Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 16, 2013

Yo! Music for Mercy: Beautiful Eulogy, Josh Garrels, Bodi, DC Talk, etc.

Christians praying in Goma, DR of Congo.

Christians praying in Goma, DR of Congo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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First I got a note yesterday from my friend Dan Q. about Beautiful Eulogy, a Christian hip hop act from Portland. I read and listened this morning, and in following it up, I’ve already spent a couple hours both listening to all the great FREE music (see below), and doing research on other similar (to my thinking) musical acts that are showing The Way, telling The Truth, and improving Life with some serious flow and creativity.
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Let’s look at Beautiful Eulogy, since they started my current frenzy:
In the spirit of hip hop, I’ll rip off (oops, I mean “sample”) the band/record description from their Noisetrade page:
Satellite Kite is the debut record from the Portland, OR based group Beautiful Eulogy. This album is an eclectic mixture of many musical genres delivered through the boldness and conviction of Hip-Hop. The production is unique and experimental creating a crisp and clear stage for the record’s equally progressive lyrical content. This project is soulful, compelling, and educational, while spanning a wide range of emotions and mediums of expression. There is a strong Folk influence in the feel and melodies while at the same time a raw and articulate swing to its poetry. Musically the record offers a myriad of sounds and styles but intellectually one message is proclaimed; it is the power and providence of the King of Kings and the good news of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Listen and enjoy.”
”  For fans of… Flying LotusBon IverPharoahe MonchJames Blake,Outkast
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Below is the track at youtube that Dan Q (sounds like ‘thank you’… hee hee) first sent me notice about: Anchor, featuring Christian folk/alternative artist Josh Garrels on the lovely chorus. —->
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To get all 13 tracks from Satellite Kite for free, set yourself up at Noisetrade and go here to get a download code.
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Anchor collaborator Josh Garrels (another Portlander, btw, though originally from Indianapolis) is a great musician and writer as well. He also has some free (or purchase-able) stuff available at his homepage.
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Garrels also is part of what I see as a growing movement of medium to Big Time musicians who are combining two passions at once: music and activism for social justice. Garrels gave away some of his music for a couple weeks this past spring, while simultaneously encouraging downloaders to tip him, with all tips going toward humanitarian aid to war-torn Congo. Here’s the report of what happened, from Josh’s blog:

The “Five for Congo” campaign ended on March 28th, and in 14 days we gave away 161,245 album downloads on Noisetrade! With approximately 8,000 people leaving a tip, we were able to raise $71,566! These funds will be given in full to World Relief to help with their work to bring peace and restoration to the DR Congo. The success of this campaign took us all off guard, and all I can say is that we’re amazed and thankful. What a joy! – Josh

So there’s that. I noted that Garrels played at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College last year, and since then, I think he’s done Wild Goose Festival and a number of other “progressive” Christian events as well.
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I have noted similar humanitarian artist phenomena for years, of course… from George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, through Live Aid and Farm Aid, and on into the new millenium with artists of faith like Jars of Clay and Derek Webb supporting water-for-Africa projects, and similar efforts. I’ve even produced and/or worked backstage on a couple small benefit concerts. But the digital aspects of the current music industry, and new methods of promoting a good music act or a good cause, have made “virtual” efforts like Garrels’ Five for Congo giveaway campaign more widespread.
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ReverbNation, in fact, has a whole “music for charity” department — launched last fall — called Music for Good. The cynic in me wonders if it’s as much a new sort of “hype-machine” as it is a method of raising funds for a good cause, but at least their heart is in the right place.
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But the efforts I respect most are those people whose direct engagement with the problem shows, those who are willing to get dirt under their fingernails, or do more than just raise money, show up for a one-time event or sign their name to a statement. Wyclef Jean of the Fugees has done this some for his homeland of Haiti, but there are other musicians on much smaller stages working even harder for justice and mercy on behalf of the poor.
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One of the more intriguing examples of this I have encountered is going on right now, from Seattle-area hip hop artist Bodi. This rapper and producer, formerly known as Alexipharmic, is on a worldwide tour this year that is not a music tour so much as it is a service tour to various Mercy Corps-sponsored orphanages and similar anti-poverty projects. He’s also making a documentary and writing a book about the experience, which he is calling The Volunteer Adventure, and he’s donating 100% of film/book profits to the orphanages he visits.
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Alexipharmic, “American”, from American Beauty, featuring quotes from his fans, which he sought out for the record
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According to the blog, Alex/Bodi was most recently in Vietnam. Probably he’s now elsewhere in Asia, but he’s bound for Africa eventually, where he has prior experience in Kenya, and I think also in Sudan. I first learned of Alexi/Bodi’s work because he was donating half or more of the proceeds from his online album sales to Darfur/Sudan relief efforts — and this was in probably the early 00’s, long before I saw many others jumping on the digital “profit sharing” bandwagon, or using Kickstarter to fund their projects and thus share “credit” with consumers/fans.
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I thought a couple quotes from Alex the man would be interesting here. From the promo email for his latest (and fascinating) CD, The Fall of Atlas :

“3 years ago, I was working as a corrections officer in a max security juvenile jail. I’d work 12 hour shifts, then come home and work on the music for about 8 hours. Then repeat. Now, thanks to you, music is my full time gig. I went to Kenya for a while, and the experiences that I had with the children in the orphanages changed my life forever.”

And regarding the Ky Quang, Vietnam leg of his trip, from the Trip Journal:

“After class, we shared a delicious meal with all of the teachers and workers, and word got out that I’m a rapper by profession. I didn’t expect this news to be greeted with so much excitement! I was inundated by requests from the principal and teachers to write a hip hop song for the kids to learn and sing, and so it looks like I’ve got a little bit of homework to do over the next couple weeks. How awesome would it be to see and hear 50 kids at Gia Dinh having fun rapping and dancing to a song I’ll write in Vietnamese, using it as a tool for learning? Answer: very.”

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All bold accents above are mine, not Bodi’s. To be clear: Bodi’s music and mindset are in a broader, sort of Buddhist vein. Nevertheless, compassion is compassion, so he has similar “conscientious” sensibilities to most of the current Christian artists I mentioned above. Plus it’s just great stuff musically, production-wise, and lyrically. —>     http://bodi.bandcamp.com/  . There’s a lot of genuine grief on the new record, and a boldness and inventiveness that belies his maturation as an artist to watch.
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Finally, just because I had been wanting to for awhile now, here’s a more personal note on the subject of Christian rappers and/or “crossover” acts:
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We sang an older Generation X minor “hit” in church a couple weeks back that got me thinking about Christian hip hop (especially white or integrated rap acts, like the aforementioned Beautiful Eulogy). That Gen X song was In the Light, popularized by Washington D.C.-based DC Talk, but originally written and recorded by one of my own favorite singers and producers, Charlie Peacock (whose recent production work on The Civil Wars’ record won them a Grammy, and whose 2012 work producing Hank Williams’ amazingly moving granddaughter Holly Williams is my current heavy-rotation favorite choice for an afternoon power-walk).
In the Light, by DC Talk, from their concert film.
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The concert version above is not, of course, all that akin to hip-hop. Nor is the original song… this is rock, clearly.
But other DC Talk rap songs like “Luv Is a Verb” –for a certain generation of young people in the late Eighties and into the 1990s– were probably the much-needed “safe” alternative to the Beastie Boys, or Ice-T style gangsta rap. For kids who would not have even been allowed by their parents to listen to or buy the more “explicit” rap that was emerging and gaining controversial headlines, albums like DC Talk’s massive hit Jesus Freak (1995) were pretty important.
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There were other Christian rap acts I recall from that time as well — like D.O.C. (Disciples of Christ), who I saw at a former Cornerstone Festival, and gospel/rap collaborations by people like Kirk Franklin. But for me –only a casual hip hop fan till about the turn of the 21st century– DC Talk was probably one of the points of entry. (Along with Run-DMC, Big Daddy Kane, Grandmaster Flash, Arrested Development and the 2013 Rock Hall of Fame inductees, Public Enemy.)
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Oh let me hear you say “Hey, Ho, Hey, Ho, Hey, Ho”…
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