Creating music makes me happy. What is your passion and what makes you happy?
Today sees the launch of a short film (watch it here: http://bit.ly/JkNp3Y) showcasing Aloe’s recent trip to Ghana with Malaria No More UK. Aloe took time out from his tour schedule to witness the efforts underway to meet Ghana’s goal to make sure every home in the country has access to a mosquito net by the end of 2012.
Aloe is sharing his story with people across the world from today through an in depth blog in Huffington Post (read it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aloe-blacc), and feature interviews with Sir David Frost on Aljazeera, also on CNN this weekend and the BBC World Service’s breakfast show on World Malaria Day, 25th April.
The film features highlights of Aloe’s trip including the news that up to 10 million people, 40% of Ghana’s population now have access to mosquito nets. It includes a special moment when Aloe meets a class of school children who have all suffered from malaria and together they sing his anthem of the times I Need A Dollar. Aloe recalls: “I visited a primary school and asked a classroom full of children: Who in the room has been affected by malaria? Every single child raised their hand. I was taken aback - this should not be the norm. Malaria is a preventable disease, yet it is robbing children of their health and opportunity for education.”
This World Malaria Day, Aloe is encouraging people to get involved with the charity challenge called Live Below the Line (http://bit.ly/IaqP8A). It invites people to get sponsored for charities, including Malaria No More UK, by living on just £1 a day for all food and drink for five days from 7-11 May. Aloe reflects: “As I sang I Need A Dollar with school children in Ghana, the lyrics took on a poignant new meaning. One dollar is close to the daily survival budget for 1.4 billion people in the world today, who live on this for absolutely everything. They really can’t afford to catch malaria. Live Below the Line is an imaginative and personal way to do something positive to address this”.
Aloe saw firsthand the importance of partnerships and education in maintaining the momentum to fight malaria. He says: “I’d read a lot about the life saving role of mosquito nets and was eager to see them in action. These nets, distributed with support from Malaria No More UK and partners will help reduce the number of people suffering from malaria, especially when people are educated about how to use and care for them properly”.
Malaria No More UK is part of a network of local and global organisations supporting malaria prevention efforts Ghana, including Ghana’s own National Malaria Control Program, the UK’s Department for International Development, the US’s President’s Malaria Initiative and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. This partnership has already distributed and hung over five million mosquito nets across five regions of Ghana, helping to protect up to 10 million people.
The last decade has seen unprecedented progress in reducing suffering and death from malaria, especially in Africa where over 90% of all deaths take place yet deaths have been reduced by one third since 2000. This progress will make a real difference in reducing poverty across the continent as malaria costs the African economy an estimated £8 billion a year.
Today it’s the second birthday of Aloe Blacc’s I Need A Dollar, after it was first released as a single on 16 March, 2010. With the song already on its way to being a soundtrack for our times thanks to the way it encapsulated the economic woes being experienced by governments and individuals alike, we caught up with Blacc to discuss his creation and wish it happy birthday.
What was it that first inspired you to write I Need A Dollar?
“I was listening to a CD of field recordings made by chain gang workers, basically singing songs of woe. They were singing their own songs about their hardship and problems and I was inspired to write in that style. The details of my lyrics were personal experiences, mixed with friend’s experiences and just experiences I gleamed from the situation I saw happening in the US and the economic crisis.”
Did you get fired then?
“I was working as a business consultant and during a big round of layoffs I was part of the chopping block. I started writing the song back in 2005, before the financial crisis and a couple of years after I lost my job. I was laid off because the company was trying to trim down so they could sell it to another company. For me it gave me a chance to focus and incubate, make some music and develop myself into an artist. It gave me the chance to take music from being a hobby of mine into a full time activity. So the second verse when I sing about losing my job was personal, but the maybe inside the bottle… line was about a friend of mine who was falling into the trappings of alcoholism. So I sprinkled a few different experiences in there and mixed mine in to make the song.”
So the song predates the credit crunch, yet it became the fitting soundtrack for it.
“Over the years from 2005 onwards, I’d create different versus that applied to different situations and I think by 2008 most of the versus made sense! The first verse, Bad times are coming…relates directly to the financial crisis.”
Though released two years ago, the song has had quite a journey to prominence, it’s not been a standard hit single has it?
“It’s been really instructive and informative watching the song’s rise. I take apart the song and realise what people are attracted to and think How can I do this again? It’s a lot of fun. Three year-olds are singing the song, 33 year-olds are singing it, 73 year-olds are singing it! It’s got something that’s so visceral that everyone can repeat it and enjoy it.
Talk us through the sleeve, it’s a strong look. Is that what you wear when popping down the shops?
“My goal was to honour the tradition of soul music and present something as wholesome, honest and genuine as my heroes. I was paying respect to them. Wearing a suit and looking classy was my way of saying this kind of music is timeless and classy, I appreciate and I want the folks who see it to think good things and maybe pick it up and listen to it. Luckily it worked out. The bow-tie became a signature for me, it just suggests class, and that’s the way I’d like to honour my heroes like Al Green, Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye. The first release came with a dollar bill, did you see that? That was a nice tough from the label, I’m sure they were charging extra for it!”
Do you hate playing I Need A Dollar live yet?
“No, no, I love the song! It still gets the biggest cheer in the set and I appreciate the way people respond to it. If I could play the song more times in the set and not make my musicians angry then I would!”
Strangely, you can already imagine the song being used to soundtrack future documentaries about the credit crunch and the general economic difficulties around the globe right now. Is it weird to already be in the running to have a “song of our times”?
“It is strange, I honestly never expected any of this, but now being in that running it makes me want to stay in that running because I can see how much positive I can do with the music and lend my voice to causes like Malaria No More UK and express that we can cure this disease within our lifetime if we work together. So I feel really good about that and want to keep doing that. The best have done that. Bob Marley sung about change and helped influence positive change, Stevie Wonder is still doing it, and I’d like to be engage in that with my music. I Need A Dollar has been a big help.”
Have you thought about following it up yet?
“I’m in the middle of writing new stuff and hope to record soon. Will the next album have a similar contemporary subject mater? My dad asked me if I could sing more love songs and I think he’s write, love songs are missing. There’s a lot of break-up songs so I think a few love songs can’t hurt.”
Finally, you needed a dollar but how many did you actually get from releasing I Need A Dollar?
“[laughs] Enough to donate to a lot of charities!”
Paul Stokes @Stokesie Portrait Alex Lake, thanks to Al Horner
Aloe Blacc performing Saturday, June 30 – Great Tew, Oxfordshire – The Original Cornbury Festival
Saturday, April 21 - Zermatt, Switzerland / Zermatt Unplugged Festival
Sunday, April 22 - Casablanca, Morocco / Jazzablanca
Tuesday, April 24 - Porto Portugal / Casa de Musica
Aloe’s just back from Ghana, West Africa where took a few days out to learn about the impact of malaria – a preventable disease that tragically claims the life of a child every minute.
Aloe was with charity Malaria No More UK (http://malarianomore.org.uk), whose vital work supports Ghana’s goal to make sure everyone has access to a mosquito net by the end of 2012.
Aloe spent four days with a film crew and the Malaria No More UK team seeing firsthand the impact of malaria. The disease takes a heavy toll on all aspects of life in Ghana, accounting for around a third of all hospital admissions and more than a quarter of deaths amongst young children.
Aloe met many people involved in the malaria fight including health workers, community leaders, and families who have suffered from the disease. He also visited a community which has just benefited from a major malaria prevention programme distributing free mosquito nets. This vital work is part of an ongoing collaborative effort, including Malaria No More UK, that has already seen over 2.5 million mosquito nets distributed to help protect up to five million people, that’s around one fifth of Ghana’s total population.
Watch this space for the launch of an inspiring short film about Aloe’s trip going live in the run up to World Malaria Day on 25th April! In the meantime, check out Malaria No More UK’s work saving lives in Ghana here: http://malarianomore.org.uk/about/our-work-in-africa/ghana
Become a fan of Malaria No More UK on facebook (link to http://www.facebook.com/MalariaNoMoreUK)
Follow Malaria No More Uk on Twitter (link to https://twitter.com/malarianomoreuk)