffington Post on September 8. The following day, September 9, The Progressive Magazine published the liner notes to difrent:, a short manifesto calling for an international movement for a more equitable society called “A Song United for A Global Spring.” I appeared on PRI/BBC’s The World the same day. PRI’s host, Marco Werman, was keen to understand the role of identity, the individual’s personal story, at the core of the album and the zeitgeist both.
One week later, a few hundred people began a small protest on Wall Street that would grow into the Occupy Movement. The album was officially released four days after, September 21. An Al Jazeera cameraman caught me leading hundreds of people in downtown Manhattan chanting in Arabic, the words to Aheb Aisht Al Huriyah, with me. The April 6 movement and Al-Ahram, the biggest Arabic newspaper, among others, picked up the clip and reposted and distributed it. Not much longer and I would be introducing the April 6 movement’s Ahmed Maher and Asmaa Mahfouz on the steps of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, again chanting the words.
My purpose remained and remains resolute since my debut album “Now’s the Time,” which announced the beginnings of this great and growing global movement for equality, in advance of the Seattle demonstrations in 1999. Thirteen years and several local and global efforts later, we have learned that we need to create something bigger. It is that great hope, across all borders, across all political boundaries, for a movement to unite humankind, This is the hope that inspired this album, difrent:
As artists, we’re at our best not when we create, but when we’re merely witnesses to inspiration around and within us, to our world and to our feelings. When these converge, something beyond us happens beyond our control. I’m grateful to my family, friends and supporters for sticking by me to make work that truly has and continues to have a real impact helping to ignite social change across the world in the face of a music industry that has silenced the most important songs of our generation. I am grateful to Hal Willner for enabling the vision and crafting it with me into something enduring, free of artifice, something fresh each listen, something bigger than myself. I am also grateful to the amazing musicians and professionals, whose souls and sensitivity are all over and up inside the notes on the album: Cindy Blackman, Kevin Hunter, George Mitchell, Yousif Sheronick, Lenny Pickett, Howard Johnson, Art Baron, Earl Gardner, Mark Plati, Marty Brumbach, John Kilgore, The Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Rob Clores, and Phil Klum.
As TIME Magazine named ‘The Protestor’ its ‘Person of the Year,’ neither the Grammy’s nor the Billboard Top 100 featured a single song from the movements. These songs that made and continue to make history, we gave and give away for free, not for fame or fortune, but out of necessity, to help give birth to a global movement for change. We are not alone. Another World Is Possible, and we will make it real.
Friday, Sept. 21, at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC, is a party for the digital release of the amazing compilation of Allen’s life recordings, Holy Soul Jelly Roll. I was lucky to join Allen for the release tour, just the two of us, him singing, reading, harmonium and me singing, fiddle, guitar, banjo and dobro when angel-voiced friend Steven Taylor ended up on tour in Italy with The Fugs. The tour was heavily publicized, several Days at McCabes (shout out to John Chelew), Viper Room (Johnny Depp), City Lights (Lawrence Ferlinghetti , and the incomparable Shig Murao), The Presidio, I still have set lists and notes from shows.
First night at McCabes Joni Mitchell was there, Rick Rubin and Donovan hung backstage before the show while we tuned up and made our set, the room was vibrating. Corso joined us one show, busting an amazing “Wild Nights” that brought Emily Dickinson into the room wrapping around the strings of lutes, 12 strings, banjos, ouds. I was pretty much a kid.
At The Viper Room, because the show would be taped and broadcast by major networks, production crew spent tons on a stage set to look like a stuffy Harvard Library… complete with a cumbersomely dark throne for Allen, which they proudly invited him to sit in. In the most unassuming language, Allen quickly informed them he had to have a standard metal folding chair, nothing else, upsetting the whole design, quite perfectly in one fell swoop, old pond frog jumps in kerplunk.
A true to form Tim Leary schmoozed Allen and whoever else, while a knowing Exene Cervenka, oh so brightlove Exene, gave me a half hour download on hype and scenester transcendence. Some young blonde with Tim lost her breakfast before the show started almost on Allen.
We flew into SF, my first time there ever with Ginsberg as my tourguide, Allen took photographs of my hands with his old Leica. We talked movement building and Buddhism, nonviolence, the bankruptcy of commercial media and art as agents of social change, the next, the future, the global human rights movement that needed to be cultivated and grown.
On the ground, Allen told stories, this happened here, here’s where this, this this and beautiful Shig Murao, who without saying a word tells you the most sublime poem. Danielle from Gwar with me there, at Shigs house. We came in too late and made too much noise, and decided to move to a hotel. Before the show at the Presido, Jello Biafra joined me and Allen for dinner – fresh off his MRR leg breaking and not totally solid healed, he chewed a cold rare steak with an open mouth while talking politics. Allen and I sipped miso’s. Jello knocked a home run with that steak for a bat when he joined us on stage that night.
I would never be the same again, I’d seen too much cool humbled by Allen’s presence – I’d never be phased by false Hollywood pretenses poser rokstars media, yet, only to be always in service to the moment, open to everyone and thing around us, putting one’s shoulder to the wheel.
The all-star Beauty Love Turth cast, bringing of some of the best improvisers come to improvise a play inspired in the moment by Stephan Said’s songs, performed live. Thursday, Sept 27, 8pm at The PIT 123 E 24th BTW Park & Lex This is a one time event. You will never see this show again!
Angela DeManti (The Weird Sisters, Magnet)
Matt Higgins (Centralia, Burn Manhattan)
Bradford Jordan (Story Pirates, PIT)
Nick Kanellis (Trike, Story Pirates)
Roy Koshy (Yes Andersens, Magnet, PIT)
Shannon Manning (Second City, IO, UCB, “Conan”)
Doug Moe (“Doug Moe is a Bad Dad,” UCB’s MOTHER, “30 Rock,” “Conan”)
Louie Pearlman (Story Pirates, The Spidey Project, Buckshot N Benny)
Austrian National Radio‘s feature on Stephan and his music’s role in movements across the globe.
Here is the great montage in The Guardian featuring interviews with Stephan, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, and Russell Simmons. It starts with great shots at St. John the Divine. http://www.guardian.co.uk/
Here’s a link to stream the entire #J15 celebration at Riverside Church in NYC. The historic event of the Worldwide Candlelight Vigil with people lighting candles at 7pm in everytime zone across the planet spread to over 60′s cities across the world. It started as an idea for the video for “Take A Stand” and became a global phenomenon, with an amazing group of people collaborating to make history
Oakland, Non-Violence and The Future of Occupy
A Global Movement for Economic and Social Equality
In the wake of Occupy Oakland’s violent confrontation with police, many people are writing about non-violence and Occupy but missing the point. Occupy has been very successful in awakening an invigorated debate across the country while remaining largely non-violent.
But, to this point, Occupy has primarily defined itself through the politics of opposition, as its name even implies. Against Wall St., against Citizens United, against money in politics, against income inequality, against the G8.
To be both effective and sustainable, great movements, like those for Women’s Suffrage and Indian Independence, have to transform themselves beyond a start-up oppositional phase, into one in which they are defined not by what they are against, but by what they are FOR.
Great movements lift a moral vision high above the political dialogue that reaches into peoples’ hearts. When a moral vision precedes a movement, the necessary actions against oppressive policies and the diversity of tactics protestors autonomously undertake are fortified and the PR battle is more easily won.
The Civil Rights Movement may have been catalyzed by the bus boycott, but it had to move beyond that and claim itself as a movement for equality to capture the imagination of the world. The boycotts didn’t stop. But the movement could more effectively take on everything from segregation to voting rights in the context of the claim to equality.
We are living in the first era in which a global movement for economic and social equality, the great dream humankind has hoped for thousands of years, has become imperative for international security and the survival of our planet. That dream is alive in the hearts of people from Cairo to LA, Athens to Santiago, and with the tools at our disposal, it is achievable.
It’s time for Occupy to define that universal vision and unite with people worldwide to create that movement. True non-violence derives its power from a universal vision. When civil disobedience is tied to the inalienable claim to equality, it becomes impervious to smears and able to incorporate a diversity of tactics.
This was the key to the Salt March and to the Selma-Montgomery Marches. In an effective non-violent strategy, protestors don’t ask for dignity, they claim it as a birthright, victorious before they walk.
This was the spirit of the #J15 Worldwide Candlelight Vigil, Occupy’s biggest action so far this year. #J15 was a test-run for a global “Salt March,” with people of all ages and ethnicities engaging in a single non-violent act, lighting candles to demand a more equitable global economic system.
#J15 went viral because people all over the world wanted a positive message that gave them hope, empowering and dignifying them, and because they know that our message must be global to succeed.
In less than 3 weeks, the vision of a global movement for economic and social equality spread from Brisbane to Cairo, Manchester to New Orleans gaining the support of religious and civil rights leaders, the African American community and Arab Spring activists.
Likewise, Occupy Foreclosed Homes and Occupy The Board of Education are examples in which an inarguable claim to equal rights and benevolence preceded the confrontational nature of the direct actions, resulting in powerful statements.
There will always be a diversity of tactics. The autonomous nature of today’s movements is one of their most powerful characteristics. But if we want to rise above public perception as a din of disconnected actions, we have to elevate our message. We can do this by uniting Occupy, the Arab Spring and their sister movements in a global movement for equality.
While we prepare for May Day, Chicago and the G8, the claim to a positive dream will dignify people, connect our myriad struggles from unfair trade to income inequality and campaign finance, and move us beyond a leaderless movement into one in which everyone is the leader.
We need that great movement today. The dream of a more equal world is now being advocated by the world’s top economists and intellectuals, development institutions, as well as our interfaith and social change organizations.
The stage is set for a vision far greater and more powerful than a movement against Wall Street or the G8, one that lifts our spirits high above politics and into the global imagination, dignifying us on the road to victory. A non-violent global movement for a more equal world is the way forward.
Stephan Said launches a NextWorld Player of songs to build the global movement, as well as interviews with South African Anti-Apartheid hero Vusi Mahlasela, Warren Haynes, Amadou and Mariam, Pete Seeger and more calling on musicians to sing freedom songs with via www.difrent.org, the one-stop for music and culture for social change. See the page Musicians Unite To Build difrent: Music and Culture for the Global Movement.
Go to the page at difrent:’s website or difrent:’s YouTube channel for videos of South African Anti-Apartheid hero Vusi Mahlasela (pictured here), Warren Haynes, Amadou and Mariam and others calling on artists worldwide to unite in singing for social change.
Time Magazine’s article on Stephan chronicling his role in helping ignite both the Arab Spring and th Occupy Movements and his vision for a global movement!