Culture, Religion

5 Plagues and 5 Hopes: A Playlist for Pesach in 2018

I am angry. Many people are angry. Pick your political issue or your social reason to be angry; they seem never-ending.
Anger is for sure the wrong way to approach Pesach and the Seder — and not just because it’s hard to get through long meals with a lot of family when you’re angry before you sit down. Anger is the wrong way to come to the Seder because if you are angry, you can’t follow the commandment to heed the story of the escape from Egypt, of our foundational story of being the other, the stranger, the refugee. If you’re angry, you aren’t hearing the story and you probably can’t act on it.
But if you’re angry, you can at least listen to music to channel and try to redirect the emotion. I’ve curated two playlists for Peach in the past, with songs reflecting and mirroring the structure of the Seder. But in a year where focusing on the Seder will be such a challenge, I’m providing a group of songs that zero in on one of the focal points of any Seder: the 10 plagues.
I’m going to move beyond anger, though, and also include hope. So here (and in this YouTube playlist) are 10 songs: 5 current plagues that are making me and so many millions of Americans angry, and 5 songs of hope of how we can find our way through the anger to work together. Up to you if you drop a bit of wine on your stereo or phone after you listen to each song.
Plague 1: Sexism/Misogyny (“The Opener,” Camp Cope). The Women’s March and #MeToo movement have helped catapult the issue of sexual harassment into the forefront. But with successive revelations, we realize that the plague is not limited to violent and criminal acts, but an overall system structured to disempower women at every turn. We’ve known about (but not solved) issues like pay equity, but we have been reminded there are so many other levels in which male privilege maintains power over women. In this track from the incredible Camp Cope, the Australian band rips against the way this system plays out in the music scene and tries — but in this case, luckily/hopefully fails — to keep young female bands down:

“Treat them like queens until they disagree/And never reflect to think ‘wait, maybe the problem was me’/…It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up the room/It’s another man telling us to book a smaller venue/’Nah, hey, cmon girls we’re only thinking about you’/Well, see how far we’ve come not listening to you/‘Yeah, just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota.’”

Plague 2: Xenophobia (“Europe is Lost,” Kate Tempest). This standout track from a concept album about seven strangers on a London street all awake at 4:18AM captures so much more than xenophobia. In fact, if there is a single track that covers the breadth of life and society’s troubles in 2018, whether in Trump’s America or the Brexiters’ UK, it’s this one. But as she blisters through any number of topics, Tempest’s unique flow takes you back and forth between the angry white male and the scared witness dealing with the active and passive violence of racial hatred.

“Europe is lost, America lost, London lost/Still we are clamouring victory/All that is meaningless rules/We have learned nothing from history…Top down violence, a structural viciousness/Your kids are dosed up on medical sedatives/But don’t worry bout that, man, worry ’bout terrorists….And about them immigrants? I can’t stand them/Mostly, I mind my own business/They’re only coming over here to get rich, it’s a sickness/England! England! Patriotism!/And you wonder why kids want to die for religion?”

Plague 3: Gun Violence (“F*** the NRA,” Jamie Kilstein). If there is any plague that we may see some action on sooner than later, it could be gun violence. The movement launched after Parkland and that led to mass rallies across the nation on March 24 will, hopefully, bring about change. But we know it won’t be easy and in order to get there, we will need to keep hearing the stories of the people whose lives have been shattered by guns, the individuals who live behind the horrifying statistics. And we also know we will need to hear one argument after another from the NRA about arming teachers, arming good guys with guns, and arming politicians with more money. So, although this song won’t help with easing anger and admittedly is not particularly respectful, it’ll help you get through the anger with a laugh:

“Take a breath, Red Dawn, and stop watching Alex Jones videos/How many schools need to get shot to s*** before you decide buying a punching bag instead of a killing machine is worth more than a child’s life/…You don’t stop shootings by adding more guns/You don’t stop Macklemore by adding Iggy Azalea/“You want to stop school shootings? Why don’t you arm the teachers?”/Cause we don’t pay teachers enough to afford bullets/M***, I don’t trust cops with guns and they’re TRAINED how to use them/ Mike Brown’s murderer was trained how to use them/Tamir Rice’s murderer was trained how to use them//Sean Bell’s murderers were trained how to use them/ Fifty times. Trained how to use them.”

Plague 4: Racism (“Blk Grl Soldier,” Jamila Woods). If you have not listened to the album HEAVN by Jamila Woods, then there is no single better thing you can do with your pre-Pesach time than to do so now. This remarkable singer and poet from the South Side of Chicago captures the range of experience and emotion that a black woman is both exposed to and feels. In many of the tracks, she turns inward and shows how it’s necessary to create space for the heart and soul amid hate; in this track, though, she takes racism, especially when directed at black women, straight on.

“We go missing by the hundreds/Ain’t nobody checkin’ for us/Ain’t nobody checkin’ for us/The camera loves us, Oscar doesn’t/Ain’t nobody checkin for us/Ain’t nobody checkin for us/They want us in the kitchen/Kill our sons with lynchings/We get loud about it/Oh now we’re the bitches…They make her hate her own skin/Treat her like a sin”

Plague 5: Apathy/Anger/Violence (“USA,” Jeff Rosenstock). The former lead singer of punk legends Bomb the Music Industry has channeled the rage of his former band into a broader sound palate of songs, but he maintains a laser focus on the problems facing the country. And in this track, he travels through a range of vignettes that underlie the latent anger boiling over in parts of white America. In the final scene, that anger turns to violence, with the perpetrators defending themselves by saying they have been lied to, and they’re bored. Hard to listen to this song and not wonder who we are as a country anymore.

“At first he thought it was the undertow/But he was dragged to the bottom of the lake/By a couple of kids saying, “it’s a joke”/Though he didn’t know any of their names/As they held him down, the crowd got loud/And they cheered when they thought he had escaped/When the anchor needed something for the 10 o’clock/What could they say?/ Oh what else could they say?/They said/“Well, you promised us the stars/And now we’re tired and bored.’”

Hope 1: Refusing to be Enemies (“Is This It,” The Strokes). The Strokes are credited by some with saving rock and roll, or at least reviving the form in the late 90s/early 00s in New York after the post-grunge era had descended into dreck. Their debut album still holds up as a near-perfect example of rock, and this title track helps shift our energy here from anger to hope. Although in this case, the song is about a relationship rather than society, these lyrics should stay with us throughout Pesach, and beyond:

“We’re not enemies; We just disagree”

Hope 2: Engaging the Other Side (“Bad Choices,” Superchunk). Superchunk is angry. The veteran punk band from North Carolina has seen a lot since the late 1980s. Now that are back after a several year hiatus because of their concern about the “dire and depressing situation” we find ourselves in. Yet they were also determined to make an album that both captured that sentiment and propelled us forward. Most of the songs on the album take aim directly at the President and those who seek to control through hate and ignorance, but in this track, they also remind all of us that we need to break out of our bubbles, no matter how hard that can be.

“You gotta get out/Out and about/Meet your weird neighbors/Once in a while/Take a deep breath of the air/Or get off of your bottom stair”

Hope 3: Seeking Inner Peace (“Angles,” Mick Jenkins). Jenkins is another young, brilliant rapper channeling the violence and tragedy in Chicago into hope and love. His debut album “The Healing Component” — which he defines as love — may look through a Christian lens but identifies a universal truth: we need to know and love ourselves before we can engage anyone else.

“It’s perspective really, the collective is merely suggesting a theory that love is a blessing/I’m stressing it really/Man y’all don’t hear me, if you’ve never been alone how you know yourself?/If you ain’t up on the water how you grow yourself?”

Hope 4: Taking Control of Your Life, Despite the Anger (“Like It Is,” Vince Staples). This track from one of hip-hop’s brightest up and coming stars takes you through the entire arc of this playlist. Staples’ debut double album “Summertime ’06” looks back at the rapper’s young life in a gang and covers a range of emotions and experience that many of us outside the toughest parts of LA will never know. Staples looks back and realizes when his elders told him to put love aside because the streets wouldn’t allow it, yet always understanding love and hope were the way forward:

“When I was in seventh grade/my grandfather told me don’t get caught lovin’ the streets/ cause they never gonna love you back/But I feel like it’s all we got/ so it’s all we really do love/At the end of the day I feel like the problem is/the people that control it don’t really come from here/so they can’t do nothing but look down on us.”

And as he grows up and succumbs to the ways of the streets, he then puts aside what he’s been told and looks inside, no matter the odds stacked against him or his community:

“I gotta be, I gotta be, I gotta be the one/To make it up to heaven, despite the things I’ve done/I gotta be, I gotta be, I gotta be the one/To make my momma proud, feel like her only son/I gotta be, I gotta be, I gotta be the one/With everything I need, with everything I want/I gotta be, I gotta be, I gotta be the one/To do it like nobody has ever done”

Hope 5: Realizing There is No Other Way — and Singing Together (“The World is All There is,” Fool’s Gold). This band epitomizes all we need to hope: merging communities and worlds through love and peace. A band of Israelis and others coming together in Los Angeles to play Afrobeat-inspired music, sung largely in Hebrew. What says more about what we can do together when we realize that the world, and all of us who inhabit it, are all we have.

“Ha’olam hu lo poched/Ha’olam hu lo soreif/Ha’olam hu lo shakran/Ha’olam hu lo ragzan/Ha’olam hu lo yavesh/Ha’olam ze ma she-yesh.”

(Translation: “The world is not afraid/the world is not burning/the world is not lying/the world is not angry/the world is not dry/the world is all there is”

And above all else, the group chant that runs throughout the track can be a perfect way to end your Seder, or just get yourself back on track. Because what better way is there to work through anger and hope than singing. With your family, with your community, with this world.
Next year…in hope.

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