Student-led Liberation Music Collective helps spread socially conscious messages through jazz

Post by IU Communications colleague Milana Katic:

Liberation Music Collective

The Liberation Music Collective performs at their album release show.

When most people think of protest music, they think of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” or Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” But there’s a new generation of musicians eager to make its protests heard.

Meet the Liberation Music Collective, a socially conscious big band made up of 16 Indiana University students and alumni dedicated to communicating contemporary issues through jazz music.

Started by Jacobs School of Music students Hannah Fidler and Matthew Riggen, the band was initially created as a way to process some of the events surrounding Ferguson, Mo., and the Black Lives Matter protests. Riggen, who was especially moved by the events, actually came up with the idea for using music as a method to raise awareness in a conversation with IU distinguished professor of jazz studies and jazz legend David Baker.

“I asked him why people weren’t writing [music] about Ferguson and if I could write about it,” said Riggen, a fifth-year senior pursuing degrees in jazz studies and biology. “I don’t share those experiences at all. I come from an OK family in an area where I’m not actively oppressed. That’s not what was happening in Ferguson. So we came up with the idea of composer as actor, and we started from there.”

Matthew Riggen and Hannah Fidler

Matthew Riggen and Hannah Fidler with their instruments. Photo courtesy of Jeff Browne Photography.

Riggen recalled learning about the Liberation Music Orchestra, a jazz band formed by Charlie Haden in the late 1960s that dealt with social and political issues, and thought that forming a similar jazz big band would be a great way to help spread awareness. Having begun to get to know Fidler’s music in the Wayne Wallace Ensemble a year earlier, he knew she was the right person to contact to help him get the project off the ground.

“He already heard some of the compositions that I had done that had some social justice or political bends to them, which had been a strong impetus for me for years,” said Fidler, a senior pursuing degrees in jazz bass and neuroscience. “I think it was very important for me to bring jazz back into the sound of socially provocative music because there is such a rich tradition of jazz as protest music.”

The two came up with a wish list of potential student and alumni performers and then held interviews to gauge each person’s knowledge or curiosity about the current political and social climate in the United States.

“We would turn really great players down based on their interview answers,” said Riggen. “We couldn’t have people who weren’t willing to ask questions and follow up. So now we have a bunch of people who are in it for completely correct reasons.”

Once the band was fully formed, and after receiving over $6,700 in grants from the Hutton Honors College (in which both Fidler and Riggen are students) and the Wells Scholars Program, as well as over $2,700 from an Indiegogo campaign, the band was able to record and produce its first ablum, “Siglo XXI.”

The album was released Aug. 29, and features nine songs composed by Fidler and Riggen that draw influence from a litany of social issues — such as racial profiling, international women’s rights, Islamophobia and LGBT issues (to name a few) — and are written in variety of jazz styles. Though the content of the album might come off as hard to handle (one of the songs samples the recording of the moments before Eric Garner’s death, for example), the band ultimately wanted the music to inspire audiences to make a change themselves.

“I think there are parts of the album that really hit you hard,” Fidler said, “But then I think that the overwhelming effect at the end is one of being invigorated and wanting to go out into the world and make it better.”

“If we want to make the world better, then the one-step process is to make it better,” Riggen said.

The band will be showing a documentary about the making of “Siglo XXI” as well as hosting a question and answer session about the album starting at 7 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center. Its next live performance is Nov. 19 at 5:30 p.m. at Bear’s Place.

“Siglo XXI” is available for purchase at Landlocked Music in Bloomington and online at Bandcamp, Amazon and iTunes.

The Liberation Music Collective plans to have a concert tour of the Midwest in December and produce their next album in summer 2016.

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