Washington is roiling over President Trumpâs executive order to restrict travel and immigration from seven countries. Recent headlines have been filled with mass demonstrations, denunciations of the order from Gov. Jay Inslee and CEOs, and a lawsuit from Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Seattle-based music station KEXP is responding with the tool it knows best: music.
All day Tuesday, KEXP DJs loaded their sets with songs by artists from the countries named in Trumpâs executive order: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.
âWe will also be playing music from Mexico,â said Ethan Raup, KEXP chief operating officer. âWe donât believe itâs a good idea to block them off with a wall.â
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The station made the decision Monday, while protests over the ban surged across the country. DJ Darek Mazzone, host of the world-music show WoâPop, recently visited a refugee camp in Jordan and mentioned inviting local hip-hop artist Gabriel Teodros â of Ethiopian, Scottish, Irish and Native American descent â onto WoâPop for a special edition of the program called âBanned in the U.S.A.â
After hearing that, KEXP DJ John Richards said, the rest of the station leapt into action, scouring their shelves for relevant albums and reorganizing playlists.
âWe at KEXP respond to events going on in our world,â Richards said. âIf we think thereâs a time to tell a story with music, we do. … You have to think about the collective conscience out there. Itâs disrespectful and tone-deaf for stations to play the same old stuff when somethingâs going on.â
KEXP played songs from Libyan musician Cheb Jilani (who sings in several Arabic dialects from Egyptian to Lebanese); Ardavan Kamkar (a santoor player, from the Kurdistan region of Iran, who played at the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony); 60 Tigres, a disco-punk-funk band from Monterrey, Mexico; and dozens of others.
âThe irony,â Richards said, âis that being a nonprofit, we donât take stances on politicians. But being independent, holding our own license, allowing our DJs to play the music they want to â that makes us extremely nimble.â
At 4 a.m., he said, employees and volunteers were âdigging through our library to find artists who arenât getting the attention they deserve.â Richards put out a call on social media for music from the countries affected by Trumpâs order: âI got 100 suggestions immediately.â
One of them was Dur-Dur Band, a 1980s synth-funk group from Mogadishu, Somalia. âIâve been a DJ for decades and Iâd never heard of them in my life,â Richards said. âThey are great. … This is a good reminder to DJs, including myself, to branch out more â not just this day.â
Recent events, he said, have triggered a stationwide conversation about featuring more international music on all its shows.
KEXP has made quick programming changes in response to past news events, from the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting to the death of soul singer Sharon Jones last November. âWe meet weekly to talk about whatâs going on in the world,â Richards said. âEveryone is shocked at the pace at which things are going now.â
And when the next shock wave comes along?
âEveryone at the station is prepared.â