February 07

Aliza Hava Has an Axe to Grind

Peter Bebergal

Listen:Worth of Water by Aliza Hava.Download free MP3

As protesting war and fighting for civil liberties return to the forefront of many peoples' public lives, contemporary folk music – once a key medium for developing and delivering messages of resistance to the status quo – is peaking out from the coffee houses and church basement open-mics where it has lurked since the good old days when folkies like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs reigned. But can three chords and a desire to change the world be taken seriously so long after the first round of the folk revolution has been reduced to PBS documentaries and A Mighty Wind?

Aliza Hava thinks so. Hoping to pick up where her folk heroes left off, Hava infuses discourse on social justice into her music, making no apologies for her activist's mission sounding dated or trite: “Music was always intrinsically interwoven with the awareness of a higher power and a sense of social and personal responsibility for me,” she says. And while activism and music have been a part of her life for as long as she has been musically-inclined – Hava recalls a 6th grade sit-in she lead outside of the principal's office protesting the firing of a favorite, iconoclastic music teacher – it wasn’t until she studied music therapy that her spiritual leanings and drive for social action began to come together in her craft.

Even with its spiritual focus, Hava's music carries a raw fierceness: She wants to get people to stand up and shout. The title track on Hava’s album Rise includes a spoken word intro, the mission statement of a student activist group known as Synthesis. It is a holler of youthful idealism with not a hint of cynicism or hopelessness despite all that it wants to fight in the world. And while lines calling for “the harmonious advancement of the planetary good” might disappear into the ether when chanted into a megaphone, Hava enlivens and actually thickens the message with pop.

It is precisely pop that is lacking from the progressive arena. Where popular music and protest once energized each other, pop has slowly become less politicized and the spirit of protest has often forgotten that it can dance. Marching and waving banners might get you heard on the street for a few precious minutes and they might even get you arrested, but a catchy song driven by real outrage and hope not only gets peoples' feet tapping. If the song is sweet enough, it might even get people to vote with their tapping feet for social change.

Aliza Hava’s album Rise is available now.



Peter Bebergal is Zeek's Music Editor.