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Music for Abolition

What does it mean to think of abolitionism as a vision—one that challenges the social, economic, and political worldviews that prisons promote?

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Event Series Event Series: Visualizing Abolition

October 31, 2022 All day

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A man plays a cello while historical footage is overlaid over him.

About this event

A collection of music videos dedicated to abolition

Visualizing Abolition is organized by Professor Gina Dent, Feminist Studies and Dr. Rachel Nelson, Director, Institute of the Arts and Sciences in collaboration with San José Museum of Art and Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery. The series has been generously funded by the Nion McEvoy Family Trust, Ford Foundation, Future Justice Fund, Wanda Kownacki, Peter Coha, James L. Gunderson, Rowland and Pat Rebele, Porter College, UCSC Foundation, and annual donors to the Institute of the Arts and Sciences.

Partners include: Howard University School of Law, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, Jessica Silverman Gallery, Indexical, The Humanities Institute, University Library, University Relations, Institute for Social Transformation, Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery, Porter College, the Center for Cultural Studies, the Center for Creative Ecologies, and Media and Society, Kresge College.

Us n’ We

Terri Lyne Carrington and Lisa Fischer

“Us n’ We” examines the issues of isolation, mental illness, grieving, profiling, spiritual well being, love, freedom… and their relationship to incarceration.

Composed, performed and filmed by Terri Lyne Carrington and Lisa Fischer

Edited by “Yo V” (Vilho Louhivuori)


Kris Davis, Val Jeanty, and Lily Finnegan

Sleepwalkers act in mindlessness, prison guards enforce. How do we imagine a society that breaks away from what we are told is possible? Free of sleepwalkers and prison guards? Imagination is a key element of abolition. This piece was inspired by the words of Robin D.G. Kelley and Jackie Wang, both of whom are quoted.

Composed by Kris Davis
Performed by Kris Davis, piano

Electronic percussion Val Jeanty
Spoken narration Lily Finnegan

Sound design/production Terri Lyne Carrington
Video editing “Yo V” (Vilho Louhivuori),

Can You Imagine

Maimouna Yousef aka “Mumu Fresh” and Queen Cora Coleman

“Can You Imagine” is a collaborative work between Mumu Fresh and Queen Cora that shares the in-depth journey of a young boy who fell victim to the highest expression of insecurity through White Supremacy. This young man later becomes the father of Mumu Fresh. “Can You Imagine” shares the hope of new perspective. The song encapsulates a vision of life without the need for bondage and incarceration and where LOVE and IMAGINATION serve as the primary expression of human engagement. 

Lyrics by: Maimouna Yousef aka “Mumu Fresh”
Mastered by: Carlos Garza

Poetry and Music Production: Queen Cora Coleman

Mumu Fresh is filmed by Anshia Crooms
Queen Cora is filmed by Sudari Scott

Freedom Is No Fear

Nicholas Payton

As a Black American, when I think about abolition, my mind immediately goes to music as being the first means of crafting our liberation, post-colonization. When we were not allowed to speak our native tongues, we created a new language in the Blues. In this piece, we use sound and visuals as a means of recalling a lineage in which our traumas are not commodified for entertainment or media fodder. We use repetition to help break through the mental fog of false constructs like racism and sexism. Throughout the composition, our ancestor Nina Simone is heard reminding us that freedom is no fear. To me, abolition is more than just visualizing a future in which we are free, but that freedom is now and it starts in the mind.

Video directing, video editing, trumpet, keyboards, bass: Nicholas Payton

Looper, drum machine: Sasha Masakowski
Live music video director: Rob Davis

Live music camera: Sarah Rochis
Visual effects: Antoine Staib
Sound Engineer: Andrew Block


Jason Moran and Kyle Abraham

This piece aims to highlight the pace at which abolition occurs. It lasts longer than a moment, more than a lifetime, spanning generations of seekers. The choreographer Kyle Abraham puts the moving body in front of  us, because it is the most important part of actualizing our vision of abolition. The body changes shape, struggling to set a tempo for a “movement.” Frederick Douglass does this by also frequently posing in front of a camera. These images become chapters. By documenting his existence, he becomes the most photographed man of his time, verifying his body and mind. The dance verifies the body in the moment, responding to the sound. When we feel we are static, much energy is stirring for the next gesture, to give the smoke a shadow.  

Pianist/Composer: Jason Moran
Choreographer: Kyle Abraham
Dancer: Claude “CJ” Johnson

Camera: Ashli Bickford
Additional Film Editing: Dan Scully

Filmed at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park
Archival Footage of Newark Riots of 1967

Comfort Food

Malcolm-Jamal Warner

As a society we have been conditioned to be creatures of comfort. We artificially sweeten inconvenient truths to make us feel good. We hold onto lies to make us feel right. Imagine a society where we all feast on love and nurture each other in a way that uplifts every individual’s inner light.

Composed, recorded, & shot by: Malcolm-Jamal Warner

Edited by: Nathan Anderson

You Ought To Be Ashamed/Expanse

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Some of us have been dreaming of
Some of us have been slowly making plans
A place where we can stretch our toes
The kind of vastness where a body doesn’t know
Which way to go

You Ought To Be Ashamed – music and lyrics by: Porter Grainger

Expanse – music and lyrics by: Cécile McLorin Salvant

Voice, piano, animation, editing by: Cécile McLorin Salvant
Photographs courtesy of Library of Congress free to use and reuse sets

Abolition Think Tank

Nicole Mitchell

“Abolition Think Tank” is a shared exploration of concrete steps needed to move past our present punitive culture, led by three incarceration veterans, Sadiq Davis, Richard Garland and James Badue-El, who actively work to facilitate positive societal re-entry for others. 

Film, Music and Editing by: Nicole Mitchell Gantt

Spoken Word by: Sadiq Davis, Richard Garland and James Badue-El

Photographs by: Chris Benson, Library of Congress, Eye for Ebony, Nicole Mitchell Gantt, Unseen Histories, Trust Tru Katsan, Kayle Kaupange, Glodi Miessi, Humphrey Mule, Andrae Ricketts, Jon Tyson

Blind Emotions

Sarah Elizabeth Charles

“Blind Emotions” is an original composition inspired by my teaching artist work at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, NY. Through this work I have learned more about myself and the creative process than ever before, and have also clearly seen the way in which music can humanize any and every experience, even in those settings that attempt to dehumanize the most. Blind Emotions is dedicated to all the artists on the inside who I have learned from and grown with. It is a testament to the possibilities in each of us to look beyond our own inherent bias, to see all human beings as deserving of true restorative justice and to consider all of the intersectional societal factors at play in any given situation. It is a call for us to reimagine our carceral spaces and expand our imaginations.

Written, performed and edited by: Sarah Elizabeth Charles

Filmed by: Sarah Elizabeth Charles & Inner World Films

Piggly Wiggly

Orrin Evans and Eric Revis

A song authorities said was taught to children during Black Panther breakfast programs, including the verse, “Oink oink, bang bang, dead pig,” was released yesterday by police. Sgt. Dan Cook said the song was sung to officers by five children who were sprayed with a tear gas grenade they found at a Black Panther building and accidentally triggered. Cook said the reference to officers as “pigs” in the song was understood by the children. Part of the song, according to Cook, was: “No more sisters in jail, “Off the pig. “No more brothers in jail, “Off the pig. “The revolution has come, “Off the pig. “Time to pick up your gun, “Off the pig. “And put the pigs on the run, “Off the pig.” Cook said the children were taught to march to another verse: “Piggly Wiggly, you gotta go now. “Oink oink, bang bang, dead Pig”. A cannister was found in a box of clothes in a garage where the panthers conduct a “free breakfast’’ program for children. The boy accidentally pulled the pin on the grenade and sprayed himself, his two brothers and two sisters. They were treated at Central Receiving Hospital for minor eye irritations and released. Cook said no arrests were made in the tear gas incident but an investigation was being conducted.

Lyrics by: Black Panther Chant 

Music by: Eric Revis & Orrin Evans inspired by Black Panther Chant 

Video/Audio Production by: Matthew Parrish for Bump Jazz Productions


Chief Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

I first learned of abolitionism and activism through my grandfather, the late Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. The only man to lead four nations of the Black Tribes of New Orleans, Louisiana (regionally referred to as Black Indians). These maroon clans have stood in open opposition to the injustices of this land since the first decade of the 1700s. I often find myself looking to the lessons of my childhood for guidance, and deeper understanding of what has happened before. As chief carrying on this fight, our fight, his fight, their fight, is a mandate that cannot be ignored. He taught us that the ire of the fight for liberty in this land was rooted in those unwilling to yield to the shadow of injustice. That this fight is also the fight of all those within you, and most importantly, those who would become. Those whom your actions will inspire. “Incarnation” was written to offer reverence to those who waged this fight before us. The countless volumes of liberators who now speak through you and I. As we continue to endeavor this country into light, it is paramount that we do so tethered to the force and energy of their lifetimes and sacrifices, pulling every fathomable resource rooted in light to our cause in ending the campaigns of hate and fear once and for all. 
With gratitude,
Xian Adjuah

Chief Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Adjuah Trumpet, Sonic Architecture – All Parts 

Sogo, Atsimevu, Kaganu, Kroboto, Kidi, Gankogui,
Fontomfrom Antunpan, Apentemma, Petia, Donno,
Kenkeni, Sangban, Doundoun – All Parts

Holding Cell

Elena Ayodele Pinderhugthes & Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes  

Cages are no place for any being. Abolish prisons. Abolish ICE. Abolish Borders 

Filming of Samora by: Christian Padron & Sammy Suh
Filming of Elena by: Akintunde Ahmad
Song by: Samora Pinderhughes

Edited by: Samora Pinderhughes
Vocals: Samora & Elena Pinderhughes
Wurlitzer: Samora Pinderhughes
Flute: Elena Pinderhughes

Strings: Argus Quartet
Guitar: Brad Allen Williams
Electric Bass: Boom Bishop
Alto Saxophone: Immanuel Wilkins
Tenor Saxophone: Lucas Pino

For Trayvon

José James

Take my love
Take my hand
Take my blood
Take my land

Take my mind
Take my belief
Take my voice
Take my grief

We’re only human
We’re walking wounded
With God abundant
We’ll travel through this

“For Trayvon” examines the intersections between freedom and death, international fame and Black anonymity. Following in the footsteps of spiritual/artistic ancestors and expatriates James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Dexter Gordon and Marvin Gaye, James documents his mental and emotional anxieties while healing in Amsterdam from the realities of racism and oppression against the Black community in America. 
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

– Toni Morrison, Beloved

Performed by: José James – voice
Gideon van Gelder – piano
Producer: Lyon Pol
DoP: David van der Drift

Gaffer: Dirk Zijlstra
1st AC: Noa Kosanović
2nd AC: Iri Pauwels
Production Assistant: Sam Luitwieler

Editor: Lyon Pol
Colorist: Luke Osborne
Mixed and recorded by Vincent Helbers at Flowrider Studio AmsterdamAssistant engineers: Tjerk Lammers, Anis Oopkes

Unspoken Voices

Dianne Reeves and Camila Cortina Bello

“Unspoken Voices” is a call to reimagine a reality that needs a change. With an intimate and introspective tone, these voices unfold a powerful inviting message to openness, dialogue, and a much needed change in order to build a better future. Unspoken Voices is a hymn of love, a chant for unification, and a prayer for justice, as we believe this is the most powerful way to create the opportunities and the necessary social transformation that we dream to be accountable for. – Camila Cortina Bello 

This winter season, covered in massive drifts of white and a sky of endless grey, represents the construct that White supremacy is held in unrelentingly.
While the extreme cold is absent of forgiveness and redemption it holds a palpable reflection of the prison industrial complex.
Yet, above the clouds and below the surface, there is a bold collective conscienceless of humanity – in all its color.
Unity power and urgency reimagines the energy needed in the dismantling of this brutal seasons system with diligence and directed clarity.
The wordless music of the powerful and moving composition ‘UNSPOKEN VOICES’, written by Camila Cortina Bello, in spirit is reminiscent of the hymns of our ancestors, which gave us strength, endurance, and affirmations for the movement forward. – Dianne Reeves

Vocal: Dianne Reeves
Composer, Piano: Camila Cortina Bello

Bass, Audio mix: Gerson Lazo-Quiroga
Video edit: Vilho Louhivuori

Abolition Song

Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science

Matthew Stevens – guitar, Aaron Parks – keyboards, Morgan Guerin – bass, synths, Kassa Overall – MC, DJ, Terri Lyne Carrington – drums

Where is the love?
Open your heart.
Where is the love?
Open your heart.
Where is the love?
Please believe, capacity lives within us to imagine something different
Where everyone, has what they need, and is cared for, love’s the answer, hold the question
Can you imagine turning the dreams, of our brethren into our own. Imagine…
Let’s open our minds to
A place with no time
Open our minds
To love that we’ll find
Treated in kind
Where is the regard for all of humanity? It’s hiding in the trenches
With all of, the progress we’ve navigated, how have we not seen the most basic
Truth that we’re all connected and no one is free until all of us, are free   
Where is the love?
Open our hearts.
Where is the love?
Open our hearts. 

Written by: Morgan Guerin and Terri Lyne Carrington

Mixed by: Dean Albak

Video edited by: Vilho Louhivuori