Charlie King and Karen Brandow believe that the folk music they write about ordinary people has a message that can affect its listeners.
The duo was the latest to perform at The Carrboro ArtsCenter Sunday.
Art Menius, executive director of the center, is a longtime friend of the pair. He said their music appeals to people who value the artistic side of music.
“Charlie has always been a powerful and courageous choice for activist causes and the good and right of this country for 50 years,” Menius said. “His songs take the stand and make the political personal. They raise important issues about society.”
King, who has enjoyed singing since he first started at family parties, said the songs that he writes are about ordinary people and shed light on reality and the world around him.
“I don’t find myself inspired by accomplishments of acquired people,” he said. “Someone who was born with a silver spoon in their mouth, that kind of story doesn’t attract me. I feel that what I want to hear as a songwriter and musician is the collection of what people in the audience can learn from the courage of an ordinary person.”
Brandow joined King 12 years ago after returning from her trip to Guatemala, where she had been involved in human rights work. She said it wasn’t always her intention to become a folk singer and travel the country, but her experiences have helped make an impact in their music.
“I brought my experiences from Latin America and a whole repertoire of songs from that region of the world where people use music to express their hopes, aspirations and critiques of the world around them,” she said.
She also said that their focus on ordinary people who are doing courageous work is inspiring to her and the people that listen to the songs about them.
“There’s a degree that we don’t focus on the most famous people, but share a lot of stories about people who stand up to authority,” she said. “It makes it easier for people to say, ‘Oh, I could do that.’”
King and Brandow have told many empowering stories from people they have met over the years.
“We ran into a woman from El Salvador who was hired in a sweat shop,” King said. “She secretly organized the workers, and because she was good at organizing she brought the company to its knees.”
He said that it’s normal to want to root for the underdog.
“I want to have people leave the concert and feel empowered and hopeful about the future,” King said. “To believe that you can live a life of courage and integrity and to believe that the high and mighty aren’t as invincible as they look.”
For King, the message is in the music.
“I guess the message that we want to put out is that our lives are important and what we do with our lives is supremely important,” he said. “I think we are really encouraged by the economic system and by culture to get focused on people who are rich and famous. I get inspired by people who are hit hard and endure, who buck the system and challenge the system.”
As for what’s ahead for the duo, Brandow said she has a philosophy.
“As long as there are groups working for justice that would like to have us come and share our music, that is what we will do,” she said.
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