17 year-old Megan McGarry is a member of the South Dublin-based SubSounds Music Collective. She is also one of the young musicians involved in DECLARE & PROTEST – an exploration of the role and history of protest songs, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Guided by Martin Moran and the team at Alternative Entertainments, these young musicians spent an intensive two-week period in August discovering and recording their own versions of classic protest songs. They also collaborated on the arrangement and re-recording of a new song for 2020, originally composed by Megan.
The result of DECLARE & PROTEST has been the creation of a series of vital, relevant work by young musicians and performers, reflecting on inclusion, diversity and human rights in our time. It includes a film premiere, an album launch and an installation of the 31 Articles of the UN Declaration on site at the Pearse Museum, all going live on Culture Night, Friday 18 September 2020.
In conversation with Music Generation, Megan spoke about her experiences of the project, the role of music in society, and the part it plays in her life.
Can you tell us a bit about your work on DECLARE & PROTEST?
Well, the project was based around the UN Declaration of Human Rights, because when that was published about it was basically the beginning of protest music.
"The whole point is if you don’t know your rights you don’t have any."
The first question we were asked was: ‘Has there ever been a point when your rights were not adhered to?’ And a lot of us thought, well yeah. The whole point is if you don’t know your rights you don’t have any. It was really an eye opener to learn, ‘that’s a basic human right.’ You think of the normal, everyday things as luxuries and then you see them written in the Declaration of Human Rights and you realise, this is really basic stuff.
So we went through years of protest music, from Woodie Guthrie to Billie Bragg, to Jonie Mitchell, and we picked out songs that had topics that we thought were really important.
Most of the songs were new to me, and if they weren’t new I hadn’t really understood their meaning. But through listening to them and dissecting them and listening to the lyrics really thoroughly I got an appreciation for protest music, because I realised that every song had a story and a meaning, and you could pinpoint it to what was going on at that time.
And how did you find the experience?
With lockdown, everyone’s been away from everyone else, working from home and trying to get things done by themselves. They couldn’t go out and people were angry. So to get into the room with people and have such powerful songs, and to be able to discuss them and play them, we all just threw ourselves into it as passionately as we could.
Why do you think this was an important subject to explore now?
2020 has been a year that has really tested everyone’s strength. I feel nowadays that not everyone has something they’re willing to fight for, something that they’re willing to go out of their way and do something about. And that was the original idea of protest music. It was something that everyone could get involved in. You need that music to give you that boost, to say, ‘I’m ready to make a change, even if no one else is, I’ll do it.’
"If you won’t listen to me, I’m going to create something that you can’t ignore."
Personally, I feel not many people have a voice. We’re dealing with a lot of things that the people didn’t ask for, and I feel like nobody really pays attention to it. Everyone’s just so run down, they think, ‘this is just how it is.’
A lot of today’s music, don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but it’s not really fighting music. So DECLARE & PROTEST means: ‘if you won’t listen to me, I’m going to create something that you can’t ignore’.
And why do you think music is particularly powerful?
Because music was originally made for the people. It was always something that anyone can do, regardless of whether you think you’re good at it or not. Anyone can sing, anyone can write a song, anyone can make a beat. And for things you don’t feel you can vocalise, or things that you just don’t really know how to explain or you don’t feel confident enough to say, if you can put that into a song it gives it that little extra dynamic.
"Music is such a powerful thing to provoke emotion in people"
When you’re writing music, especially something you care about, it flows a lot better. You can feel the emotion in it. Music is such a powerful thing to provoke emotion in people.
Does that resonate with how you feel about music personally?
Wholeheartedly. Music is the biggest part of my life. I couldn’t go a day without listening to music. No matter what mood I’m in, or how I’m feeling, I have a song to go with that mood.
The type of music I listen to is the type that has a story behind it and meaning, and when you listen to something that resonates with you, you think, ‘Oh, I’m not alone, because someone else had to have felt that because they wrote about it.’
Do you have any ideas of what you’d like the project to achieve?
I’d feel it was a success if it were to just spark an idea in people’s heads, to just give them that little push towards thinking a little bit deeper about things, and wondering whether they’re happy in their conditions. Do they need to change? Do they need to mobilise themselves for change?
Beyond the project, what are your own ambitions for music?
If I’m honest, I’m not really quite sure. I hope to keep music around always. I’ll always be writing and I’ll always be making tunes. I’d like to learn more about the theory of music and the technicalities of it, but the most in my mind is that I want to keep writing, and making and creating.
"I want to keep writing, and making and creating."
About DECLARE & PROTEST
DECLARE & PROTEST was developed by Alternative Entertainments and Tallaght Community Arts, with support from Music Generation South Dublin and the OPW/Pearse Museum.
DECLARE & PROTEST, an album of 10 songs performed and recorded by the SubSounds Music Collective, will be released on Bandcamp on Culture Night, Friday 18 September. All proceeds raised through the album launch will go to the Immigrant Council of Ireland.
The Pearse Museum will play host to readings relating to the 31 Articles from the Declaration of Human Rights, recorded by Tallaght Community Arts’ The Rising Generation.
A film documenting the project, created by Annette Barnaville and produced by Tallaght Community Arts, will premiere at 7.15pm on Culture Night 2020. For full details and to watch the film, visit the DECLARE & PROTEST website.