Joe Purdy covers REM for The Voice Project

15 Mar 2010 | from

Blog post by Hunter Heaney- Founder of The Voice Project.

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In a lot of ways, our part in The Voice Project started with this song and a little video clip of a phone call. In 2008 I’d been working at an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp on Uganda/Sudan border.  I was meeting with a number of Women’s groups, widows, rape survivors and former abductees who had banded together to care for each other and those orphaned by the war. Often children abducted and forced to fight in Joseph Kony’s LRA would escape, but be afraid to return home because of the awful things they were made to do, and the women were using songs to carry the message to those hiding in the bush that they were forgiven and should come home. After the women had taught me some of their songs, they asked me to teach them some, and Joe’s song “Suitcase” was the very first that came to mind. If you know the lyrics maybe it’s obvious why, but it’s a song I had loved for a long time and meeting with the women, listening to them sing their songs and talk of what they were singing about, in some ways Joe’s song took on a new meaning for me…but I wouldn’t say a “whole new meaning” as the essence of it always was, to me, a quiet comforting, un-judging compassion in a private whisper, and it’s intimacy it’s universality. To me it was ultimate compassion for another human being.

Gulu Women’s Choir » Joe Purdy from The Voice Project on Vimeo.

The women loved the song, and 9 months later when Nicole went back to meet with a group in Gulu, to tell them of the progress we’d been making on their behalf…it was a Sunday morning in Brooklyn when and I got a call, whole lot of numbers on the caller ID, I picked up and it was just “hold on a sec…” and then a chorus of the most beautiful voices singing that song as a “thank you.” One of the most beautiful moments you could imagine, captured on that little video clip, unbelievable. But also, the women there once again showing us the way, a message delivered through song, and that’s really how we got the idea for The Voice Project. A few months later, one of my Co-Founders, Chris Holmes and I saw Joe at a wedding and we showed him the video. It was an unbelievable moment showing that to him, for all of us, and one of the first things Joe said was, “Whatever you need, the answer is forever yes.” It’s the essence of the project and what the women are doing, but also of Joe and what he’s all about, not just as a musician but as a human being. We got the idea of keeping going what the women had started, having artists pass along the message of what was going on over there in song by covering another’s music. We met up with Joe when he was in LA to play three sold out shows at the Hotel Cafe and shot this heartfelt version of REM’s “Swan Swan H”, and a few hours later he said this about the women from the stage:

“They’re trying to do everything they can to help these women who are trying to help themselves - they’ve got their husbands and their sons, they’ve had them taken away from them and forced into doing unspeakable acts in war. And these sons and husbands, they’re ashamed of what they’ve done and they think they can’t come home. These women, they’ve been singing to them, they’ve been making tapes and they’ve been sending them out into the field to let’em know that they’re forgiven, that they need’em. We found out that maybe we could help by singin too. We’re going to raise our voices to try and help them, and if you can, before you leave to tonight, maybe ask somebody and find out what you can do to spread the word and help these beautiful, beautiful people.”

And so we began…

-Hunter Heaney- The Voice Project

Joe Purdy » REM from The Voice Project on Vimeo.

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