Posted by on February 11, 2014 in Blog

By Margaret Lowry

Arab American singer, songwriter and activist Stephan Said, welcomed as “this generation’s Woody Guthrie” by Billboard Magazine, has been favorably compared by critics to Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Bob Marley.

Born to an Iraqi father and Austrian mother, Said’s own amalgam of cultures inspired his musical sound which mixes genres, instruments, and even languages. In an interview with TIME, Said explained, “I was always an artist, raised with music from all around the world. My decision to want to use all kinds of styles, from hip-hop and rap to pop and world folk music to rock, that was something that had begun developing even in my youth.“

Despite the critical acclaim Said has received throughout his career, his diverse background has not always been completely embraced by the music industry. From 1997 to 2008, Said performed under the name Stephan Smith – his mother’s maiden name - after being told repeatedly by executives from several major labels that he “could never have a career in America with an Arabic name.”  His most recent album, difrent:, is the first he has released under his birth name.

Like most of his undertakings, Said’s most recent album is part of a larger platform started by the musician. The online platform, which shares a name with his album, launched in 2008 with the goal of connecting artists, activists and organizations with local initiatives for social change. Said’s musical career has long been paralleled by his life as an activist. In fact for Said, the two are the same. He has lent his voice to movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and protests against the War in Iraq. His song, “The Bell” was hailed as “the first major song against the war in Iraq” by the New York Times.  In a short interview with NPR, Said expressed hope that as the song spread it would be “an inspiration for those who believe art does have the power to create social change."

Said’s most recent endeavor follows in the same spirit of using art for social change. “Love, Make the World Go Round” is Stephan’s latest song and music video created as an “anthem for global unity.” Filmed in Baghdad on the anniversary of the 2003 invasion, the video sets images of young Iraqis holding messages of peace against a backdrop of landmarks familiar to American viewers from newscasts depicting the violence of the war. “We wanted to portray daily life there that nobody sees in the rest of the world: to humanize Iraq and to humanize Baghdad,” Said explained in an interview on the Laura Flanders Show. “We keep hearing only about the war and the destruction. These people have a life that they’re building.” 

Said is preparing for his upcoming "Light The World" tour for 2014-15. He will be working with universities and social change organizations to spread the message of cultural empowerment throughout the United States.

Said will be speaking on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 7:00 pm at The New School about his upcoming tour.  

You can watch “Love, Make the World Go Round” here: