Music as a tool for social change: An important cause highlighted in a simple, yet powerful way.
The Voice Project is a USA based charity that uses the power of music to affect change in Uganda. They run a number of different programs on the ground in Uganda that support their work but this album is really at the heart of what they do.
Northern Uganda has been wracked by civil war for over 20 years, a war raged by the notorious Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony and the war came to a wider prominence last year when the charity Invisible Children produced a now-discredited video that became a global viral phenomenon and put the war firmly in the spotlight. But the Voice Project has been quietly going about their business for the past few years using a deceptively simple, but brilliant idea to raise awareness of the situation.
The women of Northern Uganda -- mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of male soldiers; many of whom are widowed, rape survivors and abductees -- have banded together in groups to offer each other support. Using traditional ‘dwog paco’ (come home) songs, the women use the songs as a means of letting former soldiers know that they are forgiven and should come back home. The songs are passed by radio and word of mouth far into the bush and even neighbouring countries Sudan and the DR Congo.
Taking their cue from these women, the Voice Project asked one musician to cover another musician’s song and then pass that on to the next musician and so on, building a ‘chain of songs’. This brilliant, but effective use of music builds awareness and exposure of the issues in Uganda and helps drive donations for The Voice Project’s work. A number of these songs have now been collated; this is the genesis for the album Home Recordings Vol. 1, which is available only as an iTunes download release.
The album opens with Acello Miriam’s reading of “Dwog Paco (Come Home)”, a half spoken half sung explanation of what a dwog paco is. This gives way to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros feat the Gulu Widows Choir remix of “Home”, a joyous uplifting track, before Joe Purdy gives a mournful version of R.E.M.’s “Swan Swan H”, an inspired cover version choice.
This in turn gives way to R.E.M.’s Mike Mills singing Bill Bragg’s “Sing Their Souls Back Home”, which leads to Bragg covering Joanna Newsom’s "On a Good Day". And hence we get this musical chain developing. The highlights are the aforementioned Bragg track, Brett Dennen’s version of Citizen Cope’s "Healing Hands", Angélique Kidjo’s raw rendering of Hugh Masekela’s "Soweto Blues" and the stunningly haunting Priscilla Ahn’s cover of Benji Hughes’ "Masters in China".
For some unexplained reason the chain goes slightly awry in the second half of the album, with notable interruptions in the chain links. And there are only twenty five seconds worth of the wonderful the Gulu Widows Choir's attempt at Joe Purdy’s "Suitcase".
These are small asides, though, in what is a great idea for what can sometimes become mawkish ‘charity album’ concepts. It is clear the cause and the idea has been readily embraced by the musicians appearing here. There are no expensive studio recordings and no egos on show. Nearly all the songs are raw, passionate, lo-fi field recordings and they are much the better for it.
Music can be a great tool for social change and empowerment. By picking up on the simple but powerful way song is being used by the women of Northern Uganda, the Voice Project have created their own way of using music to engage audiences with the plight of Northern Ugandan communities.