News & Reviews
Standing Rock benefit a labor of love for Joel Rafael, Jason Mraz, Bonnie Raitt & Jackson Browne
by George Varga - San Diego Union Tribune
San Diego singer-songwriters Joel Rafael and Jason Mraz have often sung out for causes they support. But their largely under-the-radar performance last Sunday with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne at the remote Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota was especially meaningful for the two North County troubadours.
"It was a really, really special night," said Rafael, whose musical activism dates back to the 1960s.
"The struggle for human rights, which has been going on almost since the beginning of time, is focused right now on the plains of North Dakota - and the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline for oil, which threatens the drinking water of millions of people. For us to be able to go there to do this concert with Jackson and Bonnie made it especially meaningful."
Rafael, 67, and Mraz, 39, debuted a new song at the concert, "Strong." They co-wrote it with Michael Natter, who also helped write Mraz’s 2012 song "I Won’t Give Up."
It opens with the verse: I am here to stand with you in solidarity / To give a hand to help our mother and our human family / For our waters and our daughters the time has come to master peace / And give a damn about poor people made poor by bureaucracies.
"Jason is very articulate in his convictions about what’s going on," Rafael said. "I don’t want to speak for him, but his attitude seems to be that he’s been given a lot and wants to give back, in any way he can."
Indeed he does, as two-time Grammy Award-winner Mraz confirmed in an interview published Thursday on the website for the Oceti Sakowin Camp. It currently houses between 1,000 and 3,000 protesters, known as Water Protectors. Their ranks have swelled over the past week by more than 2,000 U.S. military veterans, including some from San Diego.
"I felt responsible this was happening on my watch," Mraz told the website.
"I felt like someone with enormous privilege - specifically, white privilege - and then, of course, (there are) the gifts I’ve been given through music. I felt I had to use those to the benefit of others. The more I sat at home and did nothing, the worse my spirit felt. My music was guiding me to contribute and be of use."
The benefit concert also featured the Native American band Bad Dog. Rafael sang with the group in lieu of its leader, John Trudell, who died last December and was a friend of his.
The concert took place at the Prairie Knights Casino Standing Rock Pavilion and drew a capacity audience of 2,240, including 800 protesters who received free tickets. More than $70,000 was raised to aid the Standing Rock Tribe’s quest to stop completion of the 1,200-mile, $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.
The DAPL pipeline is owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP. It is designed to carry about 470,000 barrels of domestic crude oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois. Native Americans and environmental activists are concerned that any oil leak could contaminate the area’s water and threaten burial grounds and sacred sites.
Rafael, Mraz, Browne, Raitt and Bad Dog are the only musicians thus far to perform a benefit concert at the Standing Rock reservation. But other artists are weighing in and expressing concern about the violent treatment of protesters at Standing Rock.
Neil Young last week posted an impassioned statement on his Facebook page imploring President Obama to "step in and end the violence against the peaceful water protectors at Standing Rock immediately."
Canadian singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco issued a Thanksgiving day message on his Instagram page declaring that he "stood in solidarity" with the protesters.
More recently, English singer-songwriter Kate Nash has written an open letter to President Obama objecting to the "inhumane methods" that are being used by police against the protesters. It is signed by an array of music stars, including members of Radiohead, Paramore and Green Day.
The letter reads: "We are deeply disturbed by the police actions that have been taking place, where nonviolent protests have been and continue to be met with extremely aggressive tactics including; being shot with water canons in below freezing temperatures, chemical weapons, rubber bullets, and attack dogs. These are the same inhumane methods used during WWII and the Civil Rights Movement."
Rafael also decries the treatment of protesters and laments that there has not been more media coverage of the underlying issues.
"What’s happening at Standing Rock begs a conversation about a new way to look at energy, and how we relate to our planet and our environment," Rafael said.
"Jason can bring attention to the situation with a song and lyrics, in the same way I and other singer-songwriters can. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s what we can do. Everybody who performed at the benefit concert was of the same mindset in supporting the Standing Rock tribe."
Rafael and Mraz bonded when both were among the prominent San Diego County musicians who joined forces this fall to oppose Measure B. That local ballot measure, which was voted down, would have permitted more than 1,700 homes to be built in a proposed high-density North County Development known as Lilac Hills.
"On the heels of our working together to defeat Measure B, the Standing Rock Tribe invited Jackson to do the benefit show," Rafael said.
"He knew I’d been working with John Trudell’s band, at the invitation of the band’s members, and invited me. I mentioned it to Jason and he expressed interest. So it all came together in a really nice way."
Rafael and Mraz toured the Oceti Sakowin Camp. It was an experience they won’t soon forget.
"My first view of the tepees, tents, banners and flags (and the) gathering of tribes and others from all over the world took my breath away," Rafael said.
"My heart is filled with a renewed commitment to, and confirmation of, our human rights and our spiritual connection to the earth."
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