Saturday, May 20, 2023

Digging Deeper With Benjamin Booker

For “music night” this evening at The Wild Reed I share Benjamin Booker’s song “Believe,” from his 2017 album Witness, a collection of recordings that Pitchfork notes “makes retro music feel modern, reflecting on racism in America while drawing on blues, soul, and gospel.”

Booker himself says, “[Witness] is about taking care of each other and pushing yourself to be a better person.”

The music video for “Believe,” directed by James Lees, has Booker playing a soldier undergoing military training. Said Lees in a statement at the time of the video’s release:

We wanted to create something inherently musical and entertaining whilst still being a meditation on the themes within the song: being lost and directionless and the inherent human need to find a sense of belonging.

In talking to Raisa Bruner of TIME magazine in 2017, Booker said the following about “Believe.”

I was reading a bunch of stuff like Jean-Paul Sartre and that Don DeLillo book, and they point to the absurdity of life and how ridiculous it is that everything around us is constructed and man-made, and I started to think about that. You can get to a dark place, because when you take away the things around you, the social constructs and the things you’ve grown up believing, you start to wonder just what it is that you believe in and who you are as a person. I think that part of [my] trip to Mexico was about removing myself from my comforts and the people around me and the things I was used to, and trying to figure out who I was as a person.

. . . [“Believe”] in particular is about how people tend to try to fill voids in their life with different things: religion or politics, or people join the military or things like that, just trying to fill this void. But this song is about [how] you are the solution to the problems that you have, and you have to dig deeper. That’s what I’m hoping people take away from this song. That change and that void is only going to be filled by you.

“In spite of the [heavy] themes of the track,” writes Alex Galbraith, “Booker does appear to be enjoying himself. His raspy croon floats over an easy strum and a string section, searching for little moments to accentuate his bare-bones delivery as he looks for a sense of purpose. It’s a great song.”


And here’s a live version of “Believe,” performed by Benjamin Booker at Columbus Theatre in Providence, Rhode Island in 2018. Enjoy!

Related Off-site Links:
Can We Get a Witness? Benjamin Booker on the Transformation Behind His Second AlbumStereogum (August 1, 2017).
Benjamin Booker: How I Turned My Personal Meltdown Into a Rallying Cry for Black America – Dorian Lynskey (The Guardian, June 21, 2017).
Benjamin Booker’s Witness Reveals an Artist Expanding His Worldview – Julia Black (Esquire, June 2, 2017).
Songs We Love: Benjamin Booker, “Witness” (Featuring Mavis Staples) – Rachel Horn (NPR Music, March 9, 2017).
Benjamin Booker Interview: “I Think It’s Important for People to Have Death on Their Minds – to Realise This Is It” – Roisin O'Connor (Independent, September 1, 2017).

Previously featured musicians at The Wild Reed:
Dusty Springfield | David Bowie | Kate Bush | Maxwell | Buffy Sainte-Marie | Prince | Frank Ocean | Maria Callas | Loreena McKennitt | Rosanne Cash | Petula Clark | Wendy Matthews | Darren Hayes | Jenny Morris | Gil Scott-Heron | Shirley Bassey | Rufus Wainwright | Kiki Dee | Suede | Marianne Faithfull | Dionne Warwick | Seal | Sam Sparro | Wanda Jackson | Engelbert Humperdinck | Pink Floyd | Carl Anderson | The Church | Enrique Iglesias | Yvonne Elliman | Lenny Kravitz | Helen Reddy | Stephen Gately | Judith Durham | Nat King Cole | Emmylou Harris | Bobbie Gentry | Russell Elliot | BØRNS | Hozier | Enigma | Moby (featuring the Banks Brothers) | Cat Stevens | Chrissy Amphlett | Jon Stevens | Nada Surf | Tom Goss (featuring Matt Alber) | Autoheart | Scissor Sisters | Mavis Staples | Claude Chalhoub | Cass Elliot | Duffy | The Cruel Sea | Wall of Voodoo | Loretta Lynn and Jack White | Foo Fighters | 1927 | Kate Ceberano | Tee Set | Joan Baez | Wet, Wet, Wet | Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy | Fleetwood Mac | Jane Clifton | Australian Crawl | Pet Shop Boys | Marty Rhone | Josef Salvat | Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri | Aquilo | The Breeders | Tony Enos | Tupac Shakur | Nakhane Touré | Al Green | Donald Glover/Childish Gambino | Josh Garrels | Stromae | Damiyr Shuford | Vaudou Game | Yotha Yindi and The Treaty Project | Lil Nas X | Daby Touré | Sheku Kanneh-Mason | Susan Boyle | D’Angelo | Little Richard | Black Pumas | Mbemba Diebaté | Judie Tzuke | Seckou Keita | Rahsaan Patterson | Black | Ash Dargan | ABBA | The KLF and Tammy Wynette | Luke James and Samoht | Julee Cruise | Olivia Newton-John | Dyllón Burnside | Christine McVie | Don Henley | Rita Coolidge | Bettye LaVette | Burt Bacharach | Yello | Kimi Djabaté

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