Legion of Peace: Songs Inspired by Nobel Laureates
Lori Henriques Quintet featuring Joey Alexander
By Kabir Sehgal, Monica Yunus, Camille Zamora
Recent movies like Avengers, Wonder Woman, and Black Panther have excited audiences with incredible stories of superheroes who save the day. It’s easy to get caught up in a hero’s special powers, like the ability to swim or fly great distances. Yet these movies also emphasize that there is greatness in our midst, and we only need to look around to recognize these qualities that each of us hold. Indeed, anyone can do something heroic by starting where they are, and by making a difference to the people around them. This is the prevailing message of Legion of Peace: We all possess the capabilities and resources to serve others and bring about positive change in the world.
Every song on Legion of Peace is inspired by a Nobel Peace Laureate. We like to think of these incredible people as superheroes with special powers, and who constitute a formidable and friendly group of leaders. Indeed, these folks are role models whom we can all emulate. But none of them set out to win a prestigious award. They started by rolling up their sleeves and by trying to address the challenges and obstacles that they or those in their communities faced. They started where they were, and so can all of us.
Choosing which Nobel Laureate to feature on this album was a tall task. We researched dozens of them, and ultimately selected eight that showcase the ethnic, geographic, and cognitive diversity of these peacemakers. (In a book that we’ve published under the same name, Legion of Peace, we profile 20 Nobel Laureates). Some are household names, and others we hope will prompt you to want to learn more about them – especially when you listen to Lori Henriques’ absorbing and music.
Lori is a Grammy-nominated artist and songwriter who makes children’s music that is both entertaining and informative. Her last album How Great Can This Day Be was nominated for a Grammy in 2015 for Best Children’s Album. Her music is (decidedly) a mix of blues and jazz, and her impeccable vocal clarity carriers her lyrics to the recesses of our hearts and minds. “I wrote about these real-life heroes because their actions inspire me deeply.” said Lori. “They saw something they could do to make change, and they did it.”
Lori has also done something about it. She has rendered eight gorgeous compositions with lush arrangements. Her quintet features the fourteen-year old phenom Joey Alexander, a multi-Grammy nominated pianist from Bali, Indonesia, who has taken the jazz world by storm, appearing on 60 Minutes and in the New York Times. He performs four meditative instrumental preludes that effortlessly blend what could be movements from Ravel’s Bolero with a Count Basie Boogie Woogie. Her band features the virtuosic Eddie Barbash (alto saxophone) and Joe Saylor (drums) who are part of Jonathan Batiste’s house band on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Multi-Grammy Award winner Kabir Sehgal plays bass. Making guest appearances are Grammy-nominated percussionist Pedrito Martinez and acclaimed clarinetist Oran Etkin, who heads a children’s music program in New York.
Each song is informed by the life story or personal philosophy of each laureate. Every tune is written in the first person, as if the laureate were singing about their own life. “It felt most natural to sing from the point of view of each laureate. A way of getting into the thoughts and feelings of these peacemakers,” Lori says of the writing.
The album begins with a welcome by Professor Muhammad Yunus, who issues a call to action: Imagine the world that you want and then create it. Everything You Do is a bluesy get up with an invitational spirit. It’s about Jody Williams who won the 1997 Nobel Prize for her work in trying to rid the world of land mines. After traveling to Central America and awakening to this problem, she started marshaling resources, culminating in 121 countries signing an international treaty that banned mines. Williams says that everything you do, positive or negative, will act as a ripple that will move out from you and impact others. And the more positive changes we all make, the greater the impact. “So many little changes in exponential ranges / Then one fine day it opens up the skies…”
Brave As a Girl is about Malala Yousafzai who was the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize at age seventeen in 2014. She grew up in Pakistan as an advocate for children and women. Despite suffering great personal hardship and injury in support of her cause, she has chosen a life of peace and forgiveness. The lyrics “I am brave as a girl / I am changing the world” we hope will serve as an anthem to young women who can be tremendous forces for change.
I, Wangari is inspired by Wangari Maathai who won the Nobel Prize in 2004 for her environmental activist work in Kenya. In 1977 Maathai started the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in which women planted trees throughout the country. GBM is responsible for planting over 51 million trees in Kenya! Her vision also helped register many voters and helped strengthen democracy in her country because the women were able to create a silent revolution while planting trees. They were moved en masse by their vision of a better world: “In my dreams I’ve seen / That the world we want is green.” Professor Muhammad Yunus is the inspiration for Imagine the World. He won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for pioneering the microcredit movement in Bangladesh and around the world by founding the Grameen Bank, making small loans to those in need and helping unlock a wave of entrepreneurialism and prosperity. He credits his mother as his biggest influence, hence the lyrics “When I was young / I learned so much from my mom / She was the one / Who taught me kindness was strong.” In the opening track, Professor Yunus shares his credo “If you want to create a better world, you have to first envision it.”
High Time is about Ralph Bunche who was the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his work in negotiating peace in the Middle East. As a diplomat at the United Nations, he spent eleven months on a Greek island brokering the accord. He initially refused the award, but his UN colleagues insisted that he accept. He later served as a mentor to the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, and the leaders of the civil rights movement. We Wore White is inspired by Leymah Gbowee who won the Nobel Prize in 2011 for her work with the peace movement in Liberia. When she learned that leaders of her country were negotiating a peace accord, she and her associates dressed in white and staged a protest until the deal was actually agreed upon, and peace was at hand.
A Human is A Human is about Archbishop Desmond Tutu or “Arch” as he likes to be called. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, as he advocated the virtues of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. He ardently believes in the “Rainbow Nation”, follows the Ubuntu philosophy, and knows that diversity makes his and every country stronger. A Kinder Way is inspired by President Jimmy Carter who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his lifelong commitment to peace. As president, he negotiated the Camp David Peace accords between Israel and Egypt. Since leaving office, he has led major initiatives to strengthen democracies and promote human rights around the world. He frequently says that success isn’t measured by the tangible and material things that you can see. Rather, it’s those invisible things that are the mark of a person – love, empathy, and humanity.
We hope that Legion of Peace will spark you to act. By being enveloped in a world of music and harmony, we hope that everyone who listens will be motivated to strive towards peace.
–Kabir Sehgal, Monica Yunus, Camille Zamora