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Live music: Changing the world one song at a time

by Cyndi Palmer
Sky-Hi Daily News

Winter Park is in store for an enlightening and entertaining musical experience as band Salem returns to town this Saturday. The performances leave audiences with something not only to talk about, but things to think about as well.

The band features Todd Anders Johnson who provides lead vocals, plays the drums, and is a major voice for the band and several good causes. He said the band is a “merging” of his “passion for music, beliefs in the capacity for social change and the historical tradition of socially-conscious songwriting.”

Johnson has been performing, teaching, recording and composing music throughout the United States and Canada for 24 years and has been performing with group Salem for almost three years. In the group, he also composes the music and writes the lyrics.

He has been an activist musician for many years. He helped to book benefit concerts for People For Fair Trade and Independent Media Center events, and serves on the board of directors with Iamedia, a Seattle-based non-profit organization that develops media productions and events oriented around social justice issues. Iamedia is working with the Jubilee Coalition to compile a CD called “Break the Chains,” featuring international artists with songs “that raise awareness of the conditions of poverty and debt in developing nations.”

Most recently, Salem has been working with Bono’s One Campaign. In the last two weeks, Johnson was flown to Philadelphia to take part on a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania and give a brief performance. Bono’s organization is addressing issues of global poverty and disease with a non-partisan approach, Johnson said. “It is amazing to see the collaboration among such diverse groups to affect change and raise awareness of a humanitarian problem that transcends politics.”

The discussion is featured on the One Campaign Web site blog page at http://www.one.org.

Salem, not only represents the musical voice and diverse perspectives of composer Todd Anders Johnson, “but also integrates active pursuits in the processes of social change.” The band’s music “is an amalgamation of funk, hip-hop, jazz, and Afro-Cuban idioms. Infused with diverse lyrical content, the songs have a unifying socially-conscious theme.”

The shows in Colorado will also feature “amazing musicians” Rob Garland on bass, Dave Devine on guitar, Dexter Payne on sax, and Larry Hoff on auxiliary percussion (congas and timbales).

Garland, of Chicago, Ill., has been performing and recording bass with the Bill and John McKay band, as well as with Salem. Devine, who teaches applied guitar at the University of Colorado, Denver when he is not jamming with Salem, is a talented guitarist, well-versed in jazz. Hoff studies and performs Afro-Cuban percussion with a traditional ensemble called Bambeshe in Rollinsville with Dave Lyons.

“Dexter’s sound blends the musical idioms of all the Americas with a blues and jazz background,” Johnson said of Payne. “He changed his life in two and a half years working with musicians in Central and South America. Now, at home in Boulder, he is privileged to play with exceptional musicians, locally and nationally.”

The band has been busy putting together its debut studio record, “As it is Above, so it is Below” at Far ‘n’ Away Studios in Boulder. Salem is also working with Kim Schneider, Warren Miller’s video and music producer, to put new combinations of Salem sounds with epic Warren Miller ski and snowboard film footage.

The latest Salem studio track “Harvest” is featured on ski and snowboard manufacturer K2s Web site and the Aspen-Snowmass Resort site. The song will also be touring the nation with Warren Miller’s new film “Playground” as the background for an interactive DVD now available. Visit YouTube.com to view the video for Salem’s song “Northward,” which is highlighted in another Schneider-produced snowboard film featuring Steamboat Springs.

According to a CD Baby review of Salem’s latest CD “Selected,” “The only thing better than great hip hop is diversified hip hop ” and that’s what we have here. Fans of alternative hip hop and urban representation need to do their sweet selves a big favor and give ‘Selected’ a long listen. Weaving in intelligence and beat-oriented styles similar to Spearhead/Michael Franti in more than one place, these Northwesterners have it all wrapped up in a friendly little 10-track disc.”

Those interested may get a copy of “Selected” at http://www.cdbaby.com/cde/salem.

“With a rhythmic basis of funk, hip-hop, Afro-Cuban and jazz sensibilities, Salem compositions locate evocative issues within inspiring rhythmic and melodic contexts,” Johnson said. “Salem performances are an elevating and soulful experience. The etymology of Salem elaborates upon the theme of peace.”

Salem has also been invited to perform at this year’s U.S. Freeskiing Competition at Copper Mountain in February and will be playing events with XGames in Aspen in late January.

The band has been touring throughout Colorado for regular shows since January 2006, playing with such groups as De La Soul, Tab Benoit, Stanton Moore, Rebirth Brass Band, The Meters, The Motet, Zilla, Toshi Regan, Seven Nations, Tom Landa and the Paperboys, Steve Earle and Flowmotion. This time, Winter Park is once again on their schedule.


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