Music has always been an art that provides a platform for people wanting to express their opinions, whatever it may be.
With politics becoming increasingly divisive, it seems as if every artist with a platform is being called upon by their fans to take a stance on certain issues. Though many artists choose not to get involved in activism (and that’s fine), for San Francisco-based songwriter Megan Keely, “activist” is a role she takes up in both her creative process and everyday life. “I feel that the best way I can contribute with what I have available to me right now is to offer seeds of hope and optimism through my songs,” she said.
Megan has been releasing music since the drop of her first album Acorn Collection in 2010. The project was lighthearted, filled with love tunes that would fit neatly into a swing dance genre. She even co-starred with a giant teddy bear for one of the album’s music videos. “It was a little love ode to San Francisco,” Keely explained.
For her latest album Bloom, her themes went in an unplanned direction. Megan was growing increasingly upset by the policy changes happening in the United States, especially the rescindment of DACA. DACA (Deferred Action for Children Arrivals) is an immigration policy that allows undocumented individuals who were brought to this country as kids a renewable two-year period to be free from deportation, and have the ability to work.
“When I first heard of the President’s plans to rescind DACA, I turned to songwriting again as a way to channel my sadness, anxiety, anger, and fear. I was in a hotel room watching the news, and when I turned the TV on mute, the verse and chorus materialized instantly,” Megan told Define American, a non-profit organization founded by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.
The story of DACA really hit home for Megan, because she herself is the daughter of an immigrant. Her mother came to this country from the Philippines at the age of 3 when her Lolo (grandfather) secured a job working for the US military. “There were things about their living conditions that were scary and dangerous,” Megan recalled about her mother’s situation. “Families in her community were working on rice farms. They were walking around barefoot, sweeping dirt floors with chickens running around everywhere. It was a very agricultural lifestyle.”
Being so young, her mom’s early memories of the Philippines are limited, but what she does remember above all was how beautiful the country was. Megan acknowledges the aesthetic element of the Philippines that illustrated her mom’s thoughts: “It’s a little tempting for me to idealize it. They were leaving behind a beautiful pastoral life, but at the same time, a life that had serious limits for growth and opportunity.”
The combination of Megan’s family background and everything that has been happening in American politics set the stage for her new album Bloom.
“In the morning they wake up like you and I do, brush their teeth, and go to work like you and I do,” are the first lines from the first track of the album. The song, “Define American,” is about how undocumented people play the same roles in society as everyone else. It resonated so much with the nonprofit Define American that they made it their official theme song.
Megan is also a strong supporter of the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement. “Stronger” was written after she spent the day in the rain at a 2017 Women’s March demonstration. She describes the song as an anthem to those who feel the pain of abuse inflicted on their lives and sense of themselves.
She continues to be active in advocating change not only in political action, but change in attitudes toward groups that are marginalized. “Maybe my seeds of hope will play a small role in helping someone else bloom in new and exciting ways. But at the very least, these songs have been an outlet for me to channel my energy, set roots, and continue growing.”
August 6, 2018