While many across the country roil over President Trump’s refugee ban — with protests from attorneys general to street demonstrators — Seattle’s KEXP responds with music from Syria, Iraq and other affected countries.
Washington is roiling over President Trump’s executive order to restrict travel and immigration from seven countries. Recent headlines have been filled with mass demonstrations, denunciations of the order from Gov. Jay Inslee and CEOs, and a lawsuit from Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Seattle-based music station KEXP is responding with the tool it knows best: music.
All day Tuesday, KEXP DJs loaded their sets with songs by artists from the countries named in Trump’s executive order: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.
“We will also be playing music from Mexico,” said Ethan Raup, KEXP chief operating officer. “We don’t believe it’s a good idea to block them off with a wall.”
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The station made the decision Monday, while protests over the ban surged across the country. DJ Darek Mazzone, host of the world-music show Wo’Pop, recently visited a refugee camp in Jordan and mentioned inviting local hip-hop artist Gabriel Teodros — of Ethiopian, Scottish, Irish and Native American descent — onto Wo’Pop for a special edition of the program called “Banned in the U.S.A.”
After hearing that, KEXP DJ John Richards said, the rest of the station leapt into action, scouring their shelves for relevant albums and reorganizing playlists.
“We at KEXP respond to events going on in our world,” Richards said. “If we think there’s a time to tell a story with music, we do. … You have to think about the collective conscience out there. It’s disrespectful and tone-deaf for stations to play the same old stuff when something’s going on.”
KEXP played songs from Libyan musician Cheb Jilani (who sings in several Arabic dialects from Egyptian to Lebanese); Ardavan Kamkar (a santoor player, from the Kurdistan region of Iran, who played at the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony); 60 Tigres, a disco-punk-funk band from Monterrey, Mexico; and dozens of others.
“The irony,” Richards said, “is that being a nonprofit, we don’t take stances on politicians. But being independent, holding our own license, allowing our DJs to play the music they want to — that makes us extremely nimble.”
At 4 a.m., he said, employees and volunteers were “digging through our library to find artists who aren’t getting the attention they deserve.” Richards put out a call on social media for music from the countries affected by Trump’s order: “I got 100 suggestions immediately.”
One of them was Dur-Dur Band, a 1980s synth-funk group from Mogadishu, Somalia. “I’ve been a DJ for decades and I’d never heard of them in my life,” Richards said. “They are great. … This is a good reminder to DJs, including myself, to branch out more — not just this day.”
Recent events, he said, have triggered a stationwide conversation about featuring more international music on all its shows.
KEXP has made quick programming changes in response to past news events, from the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting to the death of soul singer Sharon Jones last November. “We meet weekly to talk about what’s going on in the world,” Richards said. “Everyone is shocked at the pace at which things are going now.”
And when the next shock wave comes along?
“Everyone at the station is prepared.”