Hope is a powerful and abstract concept that we are all longing for, especially as this challenging year comes to an end. Hope and activism through music are very familiar concepts for Noel ‘Paul’ Stookey, better known as Paul from the popular folk trio of the ‘60s Peter, Paul and Mary.
Stookey and his organization Music To Life, which he founded with his daughter Elizabeth Stookey Sunde, recently released Hope Rises, a compilation album featuring 15 artists and activists from diverse backgrounds.
For Hope Rises, Music To Life sought out artists who not only sing songs about important social justice issues, but also are striving to take action in their own communities, a key element to Stookey’s personal art and the overall mission of Music To Life.
Hope Rises includes “Over The Sea,” a beautiful and moving song by Houston artist and activist Amanda Pascali. “Over The Sea” takes listeners into the cramped and frightening voyage by boat that so many immigrants face when they hopefully seek out a better life in a new country, leaving behind all that is familiar to them.
“The sea is a huge part of my life,” says Pascali. “A lot of my heritage comes from countries that are near the sea, and the sea is also a way of migration which is the whole focus of this song.” "Over The Sea" was originally released on her 2018 album Still It Moves and is the only song where Pascali sings entirely in English.
The song begins with haunting and abstract sounds made by Pascali’s bandmate Addison Freeman on the cello and are the sounds are intentionally meant to recreate the feelings of fear and uncertainty of traveling by boat.
“We wanted the song to start in a weird way, to make people uncomfortable because the song is supposed to make you uncomfortable,” says Pascali who was inspired by the documentary film Fuocoammare made by Gianfranco Rosi.
Fuocoammare portrays the voyage of desperate and brave immigrants from Africa to Sicily to try their hand at a new life via the island of Lampedusa. Pascali’s song perfectly captures the longing and hope these weary travelers feel on their voyage through her and Freeman’s soft and natural instrumentation combined with Pascali’s angelic vocals filled with longing.
Pascali was honored to learn that her song was selected from among 100 submissions to be included in the Hope Rises compilation. She describes how growing up her father owned records and tapes of American music purchased in the Romanian black market so many years ago, including the recordings of Peter, Paul and Mary.
Submissions were reviewed by a committee of seven influential artists including Stookey, his band mate Peter Yarrow, Austin native Eliza Gilkyson and Folk legend Janis Ian. The panel evaluated all the songs attempting to give a quantifying measure not only of the songs presented, but the artists themselves.
“I work with Music To Life, a lot of what I do with my projects that involve the Houston immigrant community involve Music To Life. They've provided me with a lot of resources to be an official activist because for me it wasn't enough to just sing songs about immigrants, I wanted to actually get into the community.”
Just this summer Pascali was awarded a grant through the City of Houston to develop and implement an ESL program incorporating music into the lessons in order to add a more dynamic and meaningful approach to teaching English as a second language.
The COVID-19 pandemic added an extra layer of complexity to her project forcing her to go virtual and take on the challenging role of a teacher herself. For the next stage of her project, Pascali hopes to document the stories of Houston immigrants and allow others to look inside each person's incredible story.
Pascali knows firsthand the amazing stories an immigrant can hold through her own family’s story. Her father immigrated to the United States from Romania and her mother from Egypt. They met in New York city, the focal point for the ‘60s folk music movement.
“How many other countless people have stories like this?,” asks Pascali. “So my story becomes less and less extraordinary and more ordinary because in a city of immigrants, it becomes more ordinary that you have stories like this.”
“What I want to do is unearth those and highlight them and make them accessible for other people to listen so maybe they will think, ‘Oh these people aren't so different from me. Maybe we have more in common than I think’ and kind of bridge that gap that's dividing us.”
Pascali’s drive for activism and songwriting talents are exactly what made her a perfect fit for this diverse and inclusive collection of socially conscious songs.
“Honestly, the one thing that acoustic music, and certainly Amanda's single on the album reflects that, is the kind of vulnerability and accessibility that’s available,” says Stookey of this project.
Hope Rises expands beyond the traditional folk sounds to include artists representing hip hop, rap, and rock, a pleasant surprise for music fans and a conscious decision made by Stookey and his organization.
“The fact is that we are, I think, schooled now in the appreciation of diverse points of view, whether that's expressed message wise or melodically,” says Stookey.
He knows firsthand the power that music can have in pushing social changes and awakening the consciousness of a society. Peter, Paul and Mary were and continue to be vessels for social change.
The trio was put together by famed manager Albert Grossman who managed many folk artists of the time including Odetta and Bob Dylan. They performed at the historic March on Washington and maintained their social activism even after the mainstream appeal of folk music had passed.
The ‘60s folk movement brought artists and audiences back down to basics, an acoustic guitar with harmonizing voices singing the stories of everyday people and it went on to leave its giant footprint in rock and roll and country music.
“Gradually I think the realization came that although the starker sound helped to support the fact that the message was important, what was realized ultimately and is continually being realized over the span of these past 60 years, is that we can and should feel a certain responsibility to talk about those things that we share,” says Stookey.
“Granted, love is a large part of that, whether it's person to person love or love with a capital L, it still is a base upon which a lot of life is lived and there's a lot of things that we need to consider as a citizenry. I could see the impact when the Beatles arrived and James Taylor and Crosby Stills and Nash, the fact that rock and roll got the message that yeah, we could write music that rants, but we could also write music that complains and offers a solution and that to me was a major impact.”
The artists represented in Hope Rises each bring to the table not only their own sounds, but their own perspective through lyrics on issues that seem current in this troubled year, but unfortunately are as old as time; racial injustice, human rights, inequality and ultimately, the desire and hope for a better tomorrow through unity.
“Lyrics, particularly when they deal with messages, you have to make a choice because proselytizing, trying to put across a point of view, can also be propaganda, can also be like an attempt to manipulate.”
“So what's the best way to portray a concern? Personally, after 60 years and growing up in the shadow of people like Pete and Woody, you can do best by telling stories. You can also do well by speaking metaphorically. The idea is to enlist the other person's participation in the thought process, not to convince them.”
This compilation is the first of its kind for Music For Life but Stookey says they are working on putting together a Hope Rises Volume Two due to the overwhelming amount of material that was submitted.
When asked how he keeps his hope and faith through all these years of witnessing and combating mankind's neglect to one another and the environment Stookey says, “I have hope because I see life continually opening as a gift and it's just up to us to do something good with it.”
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