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April, 1989: Battle for Beijing

Part 1: Revolution in the Square

Part 2: Deep in the Meadow

Album Playlist

 

 

 

 

 

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wuer Kaixi, Liu Gang, Chai Ling, Zhou Fengsuo, Zhai Weimin, Liang Qingtun, Wang Zhengyun, Zheng Xuguang, Ma Shaofang, Yang Tao, Feng Congde, Zhang Boli, Wang Chaohua, Wang Youcai, Li Lu, Zhang Ming, Xiong Wei, Xiong Yan, Zhang Zhiqing

 

 

 

 

 

From the burning monks in Tibet to the "re-education" centers in Xinjiang. Dedicated to every person who has stood up against oppression in any form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put on your headphones, close your eyes, and let our music take you through the streets of Tiananmen Square in 1989. 

June, 2019: Battle for Hong Kong

Hong Kong Protest Flag

 

We will defend our city, whatever the cost may be, we will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the highways, we will fight in the apartments and in the streets, we will fight in the alleys; we will never surrender... We are #HongKongStrong

 

 

 

China, whether you wish us well or ill, you should know... We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty in Hong Kong... We are #HongKongStrong

 

 

 

We will defend our freedom at all costs, freedom in spite of all terror, freedom however long and hard the road may be; we will go on to the end, we will never surrender... We are #HongKongStrong

 

 

 

 

You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.

 

 

 

 

All through history, the way of truth and love have always won. There have been many tyrants and murderers like the Communist Party of China, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they will always fall...

The Story

The story of this album starts in 2013 when I was reading the first Hunger Games book and encountered the poem “Deep in the Meadow”. It is a stirring poem which comes at a very crucial moment in the book which is very poignant and painful. It took my breath away when I read it, and I instantly knew, I had to compose something very special immediately. This was well before the first movie released and I remember feeling very inspired while recording the song on my phone.

As the months and years passed by, this song would come to my mind over and over again at the most unexpected of times – while driving to work, in a dream, while traveling on vacation. I realized that I could not forget this song - it wanted to be born, it would not let me be.

I remember looking through Craigslist in December 2017 trying to find a singer to get a feel of how it would sound if it was professionally sung by someone. I was very lucky to find Sara online and soon I was listening to her vocals singing the song. It was beyond my expectations – when I heard her voice, I knew this song needed to be recorded. This was worth going to the studio after a very long time.

Children of Aleppo although very different in style was composed as a prelude to the music in this album. All the music you hear was composed during the production work at the studio, designed to fit around the song seamlessly. I have always loved background scores, and I wanted an immersive experience which could transport the listener to my world, and let her feel what I felt.

Hunger Games is fiction. The more I worked on this album, I realized that although a lullaby it is a song which started a rebellion. I did not want my album to be around a fictional event because my feelings in the music were real. Hence, I decided to dedicate this album to a real revolution, started by young people against one of the most oppressive and brutal regimes in human history. Looking back at the album a few months after the release, I've come to realize that the creation of this album is almost like God wanted this to happen, and he chose to do it through me. The more I listened to the song, the more I realized that it is not a simply lullaby. It is definitely more than that - it has something in the words which inspires rebellion against oppression.

I was only 10 years old in 1989. The year the revolution started, I was entering my own prison where I would spend the next 7 brutal years suffering with 60 other children the worst brutalities a child could face in a civilized society. It was a dog eat dog world where I learnt painfully, that the only reason someone would not exploit you or abuse you is when they think that someone cares for you, or looks out for you. If they found you unprotected, then you were fair game to anyone. It did not matter whether it was your peers, your seniors, teachers or even the school management. Your individuality was crushed brutally in every possible way until you would come together as a group which would obey any order given to it.

I was not born into this system. I was abandoned into it by my parents, while still remembering how it felt to be free. Every waking minute, was spent under a regime which focused solely on replacing “you” with a mindless “group” which was supposed to undergo any kind of pain and tribulation silently while obeying orders. In such a system, the worst perpetrators of abuse were either teachers or kids who grew up into teenagers in this brutal system over years and turned into sadistic, tyrannical kings of their own little fiefdoms. We were beaten with sticks, metal studded belts, hangers, burned by steam from irons.

I remember spending every waking minute of my entire 9th grade year in constant fear. Nobody should have to live like this in the civilized world, and yet that was my reality. So, in my own way, I know how it is to live trapped in a totalitarian, dystopian system from where there is no escape.

I understand the feeling of betrayal from those you were supposed to have your back. I was betrayed by my father in 5th grade when he told me to lie to the doctor that I would love to go to this school where I would not be able to see my parents everyday anymore. I will never forget the first day at school where I had my very first experience of seeing my parents go away, with the understanding that I would not see them for days/ months anymore. I would not live in my home anymore – it really did not sink in – until I actually experienced it. It was unlike anything I had ever felt in my life before. This was the unknown.

For a long time, I liked to say that I had no more tears to cry because I spent every single day of 6th grade crying, and sending tear stained letters back home, with my childish cartoons of myself hanging from a tree. They agreed to take me out that year, but my mother let my father accompany me by himself on the long drive back to my school where he managed to convince me otherwise. I foolishly believed my father that day, because a child is supposed to trust his parents – another forgotten promise. My friends could not believe their ears when they heard me tell them later that I had a chance to get out, but had forfeited it for some reason.

I was betrayed in 8th grade when I ate poison on the last day of my summer vacation because I did not want to go back to school, and my father made me vomit out the poison and took me back anyway. As my parent’s car sped away in the distance, I remember as if it were yesterday, I went straight to the study hall and slashed my wrists because I did not want to live anymore. 9th grade was supposed to be the good year when you would be the senior most in the junior dormitory – but senior or not, I wanted no part of this environment.

I was betrayed in 9th grade, when I told my father that the school was transferring me to the senior dorm where I knew they tortured 9th & 10th graders day and night – I told him “they will kill me”, and he told me: “if you die, then so be it”. I have read stories about people being walked to their graves or to torture chambers, and I lived that moment back in 9th grade when a group of my peers lifted up my bed and belongings and helped transfer me to the senior dormitory.

If you read stories about people taunting prisoners being led to their deaths, in Nazi Germany – I lived that moment on that dark evening, we were silently moving towards the senior dormitory. I was broken inside, scared, desperate, dejected – and loud laughter & jeers broke out from the dormitory from which I had just been removed – they were cheering my fate, because they did not share my fate. For the first time in my life, I saw someone fight for me, when the kids who were taking my stuff shouted back at them – because they had already gone through that suffering and I was now one of them. I knew the words “concentration camp” then, although at the time, I had not known the details about death marches, gas chambers & medical experiments at that time. In my mind, what I truly felt at that time was “concentration camp” – this must be what it feels like to be led to one.

My father taught me never to rely on him for anything and to always believe that I am alone in this world, and nobody will ever have my back. There is no expectation there. It took me a long time to get used to that fact that if I die tomorrow, perhaps the only two people who will truly be upset by it would be my son and my wife. It took me a long time to go through my life feeling truly alone. I can understand what it means to be totally alone in this world. I never saw kindness when I was back in India – even in the 1st grade, there were sadistic kids. I encountered the meaning of the word kindness when I started living in America. Otherwise, I am used to being attacked when I am at my weakest, most vulnerable – this is hard.

One day while I was walking on a wooded path near one of our playgrounds, I saw one of my friends walk by with a bag in his hand. This was unusual because we did not carry bags during playground hours. He told me that he was running away from school and I could join him if I wanted. I thought about it and decided against it, because I knew that even if I did go with him, and his parents took him out of school, my father would bring me back anyway. I remember feeling trapped and completely alone and helpless - logically it made no sense for me to run away even if I wanted to because the nearest real help was in my mother’s village which was hundreds of miles away in a village in another state. It was too far away for me to attempt escape.

Anybody who has lived in a totalitarian regime has nightmares. One recurring nightmare I had for a very long time is that I am in 12th grade and very happy that I will get out of school this year, but they announce a new policy saying that from this year onwards, we will have to stay in school for one more year. In my dream, I get frustrated and scream and fight and struggle trying to understand why and how such a change has happened.

I could tell you about the nights of terror when we were kept awake till late hours in the night only to be awaken at 5:30 every morning. If you slept, you would be brutally punished/ beaten up. One night I was so tired that I dozed off. I was promptly called and I was hit on my wrist with a very thick stick. I was very tired, so half an hour later I dozed off again. When I was called, I looked at my wrist and saw two huge welts of marks across them, they had swollen up badly with blue and purple colors. It looked bad. So, I showed him my other wrist – but he wanted to hit me on the wounded wrist again…

As bad as my memories are, the worst are not my own. This particular memory does not cause me anxiety or pain today – it is seeing and hearing the suffering/ screams of others who lived with me. The tears of the kid who got to see his parents only once a year because they were poor, but they beat him brutally with hangers knowing there was nobody who was ask for him. An elderly teacher throwing a very heavy duster at a kid’s head and he walked around with a bandaged head for a week. The vicious beating a teacher gave a kid who behaved the same way he always did in the class, and the teacher took it as a joke usually, but one day something snapped and he was mercilessly beaten up – I remember the confused look on the tearful kid’s face as he explained to us that “usually this teacher is very friendly, I don’t know what happened to him today” – not a kid I’ve ever seen shed a tear before. These kids were used to getting beaten up – tears in their eyes means a level of brutality & pain, even the “hardened” ones were unused to.

A kid whose parents lived in one of the gulf countries, who was always in the infirmary because he kept jumping off a cliff and getting fractured, and when it healed, he would go and jump again. The screams of my friend who got his wrist broken, because a senior hit him, but he was thin and his bones broke with a sickening crunch because the stick was too thick. I got hit before him, but seeing/ hearing his pain was worse than what I felt. 

The kid who had mental problems right from 7th grade and suffers from mental health issues to this day – he was abandoned by his parents in fourth grade and was in another school before he got into ours. We knew he was damaged even back then, he suffered great abuse for years from 7th to 10th grade, and it causes great anguish to see such an intelligent person suffering from severe mental health issues to this date. 

Even among those who suffer together, there is always a set of people who suffered even more than the norm – and even though it is not you, you will never forget them, never forget their misery, their suffering, their pain, and the feeling that there is nobody who will stand up for you, or who cares. So, I can understand what a survivor feels, long after it is over. I’ve lived through it myself. And it has taken a long time to heal. And the tears have only come back in the past few years after the birth of my child.

I have worked with Chinese engineers in the USA. Most of them are very friendly and great to work with. However, I remember one Chinese manager explaining how to crush dissent by swatting hard at every single attempt of “rebellion” by someone who was non-conformant. Working with him made me realize the extent of suppression which still exists in China - they think like this, even when they are outside their system. It is hard to make a transition from a totalitarian system to a free, democratic country like the USA.

The music in this album is designed to take you through a myriad of emotions. "Winds of Change" is stress and tension during the excitement of the revolution, when you believe anything is possible. "We choose to Stay" takes you through the tragedy of betrayal where the army is sent in to crush the rebellion, and many of the soldiers are very young themselves. "Tank Man" made me cry a lot for months whenever I would hear it. And even now, when the video shows Tank Man, it brings tears to my eyes. We worked very hard on "Deep in the Meadow", spending months mixing the vocals, and we put everything into the background strings during the song. You can hear the background score very clearly in the Overture. "Lament of the Violin" was the hardest piece to compose and it took me weeks to get that music out of me. The violin piece in this track, to me is quite literally what goes on in my head when I am crying, in the deepest recesses of my mind, completely oblivious to the world. If being an artist means baring a piece of your soul, I have given you an indelible part of me in this track.

We did not lose our lives during our 7 years in hell, but when I read about the story of Tiananmen once more after all these years, I could understand some of what these students went through before and during the revolution of 1989. I understand why they rebelled, how they were suppressed, and I salute their courage in standing up to an oppressive regime without bearing arms.

I dedicate my album to the heroes of Tiananmen.

#wewillreturn

My Music Tells My Story

James Alexander is an American composer, singer-songwriter, music producer, musician & poet of Indian origin. He considers A.R Rahman as his musical guru. At an early age, he was deeply influenced by the music of ARR in films like Roja, Bombay, Duet, Rangeela and Taal. James loves to listen to soundtracks and as a child, he could sing the score of complex musical compositions from movies like Thiruda Thiruda. He first started composing music in 8th grade and has written many songs in Hindi, English & Malayalam. Most of his compositions are in English, and they were composed from the years of 1992 – 2000. After a hiatus of 18 years in the software industry, James has come back to music in 2018. He currently produces his music at Red 13 Studios in Framingham, MA.

Artist James Alexander in the studio.
Artist James Alexander in the studio.

Credits

Shaun Meadow Photo
unnamed

Shaun Lichtenstein

Shaun Lichtenstein is a multi-billboard charting producer, songwriter, mixing engineer, multi-instrumentalist, and entertainment entrepreneur. After attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music, Lichtenstein toured internationally as co-founder, lead guitarist, and songwriter for the Rock band Lansdowne. After working closely and learning from world renown Producers such as David Bendeth, Johnny K, Zack Odom, & Kenneth Mount, Lichtenstein came off the road to start Red 13 Studios with longtime collaborators Mark Roberge, John Roberge, and Jim Foster, where he now serves as COO and Head of Production for the company. On top of his success on the Billboard charts, Lichtenstein has also had his music licensed to the likes of NFL, NHL, MLB, MTV, iRobot, and more.

Ophelia

Artist, Activist & Chinese Citizen

Sara Azriel
unnamed (1)
ehtan
rosanne-flute-200-x-300

Sara Azriel (Lead Vocal)

Sara Azriel is an eclectic songwriter whose music combines the universality of pop, the sincerity of folk, and the richness of soul music.  She displays an emotionalism in her vocal performance that is known for inducing tears and shivers.

Brittany Stockwell (Violin)

Brittany Stockwell has always had an inclination for the arts. Along with studying music from an early age, during her childhood she spent most of her free time drawing, painting, and creating collages. Not until college would she fully realize her love for the English language and the art of writing. As an English major with minors in Music and American History, Brittany struggled to decide on one particular career path. After doing a lot of soul searching while studying for a Master of Arts in Teaching and adventuring on a two month long cross country road trip, she made the decision to pursue performing and teaching violin & viola as a freelance artist full time.

Ethan Bates (Cello)

Ethan Bates is a musician from Worcester, MA. Ethan began classical cello studies at age 4, continuing through his graduation from Syracuse University’s Bachelor of Music Industry program in 2014. A multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Ethan lives in the Worcester, MA area and performs weekly throughout New England, both as a solo cellist and with his band, Blue Light Bandits, for which he is a bass guitarist and singer.

Rosanne Santucci (Uilleann Pipes)

Rosanne Santucci is a multi-instrumentalist based in Boston. An uilleann piper, flute player, and backer on piano and bouzouki, she is a familiar face at Irish traditional music sessions and chilis and helps to organize concerts and events for the Boston Uilleann Pipers Club

Credits

Shaun Meadow Photo

Shaun Lichtenstein

Shaun Lichtenstein is a multi-billboard charting producer, songwriter, mixing engineer, multi-instrumentalist, and entertainment entrepreneur. After attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music, Lichtenstein toured internationally as co-founder, lead guitarist, and songwriter for the Rock band Lansdowne. After working closely and learning from world renown Producers such as David Bendeth, Johnny K, Zack Odom, & Kenneth Mount, Lichtenstein came off the road to start Red 13 Studios with longtime collaborators Mark Roberge, John Roberge, and Jim Foster, where he now serves as COO and Head of Production for the company. On top of his success on the Billboard charts, Lichtenstein has also had his music licensed to the likes of NFL, NHL, MLB, MTV, iRobot, and more.

unnamed

Ophelia

Artist, Activist & Chinese Citizen

Sara Azriel

Sara Azriel (Lead Vocal)

Sara Azriel is an eclectic songwriter whose music combines the universality of pop, the sincerity of folk, and the richness of soul music.  She displays an emotionalism in her vocal performance that is known for inducing tears and shivers.

Born and raised on the shores of Lake Michigan into a large musical family, Sara Azriel has criss-crossed the country pursuing her music. "I've always been a bit of a lone wolf." she says. After graduating from Berklee College of Music, Azriel moved to Los Angeles, playing venues such as Hotel Cafe and the Knitting Factory and teaching piano and voice lessons to celebrities and industry families.

unnamed (1)

Brittany Stockwell (Violin)

Brittany Stockwell has always had an inclination for the arts. Along with studying music from an early age, during her childhood she spent most of her free time drawing, painting, and creating collages. Not until college would she fully realize her love for the English language and the art of writing. As an English major with minors in Music and American History, Brittany struggled to decide on one particular career path. After doing a lot of soul searching while studying for a Master of Arts in Teaching and adventuring on a two month long cross country road trip, she made the decision to pursue performing and teaching violin & viola as a freelance artist full time.
ehtan

Ethan Bates (Cello)

Ethan Bates is a musician from Worcester, MA. Ethan began classical cello studies at age 4, continuing through his graduation from Syracuse University’s Bachelor of Music Industry program in 2014. A multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Ethan lives in the Worcester, MA area and performs weekly throughout New England, both as a solo cellist and with his band, Blue Light Bandits, for which he is a bass guitarist and singer.