My guest today is actress, composer, producer and international pop star, Shani Rigsbee. Welcome to OpEdNews, Shani.
Joan Brunwasser: To that list of roles, we should add that of activist. Please tell us the story behind We Hear Your Voice. It's not the average pop tune/video.
Shani Rigsbee: Thank you. Great to chat with you. The story of We Hear Your Voice is really two-fold. First, I've traveled a great deal and been exposed to other international artists who I might not have known about had I not been to their region. And I've had the great fortune to collaborate and do shows with some of them. I have always thought that through these collaborations, we could bring people of different backgrounds together in this fun, universal way of enjoying music.
The second part of this was in watching many people communicating on the internet through social media in ways that didn't exist before. So, when you have regions that are otherwise "at odds" threatening war, etc. you would see young people trying to reach out and connect with others, saying "we'd like to get to know you". And I would see that when people were in areas where there was struggle, conflict or natural disaster, they wondered if their plight was being witnessed, if anyone cared. So that was the original inspiration. And I thought to have some of the greatest voices in the world essentially "giving voice" to the people, to humanity as a whole, we could use this message of solidarity and connect through common ground - music.
So, we are trying to both raise awareness and consciousness through this connection and, at the same time, through the downloads of the song, raise money which we will be donating to international children's charities. We Hear Your Voice is available all over the world now and it will be exciting to see how people respond. It was important to all of the artists that we do something for children as it's about the future and where we can go from here.
JB: Okay. You've set the stage for us, Shani. But how did you go about putting this performance together? I imagine you faced certain challenges not ordinarily a part of song-writing and producing.
Shani: In the beginning, it was working with artists that I knew well or had easy access to but it still was challenging in coordinating schedules. People were not in one location and it was juggling whether we would be working together in Los Angeles or working remotely. Because of technology, we can do that but there are still issues in trying to convey what was needed in dealing with various musical singing styles, male and female range, etc. So you're trying to plan but at the same time leave room for organic things to happen. And each time an artist would contribute, everything went to a whole new level. It was so hard to edit down in order to leave room for others to come in. We needed space.
Later, we were dealing with a hundred tracks, the engineers were looking at me like "really?". But it was just trying to pick some of the best parts from these artists -and at the same time this fabric had to be woven in a way that was cohesive and not just a bunch of threads not connecting. I knew it could be done, it just took a lot of patience. Then we had politics of artists who really wanted to do it, but because it wasn't a commercial venture and they were attached to record labels, they were being held back. That was obvious to me because the artists wanted to do it and were very much onboard and suddenly they couldn't do it. And finally, we had artists who were friends that I knew if they felt they could, they would have participated. But they had fear, safety issues for their families or for themselves due to the fact that there were people/artists from countries involved who were considered "the enemy".
This only made me want to do this more! But it was tough knowing that it wasn't as simple as saying "Come on, just sing the song.. where's the tough part in that? It's a message of harmony". But there were fears of repercussions if they participated. So this was challenging. But in the end, major respect goes to the artists who were a part of this and who have dedicated themselves through their work to this hopeful message.
JB: This all took a good bit of time. How long were you working on this project, from envisioning and writing the song through the finished product?
Shani: Well it's more more than three years! Hard to imagine when you could make several albums in that period, or a couple of films! But it was a process, as I said, in getting the artists and musicians that we really wanted and then getting their material. We also had to do the video at the same time so it was a lot of layering upon layering and step by step. I also travel and work so it had to be when I could get it all done, as well. I worked on this with a great friend, Rafi B, who I've done other music videos with on and he had these files just patiently waiting on simmer all throughout. We had such great footage behind the scenes that we are working on a short form documentary of "The Making Of" which we will release.
And of course, there were other developments that happened where we performed live in Los Angeles at the Greek Theatre with some of the artists at one of our concerts and filmed that. And later we were invited to perform it for the Dalai Lama at a major peace concert in New York , which was broadcast on live TV. This all occurred before the song was technically finished to release as a record. We're now saying that this project is more of "a movement" rather than just a release. It just gets better and better!
JB: How gratifying that must be for all of you! From what I've read, your current activism is nothing new. You've been involved in a number of projects along the way. Before we talk about the specific projects, tell us where this activism came from in the first place.