When former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughters Jenna and Barbara participated in a national conference for the poverty-fighting organization CARE in 2011, the NGO knew just whom it should call upon for the dinnertime entertainment. Yewande wowed the family -- and the crowd -- with her unique rendition of Jennifer Holliday's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." Over her decade-plus career, the Atlanta-based alternative soul singer and activist (who, like Madonna, goes by her first name) has performed for dignitaries and has been compared to Tina Turner, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughan, but what drives her most is her work to empower disadvantaged kids through music.
Since 2006, Yewande has taken a message of hope and solidarity to college campuses and civic organizations around the world through music-based initiatives produced by her Change Rocks Foundation.
"At the earliest stages of life, most of us learn through creative expression," Yewande says. "We memorize the alphabet and numbers, develop vocabulary, language skills and memory, we learn to lead and work together through music, nursery rhymes, hand games. These are tools that we need to survive, yet much of the world lives in abject poverty because they don't have access to education and sustainable skills. That's why I use music programs to promote socioeconomic development for vulnerable youth around the world, primarily AIDS orphans and human trafficking survivors."
The idea is that youth and community groups in places such as Malawi or Tanzania go through the production process, learn songs, dances, and scripts, and then are able to reproduce the musicals to teach others themes of self-reliance, hard work, education, and hope. The lessons Yewande's team leaves behind keep on giving.
"In some of the countries where we've produced programs, it's difficult for a girl to be educated in school, but we can teach her about AIDS prevention, early marriage, trafficking, financial independence and more through songs," Yewande says. "This approach empowers girls with critical life skills."
Yewande's latest campaign is Soldiers4Change, an activism challenge and community service project targeting U.S. teens. As Yewande continues to lecture and perform at high schools and colleges on her Change Rocks Tour, she'll engage students to create and submit videos of songs or poems about why they want to bring change to their community. Winning submissions can receive a free concert or youth leadership seminar.
To kick start her new campaign, Yewande enlisted video direction team Ben Barak and Eli Brown to create a powerful visual for her defiant, self-penned anthem "War" (featuring Furious Stylz, co-produced with Marc Baldwin and receiving its world premiere here on this blog):
"The song 'War,' from my new album Rebirth, is about the inner conflict that lives in all of us," she says. "If those conflicts aren't treated with love, they inevitably erupt in chaos - bullying, abuse, discrimination, war. This isn't a Black or White problem, but one that affects millions of people globally. We filmed the video at two abandoned sites in Atlanta and featured the Spelman College Legacy Spirit Team (dance choreographed by Rob Myers), local youth, business owners and the homeless people that inhabited those locations. I don't apologize for the social commentary that was made in this video; I hope it reminds the entertainment industry that there's always room to inspire listeners through our music....and be sassy while doing it!"
Yewande also hopes the publicity she receives from her music can help her shed light on another issue: heart disease. Born with a congenital heart condition called Supra Ventricular Tachycardia, she suffered from life-threatening symptoms for years before finally receiving a proper diagnosis and surgery in mid-2012:
"You never know how strong you really are until you've faced something like death," she says. "At some point in life you're going to fall down, but your legacy will be defined by how you get back up. I shot the music video for 'War' just 2 months after my surgery. I was still in some pain, but so grateful to be alive that I wanted to celebrate the life that was given back to me."
For more information about Yewande's music and campaigns, visit Yewande.com.