The Man Behind the Music

How Obama has inspired new tunes around the world.

Music reflects a people’s political, social and cultural life, so it is no surprise that “We Shall Overcome” conveys the optimism and determination of the Civil Rights era, and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin On?” conveys the disillusionment of the post-Civil Rights era. Similarly, it is no surprise that since Barack Obama has opened a new chapter in the history of race and politics in America, that the music inspired by his candidacy suffused with his message of hope and change.

Indeed, Obama’s candidacy has inspired an unprecedented wave of unsolicited campaign songs and videos. “I Got a Crush on Obama” by Obama Girl (Amber Lee) was named the biggest Web video of 2007. “Yes We Can,” which has garnered over 17 million viewings so far, earned a Webby award, and it has become the unofficial theme song of the Obama campaign. Together these two videos rank among the most popular political campaign songs of all time.

But the success of these U.S. videos to some extent obscures the degree to which Obama’s candidacy has captured the imagination of the world and inspired an international outpouring of music.

A music compilation blog called Obama—The WorldBeat Album from the site Calabash provides a small but useful sampling of this proliferation in world music. In addition to “Obama Girl” and “Yes We Can,” there is a calypso track by Trinidad’s Mighty Sparrow (“Barack the Magnificent”), an Afrobeat rendition by Cameroonian musician Fojeba (“Fired Up & Ready to Go”), a reggaeton-style song by the Miguel Orozco (“La Caminata”) and a Tex-Mex mariachi song (“iViva Obama!”). If these songs are representative of broader trends, Obama-inspired world music is upbeat, hopeful, committed and of surprisingly high quality.

Mighty Sparrow’s “Barack the Magnificent” is an overtly political praise song that asserts:

The respect of the world that we now lack,
If you want it back, then vote Barack!
Because this time we come out to vote!

Stop the war!
Stop genocide in Darfur!
No matter what,
Get health care for who have not!
He stood his ground
When the war was a conception,
Said it was wrong,
So he didn’t go along,

Fojeba’s “Fired Up & Ready to Go”is a sweet, lyrical, complex Central African makossa that overlays samples of the rhythmic cadences of Obama’s own voice with soft guitar riffs and group vocals. The combination is an engaging and inspired music that captures Obama’s mood and message.