Thursday, April 12, 2007

Waiting Room: Mavis Staples "Eyes on the Prize"

A legendary voice in American music re-emerges to spark a new generation with images from the attention Don Imus...

Mavis Staples "Eyes on the Prize"

dir. by ?

Not sure if this is an official clip or not, but we'll take any chance we get to talk about Mavis Staples' new album. Her reworking of a popular civil rights anthem (which itself originated as a spiritual) is given a relevant treatment here, despite the familiarity of the images. This isn't just another compilation of protests, Dr. King and the Ku Klux Klan.

The most harrowing moment of the video comes 45 seconds in, when a black man is inhumanely harassed by white men as he peacefully walks down the street. You've probably seen similar things before, whether in high school history class or a documentary on television, but that doesn't really make it any less horrible. It's hard to watch, but an important reminder of how deeply ingrained feelings of hatred were - and how much had to be overcome (not that the journey's over).

The simple refrain of the song, along with images of group singing and rejoicing, also underline the impact that music itself had on the movement for peace. Despite everything that we see, from random brutality to large-scale hosing from the police, the strength of the people doesn't falter. Music has always played a substantial role in giving hope to the oppressed, and Staples' song reminds us how powerful a tool it was during the civil rights movement. It isn't blind faith, the video reflects pain and anger as well, but it 's a trust in the unifying feeling of singing a chorus that lets people smile even in the darkest moments.

In the post-Katrina orange alert climate of today, it might help if more artists were making this kind of music. But it's not surprising that Mavis Staples, a 40 year veteran of the music industry and survivor of racism, is leading the way once again. Buy the album, We'll Never Turn Back...

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Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie