Questioning the Way Things Are

If you asked young people to name some folk singers, most of us would probably think of those who professed political dissatisfaction and social revolution in the ’60s and ’70s—Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and before them Woody Guthrie, singers of an earlier era. But a new young singer who is making a place for herself in the contemporary music scene is self-proclaimed folk singer Ani DiFranco. Beginning in 1990 with her self-titled album, she now has produced eight albums and brings her punk alternative folk sound to sold out shows and fans primarily made up of young hard-core feminists.

DiFranco recognizes the debt owed to earlier artists. One contemporary folk artist receiving attention from DiFranco is 61-year-old storyteller and political activist U. Utah Phillips. On the recent release The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere, Phillips’ stories, words of wisdom, and political commentaries mix with DiFranco’s musical talent to create a powerful combination. Much more than background music, DiFranco’s musical accompaniment of hip-hop, funk, and folks styles follows the mood and tempo of Phillips’ stories and creates a single work out of two people’s ideas.

Phillips’ material comes from 20 years of traveling and learning as he shares his experiences from the Korean War, his anger and bitterness afterward, and his ideas about the current political system. Though a ’70s folk singer, his opinions are as relevant today as they were then.

On the track "Anarchy," Phillips shares his realization that to be a pacifist means not only giving up violence but also giving up the "weapons" that a white male in 20th-century America is born with, the weapons of privilege. He reminds us that our bodies themselves and everything that comes with them can be used as weapons against humanity.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1997
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