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Why artists are responsible for moving society forward

Composer and artist Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes wants to make music that makes listeners live differently. Pinderhughes gives his Brief but Spectacular take on his responsibility as an artist.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next, we turn to another episode of our weekly Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask people about their passions.

    Tonight, composer and artist Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes. He has performed everywhere, from the White House to Carnegie Hall.

    His latest project is called The Transformations Suite.

  • Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes:

    Too often, for me, music ends up being about the show, and then people clap, and they might talk about it, and then they go home. That makes no sense to me.

    I want to make sure that, if somebody is moved by my music, that’s going to make them live differently.

    Jazz is protest music, pure and simple. Jazz is music that came from the gutter, from the hood. Jazz is in and of itself as an improvisatory art form literally represents the idea of imagination in the moment.

    I believe that the artist’s responsibility, like Nina Simone used to say, is to reflect the times. If we look at movements throughout history, there’s always been music for the movement. And those are my favorite artists. Harry Belafonte, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, they capture the essence of the moment.

    What we do as artists is, we move people. And so if we can move people in service of moving a nation, towards an idea like justice for something or someone, then that is my responsibility.

    Harry Belafonte talked to me about all the people in the civil rights movement being in their 20s and making all these incredible things happen, because that’s their energy, their vitality, their imagination.

    It’s my generation’s time to take responsibility, to take ownership of our world. It’s very important for me, being African-American, mixed race artist and person, to illuminate the issues that are present in today’s world around police brutality, around incarceration, to hopefully be able to move forward in a way that is equitable and just for all people.

    The Transformations Suite is a five-part tone poem combining music, theater and poetry to examine the history of African protest, both in the diaspora and specifically in America.

    Every time, we play The Transformations Suite, it’s a different performance, because every city that we go, I ask the members of that community or the members of that school, what are the things that is — that are going on here that you find problematic? What are the things you’re fighting against or for, and then we put that in the music?

    And I think a lot of people feel like me as far as the urgency of the moment, that we don’t have time to waste. So that’s what I mean when I say, I don’t have time for anything but urgency in my art. We really don’t have time for it as a society.

    My name is Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes, and this my Brief But Spectacular take on my responsibility as an artist.

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