“Yes We Can”: An Emotional Song for Change

It’s a multi-cultural, viral moment that began riding the wave of Obama excitement right on time for Super Tuesday, an acoustic guitar, black-and-white footage, rapper will.i.am sporting a fedora and looking thoughtful, crooning softly against a backdrop of Barack Obama’s rousing concession speech on primary night in New Hampshire. Then, add in a diverse group of celebrities, which included John Legend, Herbie Hancock, Scarlett Johansson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, echoing key Obama phrases in English, Spanish and Hebrew.

The music video featured faces and voices chanting “Yes, We Can” in an emotional crescendo. It was designed to uplift, indirectly calling up comparisons to Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez as Legend throws his arms wide and sings, “A King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed us to the promised land” and CSI: Miami actor Adam Rodriguez recites, “Sí, se puede!

The people who made the video say that Obama’s campaign had nothing to do with the video. “The intention,” the filmmaker Jesse Dylan (the son of Bob Dylan) said, “was to make a really simple thing. . . . It was like, ‘Super Tuesday’s coming, let’s try and get this up, maybe it can help a bit.’ We weren’t doing it for the campaign. We were doing it for what Obama said in his speech. . . . I believe the words he had to say.”

Obama’s New Hampshire concession speech had nothing to do with losing. Will.i.am, the frontman for the Black Eyed Peas, said that the speech shoved him off the fence and inspired him to make the video. “That speech made me think of Martin Luther King . . . Kennedy . . . and Lincoln . . . and all the others that have fought for what we have today,” he said. Its creators say that the video was an inspired creation, and that they recorded it in just two days. Will.i.am, a onetime John Kerry supporter, called filmmakers Mike Jurkovac and Jesse Dylan on Sunday, Jan. 27th, and told them he had an idea. By that Wednesday, they were packed into a recording studio in Los Angeles, collecting friends and whomever they could recruit along the way. After the video was recorded, they uploaded to YouTube and promoted it on ABC News’s What’s the Buzz on Friday.

When you create a look and feel for a piece visually that’s based on this black-and-white footage, it gives it this historical connotation,” Jurkovac said. “What’s moving people are the same themes: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country’ or ‘I have a dream.’ If there’s a swell of a movement among young people, that’s what they’re reacting to. Even if they never lived through it.”

Yes We Can: An Emotional Song for Change

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