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05/18/2018

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About

STEPHAN SAID, BIOGRAPHY

Recording Artist and Human Rights Activist

Stephan Said, aka Stephan Smith, is an internationally acclaimed musician, writer and activist who has been called “this generation’s Woody Guthrie” (Billboard Magazine) and favorably compared to Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Bob Marley in publications such as the ...

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Contact

Publicist
Ron Kadish
812-339-1195 X 202

By the People, For the People: Global Bard Stephan Said Returns Home, Creates Collaborative with Charlottesville Activists and Youth on “We The People”

New video from outspoken “heir apparent to Woody Guthrie” lets hope and unity ring

“It was the news cycle,” states Stephan Said, the New York-based, Virginia-native singer-songwriter with a long history of speaking out and insisting on a different way, a better world. The dread between Election Day 2016 and the inauguration gripped Said, but he wrote a song to remind himself of all that could be, his latest release “We the People.”

“I wanted to express a vision that could bring people together constructively to create the kind of country and world we want,” explains Said. “You can only really unite people around positive goals. When you’re fighting against things, it’s a shallow well. You will catch more flies in the long run with honey than with vinegar.”

Said sang “We the People” at protests, like the rally on Times Square in opposition to the immigrant ban. He wanted to record it. Then tragedy struck Charlottesville, VA as white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched into town, and a young counter-protester was struck and killed. Said felt an overwhelming urgency to create something, as the connection went deep. “I’m from there. I’ve lived there,” Said says. “I knew so many people who were there that day.”

Said put out a call to the artist community, penning an urgent piece in the Huffington Post asking musicians who hail from the area, from Dave Matthews to Pharrel to Missy E, to come together and speak their truth. Artists responded and flocked to Charlottesville for a star-studded festival--with next to no local involvement. Said, who was in Houston volunteering to help Hurricane Harvey victims at the time, was disappointed. He decided he wanted to contribute to the national conversation, while collaborating with and honoring the community he knew and loved. He decided to shoot a video for “We the People,” but with a twist.

“If we’re going to have real change, it happens from the community up,” Said notes. “I’ve done many projects around the world in frontline situations, and you always want to be elevating the groups doing the work, the people already there on the ground. That’s how change gets amplified. My message was: I want to make this video with you and about you.”

Said collaborated with local arts collectives and activists, including One Voice Chorus (whose beautiful voices uplift Said’s gritty lead), 6 Points Innovation Center (6PIC), and Ix Art Park, with the young students from Charlottesville High School and local clergy who protested. “The events you see depicted in the video were real,” says Said. “We handed out flyers at the farmer’s market for the teach in the kids organized. That classroom was an actual class at the high school. We shot it as it happened.”

The video’s protagonist, a 17-year-old senior at Charlottesville High who fled war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, had her own take on the experience. "I feel like I can contribute. Saying my side of the story... to represent the youths saying that we have a voice,” she reflects. “If we are given a platform to speak, we will speak. I just want to get people together... doesn't matter what color you are, in the end, we all bleed red."

Said, called “the heir apparent to Woody Guthrie” by the Village Voice, has always worked this way, facing toward community and away from the world of commercial music and vanity activism. His breakout hit, “The Ballad of Abdul Louima” featuring Patti Smith on backing vocals, presented a searing critique of police brutality. The song smashed charts, won him the regard in the folk scene, including from mentors Pete Seeger and Allen Ginsberg. Said opened for and toured with Dylan, Paul Simon, and Dave Matthews. Despite the limelight, Said stuck to his values and his vision, a non-commercial artistic approach informed by his own roots and experiences in places like Charlottesville.

“This has been my whole career. I’ve been a poet and songwriter for global equality since the beginning,” Said recounts. “I was a totally normal Southern kid. I was also half Iraqi. My relatives there were being bombed for the cause of environmental degradation and economic inequality. Meanwhile, my other relatives were being threatened with the loss of their land and farms in West Virginia and Virginia. It’s all of a piece and it all informed my perspective.”

This perspective has inspired Said to seek out new and better ways to speak to global issues and present positive alternatives. In addition to working on a new album due out in Autumn 2018, Said has devoted years to creating a documentary series, borderless. In October he will embark on filming the first season, traveling around the globe to lift up voices from youth at the planet’s hot spots and frontlines and to connect a planet that can and must come together.

Message and music are entwined for Said, as evidenced in “We the People.” “Music can distribute a message of systemic change if we use it and take that power,” Said reflects.

“How do we reinvent the protest singer for a new generation? A singer that’s all of these identities yet none of them? How do we define a new egalitarian economic and social order? Music speaks to that, and helps us feel our way forward.”