The songwriting partners behind Britain s Mattafix have taken on gang violence, war in the Middle East, and filmed a music video in a camp for Darfur refugees.
But the word Iraq doesn t even appear in their anti-war song Clear and Present Danger, from their 2005 debut Signs of a Struggle. The piano-driven Gangster Blues is as earnestly melodic as a love ballad. And instead of Stop the violence! the single Living Darfur from their recently released CD Rhythm and Hymns offers: You don t have to be extraordinary, just forgiving.
These are protest songs for the new millennium _ no hectoring, but plenty of space for listening and questioning in spare, enigmatic lyrics. Marlon Roudette, who along with fellow Londoner Preetesh Hirji writes most of Mattafix s material and sings lead, says he left preachiness behind in his teens. He is under no illusions the world s problems will be solved by catchy slogans or simple prescriptions.
The more you know, the more you know you know nothing, Roudette, 25, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
In person and in performance, in a style that might best be described as nondescript hip _ jeans and sweaters and sneakers in muddy colors _ they come across as grad students with rhythm.
They re everyday guys, and I hope they stay that way, said Scott Franklin, an American who directed their Big City Life video.
When the London-based aid group Crisis Action decided it needed a soundtrack for its campaign to raise awareness about the crisis in Sudan s Darfur, it turned to Mattafix because it wanted newer voices who could appeal to the young, without trivializing, said the organization s spokesman, Brendan Cox.
Cox said when he first brought the idea to Roudette, he found the singer had already been following Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million uprooted from their homes since a rebellion broke out in 2003.
He knew his stuff _ he knew more than I did, Cox said with a laugh.
The song and video, with endorsements from everyone from South African rights campaigner Desmond Tutu to actor Matt Damon, were released in September as part of a series of demonstrations and other events meant to pressure delegates to a U.N. General Assembly meeting to push for peacekeepers for Darfur. Oxfam and other groups have used it in subsequent campaigns, and the video received thousands of hits on YouTube before the album came out.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into, Roudette said when he recalls agreeing to go to Darfur s border with Chad to film the video in a refugee camp. What he found, he said, was a dignity summed up in an image from the video: a camp dweller crouching on the ground, ironing a pristine white robe.
In the midst of all that madness, they managed to hold onto their culture and their values, Roudette said. I think lesser people would have crumbled under that kind of strain.
Cox said Living Darfur, which Roudette wrote with veteran South African producer and musician Chico Twala, captures a sense of optimism amid the horror, an idea of what can happen if people get serious about finding a solution.