Music has been in Yewande Austin’s blood since she was a little girl. Raised by a mother who wanted to raise a well-rounded young woman, she was taught to “praise God, cook and play the piano.”
“Little did she know that I would really answer a calling with music,” she said.
From BET to MTV, Yewande's talent has led to performances with the likes of the Black Eyed Peas, India.Arie, Enrique Iglesias, Maroon 5 and A Simple Plan. Her music touches on things generally ignored in chart-topping music - poverty, social change, AIDS, gender inequality and war.
Her newest release by Phoenix Records, "War", is an example of her use of music as a means of social change.
"There is an internal chaos that resides in every one of us," she says in the beginning of the music video, shot in Atlanta (see above). "Pushed aside, it invariably erupts into social conflict – discrimination, violence, hate, bullying, war."
The solution, she said, is simple - we need love.
But Yewande's music is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her calling in life. She is a social activist through and through, working with impoverished people in African nations like Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa.
"Just as protest songs were used during the civil rights movement and spirituals were sung by slaves, I found out in a 2006 trip to Malawi that my music was building confidence in the orphans I worked with," she explained. "When we sang songs, and infused messages into those songs, there was no mistaking the light that came on in their eyes."
Yewande, through her organization the Change Rocks Foundation, is able to discuss topics that are often taboo simply by putting them into music. Music, she believes, is a weapon in the fight against global poverty.
In some instances, they go into communities where it’s illegal for a little girl to go to school, or for a boy to go to school if he’s of more value in the fields. She sings about issues that are common, but taboo to speak about, like rape, AIDS and early marriage.
Most often, she works with victims of human trafficking and AIDS orphans.
"It’s a sad reality that children become marginalized in global poverty and taken advantage of," she said, "but saying it through music seems to decrease the shame and taboo of the topics."
Alisa Boykin, founder of Time2Inspire Entertainment, and her husband Lonnie, encouraged Yewande to perform at the Jan. 21 Martin Luther King parade in Snellville. One of her dance instructors, Rob Myers, choreographed the "War" music video. In fact, a number of dancers from Time2Inspire are in the video.
"Children are a part of my mission in life," she said, "and it felt right to include them in the video. Dr. Martin Luther King would continue to make sure today that all humans have access to what they need in order to be the best they can be, and to fight for the rights of children as well."
Yewande is the founder of the Global Institute for Diversity and Change, as well as an honorary U.S. Cultural Ambassador to Malawi. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in ethnomusicology from the University of Sheffield, England.
You can see her perform live today at the Martin Luther King Day parade at 11 a.m.