Updated: Aug 26, 2020
Music is what we all love. It's what we do almost everything to. We cry, work, celebrate, dance, make love, and even sleep. Birthing Moms curate fantastical song lists to play during childbirth (often fails, but they do it anyway).
Simply put, music is arguably the umbilical cord that ties humanity together. We enjoy songs we don't even know the meaning of (hello Italian opera). We hum to Bailamos and Despacito - What do those songs even mean? All we know is they dance us into a magical world where we are the star of our own show - giving us hope and lighting the way. Making even the most mundane tasks bearable.
Its effects are psychological, but new research shows that it can create tangible health benefits. According to NPR,
Science all but confirms that humans are hard-wired to respond to music. Studies also suggest that someday music may even help patients heal from Parkinson's disease or a stroke.
Our world needs this right now. Musical healing. Who wasn't moved by the Italians singing on their balconies, starting a beautiful, inspiring worldwide trend? Throughout the world, these stories come to us now and again. An artist in one part of the world gets together with another artist and creates beautiful music that inspires the world. I have dug into You-Tube's archives to bring you some fantastical collaborations the world needs to watch right now for comfort.
South Africa: The Crossing - Johnny Clegg / Friends of Johnny Clegg
The history of South Africa is well known and documented. As an apartheid state, songs that celebrated native South African culture or criticized the apartheid regime were banned.
In this environment rose Johnny Clegg, a white South African who fell in love with Zulu culture. He partnered with a black South African - Sipho Mchunu, who had a musical gift but was a migrant worker. Together, they formed the band Juluka and would record some of the most popular multilingual afro-pop songs on the African Continent and in Europe.
In 1986, Juluka went the way of most bands, disbanding after Sipho decided he missed the quiet life of the country. Johnny went on to form another multicultural band, Savuka. Like Juluka, Savuka broke barriers and melted the hearts of black and white Africans alike. Yet, the South African government dared ban its music and cancel concerts, a move that only made his voice one of the most uniting voices against apartheid.
It was this history that years later, a group of South African artists, "Friends of Johnny Clegg," came together to sing one of Johnny's most popular emotional songs, "The Crossing."
Johnny composed "The Crossing" as a tribute to his friend who had died in an alleyway, drunk - a common condition among South Africans as they self-medicated to numb the pains of apartheid. The artists came from all over South Africa and the world. Young and old, veterans artists and others who were born in a post-apartheid South Africa. It was a beautiful remake of a song that captured South Africa's pain, but through the artists' collaboration, it celebrated South Africa's future and ability to live up to its nickname as the "Rainbow Nation."
2. The World: Playing for Change - Stand By Me
Someone to stand by us is precisely the antidote life needs "when the going gets rough", and it's even more imperative now that this someone is a white ally or someone with power. I love the story of this mighty band. If there's anything good to come out of the Walton family, it was Whitney Kroenke. Kroenke, together with a friend, set out to meet struggling musicians across the world, bring them along to connect through music, and effect social change.
Since then, the Playing for Change Foundation has recorded numerous musicians, gone on a world tour with some of them, and sponsored education for children in developing countries. According to its website,
Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music. It is born from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.
3. USA: Brian Owens & Thomas Owens - A Change is Gonna Come
Okay, who doesn't love Father/Son collaborations?
The father/son familial relationship is one of the most dynamic links that can single-handedly change the course of life. Often strife with friction and quiet desperation, we marvel when this relationship finds its way into a beautiful partnership.
And so it is with Brian Owens and his father, - Thomas Owens. Their rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" went viral back in 2013 after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Back then, we hoped a change would come. Today, we are sure a change is here.
4. USA/South Africa/Zimbabwe: Paul Simon & Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
While many artists have attempted to collaborate with African artists, Paul Simon is arguably the first Westerner to really find a formula that worked. He didn't impose on the Africans. He didn't insist they do it his way. He supposedly let them record how they wanted and joined in the melodious harmony that created Homeless and Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.
The collaboration echoed two worlds colliding into one. In Homeless, the song pays tribute to countless black South African miners who left their homes, traveled hundreds of miles away to work the diamond mines. They were so poor, they used their fists as a pillow when they slept at night. Meanwhile, a few hundred miles away, white South Africans were so wealthy they had diamonds on the soles of their feet.
After the massive success of this comeback album for Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo would tour the world relentlessly and play across US theatres, introducing their particular blend of stage personalities to the USA. They were adoringly received and, over the last 20 or so years, have become legends in their own right. A simple collaboration between a "fading" American musician and a hungry African band led to both parties' massive success. I can't think of a better win/win solution!
5. USA/South Africa: Josh Groban and Vusi Mahlasela - Weeping
This song has been covered by so many musicians I should list them all here. However, this version is the most popular and IMHO, a perfectly arranged collaboration. Weeping is a haunting song that speaks to our deepest fears and the creatures we create inside our heads. In this case, the creature is the "shadow of the demon he could never face" The demon is the aspirations of the black majority in South African under the Apartheid President, P.W. Botha - and those aspirations are the demon he could never face.
What we fear we create. The Apartheid regime feared the aspirations of the black majority in South Africa and the power of white collaborators, and rightly so because the writer of the song was a white South African soldier who had been forcibly conscripted in the Apartheid army:
I wrote the words and music of "Weeping" during the mid-1980s when I was an unwilling soldier, drafted into the army of South Africa's white-supremacist regime. I intended only to capture my anti-army feelings in a melancholy instrumental piece, but many months later, the declaration of a State of Emergency by the white regime gave me the idea for the lyrics of "Weeping."- Dan Heymann, Weeping Writer
Their oppressive laws only served to strengthen and deepen those aspirations. Though the song is widely credited to Josh Groban, Josh put it on the international map, but it was already a hit in South Africa and some African countries. You can view the original video here.
I can't help but think of Shiel Silverstein's Hungry Mungry poem. In the poem, insatiable Hungry Mungry sits down to eat a simple dinner of mushroom soup. He doesn't stop there. He proceeds to eat everything in sight, including his parents, the world, the universe, and when all is gone, he starts to nibble at his own feet...
6. USA/Spain: Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson - To All the Girls I've Loved Before
So what does a legendary sexy Spanish crooner have in common with a self-proclaimed perpetual pothead? They have loved before.
It's an unlikely collaboration, but one the world needs to hear because - we can all relate. Perhaps what makes this song so appealing is how gracious it is. Most songs about exes hope they fall in a cement mixer full of quicksand, because of the bad Blood left by someone with a fickle heart.
But not this song. Instead, they're glad they came along, they acknowledge they helped them grow, and accept that they were swept up by the winds of change but will forever be in their hearts. That last bit is almost romantic!
It's what makes this unlikely pair create such a powerful duo the world fell in love with. Fans of Willie Nelson discovered Julio's music and vice versa. And between the two universes, pretty much conquered the world by making us feel that we can be better people - with the next ex... 7. Sweden/Senegal: Youssou N'Dour & Neneh Cherry - 7 Seconds
Did you know that it takes 7 seconds to give birth? Labor is the long part, but when the baby pops out - it's 7 seconds!
And when a child is born into this world It has no concept Of the tone the skin is living in
Compelling lyrics that tell us with each new generation, we are given a clean slate to start. We consistently corrupt the new generation by socializing it into hatred and co-opting them into old age fights they didn't start.
For 7 seconds of their lives, humans are pure.
Youssou N'Dour's music is intrinsic to his identity. He was raised in a devout Sufi Muslim household by a mother of Tukulor descent and a carrier of the bardic griot tradition, and a father who was Serer, making him multicultural. However, he is a well known Africanist. His legendary vocal range propelled him to international stardom, where he met Neneh Cherry and composed 7 Seconds.
In true griot style, storytelling in songwriting is a staple of N'Dour's and has seen him write and perform songs with many international artists including Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Dido, Peter Gabriel, and Tracy Chapman among others.
8. USA/England: Various Artists - We Are The World
I'll leave this one right here because there's been enough said—nothing to add or subtract when it comes to pure genius. We need more of it. Period.
9. Canada/England: Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams & Sting - All For Love
The talent in this collaboration is undoubtedly outstanding.
In a world increasingly becoming a dog eat dog world, it's great to be reminded of simple ideals like "All for love and one for all."
Written by Canadian singer, Bryan Adams for The Three Musketeers soundtrack, All for Love is a reminder of what's possible in the world. If these three testestrone oozing males can put their egos on the side to collaborate, imagine what could happen to global politics if our leaders did the same?
10. USA/Sweden: Avicci & Aloe Blacc - Wake Me Up
Last but certainly not least is this excellent collaboration between Aloe Blacc and Avicci.
Inspired by 11 million stories of the undocumented in the USA, the song chronicles the nightmarish life let by the undocumented. While politicians bicker and do nothing, their lives are in limbo. Children grow up, but there are no plans for them. While our lives go on, their lives stop.
So that's my list of songs the world needs to revisit for inspiration. What did I leave out? What would you have included?