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Esperanza Spalding, Stevie Wonder Push For Closing Guantanamo in ‘We Are America’
With the U.S. Senate poised to consider voting this week to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center as part of a bill authorizing defense spending, Esperanza Spalding felt compelled to weigh in on the military prison that houses captives in the war on terror. The singer, songwriter and bassist makes her position abundantly clear in a new song, “We Are America,” with an accompanying video that features cameos from Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte and Janelle Monáe, among others.
“I don’t have any prison experience, but it’s really hard to fathom being imprisoned in a place against your will and not to be charged with anything, not to have the ability to defend yourself, and to be there indefinitely,” Spalding said last week by phone from Zaragoza, Spain, where she was on tour. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around it.”
The song, a soulful uptempo number with a booming hip-hop beat, questions why the United States continues to hold 164 prisoners at the base in Cuba, despite many of them having been cleared for release. “I am America, and my America, it don’t stand for this,” Spalding sings while information about the prison flashes on the screen, alongside quotes from public officials, including President Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who support closing the detention camp.
“My wish is that the information in the video will pique people’s interest enough to go, ‘Hmm, I didn’t know all that,’” and prompt them to learn more, said Spalding, who began paying close attention to the issue when prisoners at Guantanamo staged a hunger strike earlier this year.
“That drove it home,” she said.
The song came together over a five-hour stretch in a rehearsal space after members of her band expressed their concern about Guantanamo, Spalding said. Written on a wall in the studio when they arrived was the slogan, “no justice, no peace,” which found its way into the lyrics.
“It was literally collaborative,” said Spalding, who won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011. “I’d never actually done anything like that before.”
Although she realizes that her position on the necessity of closing Guantanamo is not universally shared, the singer said she regards different opinions on the matter as “part of a healthy democracy.”
“Somebody could argue about aspects of continued detention,” she said. “There are people who say, ‘We need to have more of that, we have to deal with this continued threat, and security is everything.’ Of course security is everything, but you can have security without ignoring our human rights obligations.”
Regardless of where anyone stands on Guantanamo, she said, “You can’t argue with the fact that this is important to me. It concerns me deeply. It affects me deeply.
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