Tell us about your music: Like my boyhood hero, Woody Guthrie, I try to make music for everyone: kids, adults, and everyone in between.
Tell us about your song (e.g., any unique instruments used, the origins of the lyrics, what inspired you, etc.): When she was 15 years old, Pakistani schoolgirl and local activist for female education, Malala Yousafzai, boarded her schoolbus. A gunman who disagreed with her ideas tracked her down and asked for her by name. Though she knew she would be shot if she answered, the girl identified herself. Malala Yousafzai survived an attempt on her life and went on to become a global activist for female education and the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She also wrote a memoir called “I Am Malala.” Like millions of others around the world, I was deeply touched by Malala’s courage and unwillingness to back down from her beliefs. Her story brought to mind the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.: “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I thought to myself: We are all Malala.
Though Malala is from Pakistan in South Asia, her message and popularity are truly global. The rhythm of the tune I started hearing in my head was more African than Asian, but somehow that felt right. There are no borders around Malala’s words; there didn’t have to be borders around this song either.
As soon as I started writing, I thought of my friend Debbie Lan. Like me, Debbie makes music for all ages. She’s a wonderful writer with a gorgeous voice, and her music deeply reflects the sounds of her native South Africa. I knew her voice would add something special to the song. I sent her my simple chorus and we started fashioning verses together, pulling phrases and ideas from the transcription of Malala’s 2013 U.N. speech:
So here I stand... one girl among many.
I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys.
I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.
Those who have fought for their rights:
Their right to live in peace.
Their right to be treated with dignity.
Their right to equality of opportunity.
Their right to be educated.
What I hope children, teachers, and families get from this song (and how might it help get kids ready for going back to school): Malala’s willingness to give her life for the right to go to school is a reminder to all of us of the basic value of education. Access to safe, quality schools lies at the very heart of the human quest for dignity and fulfillment. Malala’s actions and words demand of all of us — kids and adults alike — to reflect on what we have, what those around us have, and what’s worth fighting for in this world.
© Alastair Moock