Social justice, anti-racism and joy: these are the themes of a collection of original songs written by family musicians Dan and Claudia Zanes. Smithsonian Folkways has just released their debut duet album, Let love be your guide. It is filled with uplifting messages.
“It’s a hymn to love, joy, possibility and community,” said Claudia, speaking from their home in Baltimore.
The title song is a tribute to the late Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. Husband / wife duo say they were inspired by the words Lewis wrote in his finale New York Times opinion piece, published on the day of his funeral.
“He said, ‘So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide,’” says Claudia.
“It’s a one-sentence manual for life,” adds Dan.
Love was the guide of Dan Zane, who is known as the godfather of the renaissance of children’s music. Former lead singer of 1980s rock band Del Fuegos Zanes founded the anti-racist organization Constructive white conversations. Five years ago, a friend introduced him to jazz singer Claudia Eliaza, a music therapist whose family is Haitian-American.
“We got together and sang all afternoon, the day we met I knew then that Claudia was the person I had dreamed of all my life,” he says. .
“Ah, yes,” Claudia adds, “and we’ve been making music ever since.”
One of their songs is a duet called “Two Different Worlds”.
“It was important for us as an interracial couple to speak from both of our points of view,” says Dan, “really with the belief that young people are hungry for this. Young people and families want to talk about these things. “
Their album of electric folk songs and singalongs is in English, Creole and Spanish. There are touches of gospel, country, R&B and traditional Haitian music. Some of the tracks include rappers praising Claudia as a black queen and their friends’ children lending their laughs to a fun bilingual song about getting tickled.
Other songs were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. One urges people to build bridges; another, to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves.
The idea for this album started last year, after the Zanes moved from Brooklyn to Baltimore. The coronavirus pandemic has forced them and everyone else to stay at home. But after George Floyd was killed by police, they joined the protests outside.
“People were having these in-depth conversations about social justice and racial issues here in America,” recalls Claudia.
Dan says they admired the protesters. “The people taking to the streets were love,” he says. “People asking for change was love. People asking others to wake up, to listen. It was love.“
They wanted to contribute to these intergenerational conversations. So every day they got connected to sing folk and gospel songs. They called it their “Social Isolation Song Series”.
They held it on for 200 days, “as things heated up in the world and racial justice issues in particular were so prominent,” Dan said.
“Sometimes we just couldn’t find the right song,” adds Claudia. “We had to write it ourselves.
One of these songs, “Coming Down”, is an ode to social justice:
One day we could all be free
Fans of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Medfield Choir responded by posting their own version.
Dan and Claudia Zanes say that kind of positive reaction to their music keeps them optimistic about the future. “There is no lack of bad news around us,” said Claudia, “so where we can find joy and laughter as a revolutionary act, and say, you know, we won’t be caught up with fear, the pessimism.”
“Everyone is thinking of new beginnings and new possibilities,” adds Dan. “So many things haven’t worked. But what can we do to make them work?”
And actually, “New Beginnings” is the title of one of the songs on their album.