Activism is nothing new to singer/songwriter Koji. Back in AP 280, he penned an op-ed about overcoming discrimination. Now, he’s put his musical skills to political work with a new song, “Keeping Count,” inspired by presidential candidate Donald Trump, and has teamed up with AP to release it.
The song is being released just in time for the New Hampsire primary elections.
Koji, who is himself Asian-American, used the song as a protest against Trump’s racism. “Keeping Count” is about empathy and compassion in response to corruption in politics today, he says.
Koji discussed his politically charged music via email with AP; Read what he had to say below.
How do you think people will respond to "Keeping Count" and its political charge? What are your hopes or goals for it?
I wrote “Keeping Count” a few days before first Republican debate. As I listened to all the candidates leading up to the event, I felt that Donald Trump exemplified the sort of American exceptionalism and individualism that is dominating our political and media landscape. “Keeping Count” is a pop meditation on empathy and compassion and about a figure like Trump questioning his reality, one built on status, material, money, and leverage. I hope that it gives people a chance to reflect on the stories we tell ourselves as a society and what is truly essential about living.
Were you influenced by any other political music when writing this song? Who are some of your influences?
When I first got into punk, I loved bands like the Clash, Propaghandi, and Fugazi. They sounded nothing alike but all had a very empowering political message. I started reading books like A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn because of those bands and my whole world started to open up. My dad saw my interest in history and social movements and gave me a CD to listen to by a folk singer named Pete Seeger and it changed my life. I loved Pete Seeger’s music as well as his environmental, civil rights, labor and peace activism. Around the same time, I got an acoustic guitar and started listening to the Lemonheads. And now, here we are.
"Keeping Count" is calm musically, like much of your music, but with biting lyrics. Why did you choose to have this duality in "Keeping Count"?
The best delivery for something subversive is through melody. Although, it hasn’t kept people from storming out of my shows while singing this song.
Do you view music as an effective form of protest? Why?
Music and the arts in general are powerful forms of protest because of their ability to transcend war, terror, capitalism and other societal framework handed down by the media or government. Through the arts, we can speak truths that cannot be spoken in other spaces. By holding space for the truth, we connect people with ideas, morality, their sense of self, and community. That’s beautiful to me. I’m thankful everyday because music has always aided me in taking the next step and reminded me I am not alone on this walk towards freedom and justice.
"Keeping Count" is inspired by Donald Trump and the Republican debates-- Do you support any of the presidential candidates right now?
Most of the candidates (and their respective parties and super PACS) are running to further perpetuate a system of government that only serves the ultra wealthy and highly funded special interest lobbies. Standing in stark opposition to them is Senator Bernie Sanders, who is calling on all citizens to actively engage in the political process so that collectively we can address income inequality, health care, education, climate change, and America's corrupt system of campaign financing, along with a host of other issues that are affecting the United States. I hope the country will continue to embrace Bernie as much I hope that people will begin to rethink and reshape their relationship to democracy, the environment, and our global community.