In the wake of protests happening around the country with the non-indictment of the officers involved in the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, a universal chant has become “I Can’t Breathe”. Actor Samuel L. Jackson took to his personal social media accounts to make a plea for artists- particularly singers- to join in the fight with his “I Can’t Breathe” song challenge. Of course, we have been attuned to some celebrities, particularly J. Cole who have been writing and performing songs about the movement. But the “I Can’t Breathe” song challenge was special in that it was looking for singers to use their gifts to make this movement go viral. Musicians Jessica Anderson and Tyler “EagleBabel” Brooks took that challenge seriously and their response is unbelievable.
Responding to a direct challenge invite from soulhead.com contributor Yvorn “Doc” Aswad, the two Chicago natives made it a point not just sing the song as Jackson had directed, but also to incorporate their own original lyrics and composition.
“The existing lyrics for the song evoked some of the sentiments of the struggle, but I really felt as though we had so much to say that I couldn’t resist taking this moment to further articulate the heart of the issues” Anderson said of writing the song.
“I knew that this piece had to recognize the legacy of oppression, misrepresentation, and injustice that has stifled black people in this country for centuries. So this song does not simply call out police brutality but the perceptions had of Black lives and their significance in this world”.
While the words captivate, evoking the imagery of the “die-ins” and “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” mantra that have also marked this movement, there is also something powerful in the music. They channeled the influence of some of their own role models, like Lalah Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, and India.Arie. But in they end, they wanted to create something that paid respect to previous generations of protest music, while still being uniquely 21st Century.
“So I approached Tyler with a melody that situated itself somewhere on the continuum of musical styles throughout the African diaspora” Anderson said. Brooks felt that it just worked.
“She’s actually had songs on her heart since the Michael Brown verdict, but we never got a chance to sit down and write a full piece together until recently” Brooks said. “When we finally could, Jessica brought a full-fledged concept to the table — lyrics and melody — so all I had to do was just listen, translate, and arrange for piano”.
And both of them acknowledge that there was something unique about this song. Having made art for activism sake for nearly five years, this song sprang forth naturally.
“Our co-writing process involves a lot of jamming out different song forms and grooves until the song rounds out the way we like. But this time it was like one-take, ‘done'” Brooks offered, very proud of his work with his longtime collaborator.
For both Brooks and Anderson, they hope that there song is not the end, but a beginning of more creative people lending their talents to this movement. But beyond that, they wish to see substantive change.
“[We] call and challenge leaders (broadly defined) to use their platform to promote the kind of paradigm shift that we truly need to change the state of our nation.”
Let’s hope this is a great start! And of course, soulheads, re-tweet us or post to our Facebook wall your own response to the “I Can’t Breathe Song” challenge, and we will be sure to send you some love!
This Rendition of the “I Can’t Breathe Challenge” Will Stun You