WILL.I.AM / “Yes We Can”

This week, our feature is a cover not of a song but of a speech. And not even a victory speech but rather the words of a candidate after a disappointing loss: Obama in New Hampshire. will i am 01.jpg Will.I.Am had the idea to make an anthem out of Obama’s rallying call to his supporters after an election defeat. Regardless of one’s position on Obama as a candidate, Will’s cover is ingenious. It features numerous popular personalities echoing Obama’s words in both spoken word and song. The innovative video was directed by Jesse Dylan, song of Bob Dylan. Within a few days of its online release, the video was averaging a million hits a day. The “Yes We Can” video is available here. fired up seattle.jpg “Fired Up, Ready To Go” builds on a chant popular at Obama rallies. Produced by the Bergevin brothers (Joe – lyrics, Jon – piano/composer), this is a musical product of Seattle featuring vocalist Reverend Pat Wright and her Total Experience Gospel Choir and lead vocalist Jake Bergevin along with a brace of Seattle musicians including Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron. “Fired Up” lives up to its title. The “Fired Up” video is available here. mighty sparrow 01.jpg The premiere calypso king of Trinidad, “The Mighty Sparrow” aka Slinger Francisco, offers an international perspective with his song “Barack the Magnificent.” I thought it interesting that Sparrow refers to Obama by the use of his first name, which we hardly ever hear use in the American media except when Michelle Obama is speaking. The two syllable first name sounds more exhortative than the three syllable last name to my ears, especially the way Sparrow enunciates. All three of these songs have one element in common: they were produced independent of the official Obama campaign. They represent the unleashing of the creative potential of people inspired by a movement for change. Some critics suggest that this is a false movement, a media invention, fluff and no substance. I think the critics are wrong. Why? A good answer is found in the words of Will.I.Am describing why and how he put the song together. Everything must change.

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The Yes We Can Song by will.i.am I was sitting in my recording studio watching the debates... Torn between the candidates I was never really big on politics... and actually I’m still not big on politics... but 4 years ago, me and the Black Eyed Peas supported Kerry... And we supported Kerry with all our might... We performed and performed and performed for the DNC... doing all we could do to get the youth involved... The outcome of the last 2 elections has saddened me... on how unfair, backwards, upside down, unbalanced, untruthful, corrupt, and just simply, how wrong the world and "politics" are... So this year i wanted to get involved and do all i could early... And i found myself torn... because this time it’s not that simple... our choices aren’t as clear as the last elections ... last time it was so obvious... Bush and war vs no Bush and no war... But this time it’s not that simple... and there are a lot of people that are torn just like i am... So for awhile I put it off and i was going to wait until it was decided for me... And then came New Hampshire... And i was captivated... Inspired... I reflected on my life... and the blessings I have... and the people who fought for me to have these rights and blessings... and I’m not talking about a "black thing" I’m talking about a "human thing" me as a "person" an American... That speech made me think of Martin Luther King... Kennedy... and Lincoln... and all the others that have fought for what we have today... what America is "supposed" to be... freedom... equality... and truth... and thats not what we have today... we think we are free... but in reality terror and fear controls our decisions... this is not the America that our pioneers and leaders fought and died for... and then there was New Hampshire it was that speech... like many great speeches... that one moved me... because words and ideas are powerful... It made me think... and realize that today we have "very few" leaders... maybe none... but that speech... it inspired me... it inspired me to look inside myself and outwards towards the world... it inspired me to want to change myself to better the world... and take a "leap" towards change... and hope that others become inspired to do the same... change themselves.. change their greed... change their fears... and if we "change that" "then hey".. we got something, right...???... 1 week later after the speech settled in me... I began making this song... I came up with the idea to turn his speech into a song... because that speech effected and touched my inner core like nothing in a very long time... it spoke to me... because words and ideas are powerful... I just wanted to add a melody to those words... I wanted the inspiration that was bubbling inside me to take over... so i let it.. I wasn't afraid to stand for something... to stand for "change"... I wasn't afraid of "fear"... it was pure inspiration... so I called my friends... and they called their friends... in a matter of 2 days... We made the song and video... Usually this process would take months... a bunch of record company people figuring out strategies and release dates... interviews... all that stuff... but this time i took it in my own hands... so i called my friends sarah pantera, mike jurkovac, fred goldring, and jesse dylan to help make it happen... and they called their friends.. and we did it together in 48 hours... and instead of putting it in the hands of profit we put it in the hands of inspiration... then we put it on the net for the world to feel... When you are truly inspired.. magic happens... incredible things happen... love happens.. (and with that combination) "love, and inspiration" change happens... "change for the better" Inspiration breeds change... "Positive change"... no one on this planet is truly experienced to handle the obstacles we face today... Terror, fear, lies, agendas, politics, money, all the above... It’s all scary... Martin Luther King didn't have experience to lead... Kennedy didn't have experience to lead... Susan B. Anthony... Nelson Mandela... Rosa Parks... Gandhi... Anne Frank... and everyone else who has had a hand in molding the freedoms we have and take for granted today... no one truly has experience to deal with the world today... they just need "desire, strength, courage ability, and passion" to change... and to stand for something even when people say it's not possible... America would not be here "today" if we didn’t stand and fight for change "yesterday"... Everything we have as a "people" is because of the "people" who fought for change... and whoever is the President has to realize we have a lot of changing to do I'm not trying to convince people to see things how i do... I produced this song to share my new found inspiration and how I've been moved... I hope this song will make you feel... love... and think... and be inspired just like the speech inspired me... that’s all... Let's all come together like America is supposed to... Like Japan did after Hiroshima... that was less than 65 years ago... and look at Japan now... they did it together... they did it... "We can't?... Are you serious..?.. WE CAN!!! Yes we can... A United "America" Democrats, Republicans and Independents together... Building a new America We can do it... "TOGETHER" Please visit www.yeswecansong.com Thank you for reading and listening... will i am 02.jpg will.i.am
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Monique Says: on February 17th, 2008 at 5:31 am I am not even from America, but I have been following these elections...I don't even understand very well how your system works, because I am from Australia and I'm still in high school. But Obama has moved me and I feel involved even though I am from the other side of the world. I would vote if I could...because America's decisions affects millions, billions in countries worldwide. The U.S. President's decisions impacts on the lives of the poor, the hungry, the ill and the innocent. When you are voting, you are also voting for those of us that can't. I sincerely hope with all my heart that America is voting for change.
Mtume was in New Orleans a week or so ago for a short visit. I picked up Mtume and Elizabeth, his fiancée, from the airport around midnight on Friday night. On the ride into the city I told Mtume that the election was reductively over. Obama had won. Mtume being the natural skeptic he is rattled off at least 887 reasons why I was overstating a hoped-for outcome. I replied that I was not speaking emotionally. I was basing my assessment on many years of campaigning experience (from 1984 to 1986 I was the co-founder and senior partner with Bright Moments, an advertising and public relations company). I knew a little somethin’ somethin’ about political campaigns. b&m obama 02.jpg I told Mtume I first became really interested in Obama’s campaign when I read about Michelle Obama. Michelle is the real deal. A sister. Through and through. Wasn’t going to be no monkey shines, sell-outs and foo-foo chicanery. I even joked (well, I was serious even though I said it as a joke), Obama might do a Monica if he wanted to but Michelle wasn’t going to play no Hillary. She would light his ass up if he stepped out on the wild side. Some of our BoL readers may not fully understand what this means, but y’all who know “know” that I’m telling the truth about Michelle being one of those sisters you do not ever want to mess with, mess over, or mess around on! So, Michelle is what got me interested. Then I did the research and started crunching some numbers, adding up the details. I told Mtume that Obama had won Super Tuesday. Naturally I was once again met with derision. Well, it took nearly two weeks but the final numbers are in from all the participating states (except for a few corrections to come from New York, corrections which at best for Obama may gain him one or two delegates, at worst will keep the count as it is. (If you’re interested, you can go here for more info.) I pointed out that the polls were probably right about California if you looked solely at the votes cast on the primary date. The difference was that nearly two million early votes had been cast, a majority of which I’m certain were Clinton votes as securing mail-in votes was part of their early campaign strategy. The defeat in California notwithstanding, the final outcome of Super Tuesday is that Obama won 844 delegates and Clinton won 837 delegates. That’s right Obama won more delegates than Clinton on Super Tuesday. (Go here for a detailed delegate breakdown.) I explained to Mtume that money was a major factor. You can’t do American politics without money. And before someone misunderstands, let me clarify: When it comes to large scale elections—state or national—having money doesn’t mean you will win but not having money does mean you won’t be able to play, and if you can’t play, you can’t win. The money translation is simple: if Obama had not put together a workable plan to raise money, he would not be in the position he is in today, regardless of message or skill at delivering said message. In January, Obama raised over $30 million while Clinton was forced to loan herself $5 million. Obama was raising his millions $25 and $50 at a time from grassroots folk nationwide. Obama stuck to his pledge not to take donations from PACs (political action committees), federal lobbyists, and the like. What interested me was that if Obama was raising more money than Clinton, it meant he had a broader and more committed base of support. Obama donors can be counted on to follow their money in terms of voting and in terms of working to support their candidate. I ran some other factors by Mtume. When he returned to California a few days later, Mtume told me he hoped I was right. Then the Maryland/Virginia/DC primary results came in. Then the pressure started to build on the superdelegates. John Lewis said he would vote for Obama but he was not yet ready to take back his endorsement of Hillary; that’s just a small indication of the amount of pro-Obama pressure that old line black politicians are reeling under. b&m obama 01.jpg I don’t believe an Obama victory is automatic.  I don’t expect Clinton to roll over and give up. Her campaign will have to be decisively defeated, however I do believe the conditions are favorable. If Obama continues to work hard and work smart, he will be the Democratic nominee for the general election for President of the United States of America. The biggest obstacle is going to be keeping Obama alive. America has not changed so much that the right-wing(nuts) are going to passively accept a Black president. But we can’t let fear stop us from daring greatness. This trio of songs is encouragement to all of us who are fired up and ready to work as active agents of change. Whether within the system supporting Obama or as an alternative to the system working along other paths and avenues, the point is, as Charlie Parker noted back at mid-century in the fifties: now's the time! A different world is possible. —Kalamu ya Salaam

         The real deal        
The "Fired Up, Ready To Go" piece is nice. The Mighty Sparrow is quite humorous. You have to love the superfluous (and non-superfluous) hyper-detail of calypso music. It's almost like hip-hop. But "Yes We Can" is the real deal. It's an actual, quality, effective piece of music. I don't like Will.I.Am or the Peas as artists, but I have to admit, Will really did it with this one. It's slightly reminscent of Bob Marley's "War," in the sense that it's a (mostly) sung recitation of a speech. There are some undertones of "We Are The World" in there too, with all the different musicians, singers and personalities joining in. It's good. I hope it helps. I want to make a general comment about Obama too. I've been asked if I'm going to vote for Obama just because he's black. It seems hard for people to believe it, but the answer to that question is no. Jesse Jackson ran for President. Al Sharpton ran for President. I wouldn't vote for either one of those, um, gentlemen. They can do whatever they do, but I wouldn't want them as my President even if they were my uncles. I'm voting for Obama (I already did in the primary and I hope I get the chance to do it in the general election) not because he's black, and honestly, not even because I believe in his message or his platform. I'm voting for Obama because I'm amazed at, and inspired by, the wide variety of people who DO believe in his message and platform. I'm voting for Obama because he's convinced friends of mine who usually don't give a shit about voting to go ahead and register. I'm voting for Obama because he's inspired passion from the dispassionate and belief from the disbelieving. I'm voting for Obama because, for the first time in my lifetime, I'm actually daring to hope that doing so maybe, just maybe, could make an actual, real difference. And like I say, it's not so much for what Obama can or will actually do, but for what he apparently symbolizes for so many people, not just here in America, but around the world. I want my country to rejoin the world as a citizen in good standing. I want to be welcomed again, instead of hated. Obama is the only candidate whose election has the potential to do all of those things. —Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, February 18th, 2008 at 1:14 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “WILL.I.AM / “Yes We Can””

sue ross Says:
February 18th, 2008 at 8:02 am

there is also a spanish language Obama song called “Obama Reggaeton” or “Como Se Dice…Como Se Llama (OBAMA, OBAMA)”, available at the Amigos des Obama website:

Gwendolyn Hawk Says:
February 18th, 2008 at 10:08 am

I stumbled across your website sometime ago, and since that time, have made it my business to click onto the site every Monday. Please, Please, Please– let the campaigning go. At this point, I don’t know who I’ll vote for or who I will decide to write in. I’m studying the issues and the candidates’ stands on them. To do this, believe it or not, I’ve taken a break from the media pundits and from the rallying of campaigners. Please give me what I tune in to your website for, and back off the cheering for your candidates. Thanks for the opportunity to reply.

          Mtume says:           

Gwendolyn, I know where you’re coming from. I thought about that myself. But two things. First, we’re not just a music blog. From the beginning, we’ve talked about social and political issues of the day and of the past. In my opinion, it’s impossible to fully discuss black music (or really, any music) without discussing the context (which includes the socio-political context) in which the music was created. Second, you have to give Kalamu a break. The old man is sixty years old and he’s excited like a teenager going to his senior prom. He even donated $50 online to the Obama campaign. That might not be earth-shattering news to you, but we’re talking about a man who hadn’t voted in decades probably and who hadn’t even paid his income taxes for years until he got married and felt obligated (I’m assuming) to his wife to not drag her down with him. When it comes to politics, my Baba can be off-the-charts cynical. This candidate and this campaign have actually caused him to give a shit. Even if Obama loses, I’m thrilled to death for that alone.

So look, if his cheerleading and my agreeing with him aggravate you too much for you to listen to the tunes, I apologize. But honestly, it’s probably not going to completely stop until the run is over. Baba’s just too excited.

            kalamu sez:           

when i did my kitchen sink radio program from time to time i would get a caller who strongly objected to something i was playing. my response, often on-air, was: turn to another channel or turn your radio off. if you are upset by something i’m doing, turn it off. we don’t want any bad vibes going around. i won’t be offended. in fact, i would feel better if you just let it go.

it only takes a minute to see if you want to read something we’ve written and the site does not force you to listen to any of the music you don’t want to hear. really it is your choice. if you don’t like something, just turn it off.

in terms of not digging something we do: what you see/hear is what you get. we do what we do. if you don’t like it or find it offensive, i understand. cool. go to another site or stop visiting our site. i’m not angry nor upset. it’s cool. to quote the isleys, "do your thing." we are most certainly going to do our thing, which includes stating our political preferences.

think about it this way. if i asked you to stop doing something you believed in, would you cease and desist simply because i didn’t like your behavior? i hope not. stick with your beliefs. be willing to defend them. if challenged, listen to the challenge, weight the issues raised, make a decision and move on.

i hope you stick with us but if what we do is not for you, i understand.

btw, mtume, my excitement is your excitement. i am anti-capitalist. in one of his speeches barack obama proudly proclaims himself a capitalist. i disagree with him on that. i don’t believe he personally will usher in change but i do see the change he is inspiring in a multitude of people and, like you, i respond to that.

mtume, i don’t remember going to my senior prom.  

i’ll end with my haiku written in response to the question about my religion. i’m a born again pagan—i don’t believe in any organized religion.

black people believe
in god and i believe in
black people—amen

rich Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 2:21 am

you know, Obama does indeed inspire a little bit of hope – even for me as someone who is not American and who lives on the other side of the planet. the truth is that part of the reason why the rest of the world takes an interest in US politics is the stark reality that the leadership of the country has a massive impact on the planet the rest of us have to live in. for a lot of people, when they want to express something important or express something intrinsic to their identity, they turn to music. dance for change, sing for change, scream for change, whatever it takes, just bring on the change!

Stephanie Renee Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 9:10 am

Mtume, I agree with you on the Obama point wholeheartedly. I tried to stay neutral about the Dem nominee (as a registered Independent since age 18), but when my casual conversations with random multicultural strangers would evoke such passionate responses about Sir Obama, I knew that it was time to make a choice. And the fact that he’s leading in white male voters, practically swept the Southern states, and has such an incredible sister a wife is really sealing the deal. And…dare I say it…several of my friends and I also contend that the man is flat-out sexy. Wouldn’t hurt to have some genuine wisdom, charisma and eye candy in the White House, now would it?

For those who don’t like this type of discussion here, I’m sorry. Music should be an artistic window into life, and if politics don’t affect your life, you’re not breathing.

Qawi Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Okay…so somewhere in this political Africentric Music website and Blog, we hit Obama mania. My issue is not Obama or even whether you are an ultra-liberal or dyed-in-the-wool Abraham Lincoln Republican. My issue is the song itself.

It is nice that he set an Obama speech to music and got cameos from John Legend, Common, and others in the video. Still, while the speech was inspiring, the speech-lyrics and music tries too hard to be Paul Simon or Bob Dylan, which it ain’t. 🙂 Those used to Black Eyed Peas and Will.i.am probably would have picked “Let’s Get is Started” for the Obama campaign, but I digress. Granted, Will.i.am (Adams) couldn’t get away with setting the speech to his last hit ‘My Humps’ or ‘Shake Your Monkey’, I’ll give him credit for developing somewhat of a political conscience. We’ll see how that plays out in the next Will.i.am or Black Eyed Peas album. 🙂 I also searched ASCAP to see if I could find who gets the writing/producing/publishing credits but it is not in their database yet. I ask that because some will surely exploit any residuals that Obama may receive…especially in the alleged plagiarism that Obama has been accused of.

To the caller/listener/blogger who wants us to keep to the music and less politics. I understand your concern, but please be reminded that most BLACK music at its core whether Spirituals, Gospel, 60-70’s Soul, Reggae, Jazz, R&B, Hip-Hop, etc. is filled with political references and those things that get people to mobilize. Even songs that are ingrained into Pop-culture like “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder. It doesn’t seem like it now, but back in the early 80’s it was a mobilizing protest song too.

jaajoe Says:
March 2nd, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Michelle Obamma received a bugus raise of $195,052 annually after Barack Obama was elected senator. Check out this article on Michelle Obama

December 20th, 2011 at 11:06 pm

RICH WICKED POCKET, MONEY FOR THEM SELVES: The Government systems of the world cannot let a People person who will make things right, in the world, like IN HATTITE GOVERNEMT. 7TH ANGEL VOICE

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