‘Let ’em out,’ Esperanza Spalding sings in Guantánamo protest video

11/18/2013 12:31 PM

09/26/2014 7:51 PM

Grammy-winning musician Esperanza Spalding has joined forces with human rights groups advocating closure of the Guantánamo prison camps in a new, protest music video that was released online Monday.

“What does in the name of freedom mean?” the bass player sings as she alternately dons red, white and blue attire during the five-minute video that features cameos by Stevie Wonder and Harry Belafonte to the refrain of “Let ’em out.”

Spalding, a bass player who straddles classical, jazz and pop, released the video as the Senate considers whether to continue restrictions on transfers from the prison camps in southeast Cuba.

As of Monday the prison held 164 captives, 84 of them approved for transfer in the first year of the Obama administration.

The video — entitled “We are America” — also features a shackled person in a trademark Guantánamo orange jumpsuit and black hood.

“In my America they don’t stand for this,” sings Spalding, who won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011. “We are America, in my America we take a stand for this.”

Spalding is known in political circles. She performed at a 2009 White House ceremony that honored Wonder with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for popular song, played the Obamas’ 2009 White House poetry jam as well as at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo City Hall when the president received his prize.

She’s also no stranger to Miami. She released a CD at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in 2008, performed in Miami at a Democratic National Committee reception in 2010 and was at the Knight Concert Hall in downtown Miami in April.

In comments released with the video, Spalding says she made the music video because she was moved by this year’s hunger strike at Guantánamo which engulfed more than 100 of the 164 captives there today. “I was touring in Europe and I was appalled and embarrassed about what was happening,” she said.

Twelve captives are still on hunger strike, according to Navy Cmdr John Filostrat, who said Monday that all 12 were “approved for e-feed,” using the detention center jargon for renourishment by nasogastric feeding tubes.

The Guantánamo prison has periodically provided fodder for the entertainment industry in its dozen years of existence — both pro and con — dating to a performance there by Charlie Daniels in 2002 and continuing through Harold and Kumar’s big screen escape from the prison in 2008.

At the Defense Department, spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale panned the politics if not the performance.

“While certainly an evocative performance,” he said, “the artists involved in this particular song and video leave out this crucially important piece of information: Until Congress changes the law regarding the transfer requirements for detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, the department will continue to humanely safeguard those in its charge there.”

The Pentagon spokesman added: “To be completely clear: We agree with the President. The facility is wildly expensive, it lessens cooperation with our allies, and keeping it open is outside of America’s best interests as it serves as a continued recruiting tool for extremists.”

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About Carol Rosenberg

Carol Rosenberg

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Carol Rosenberg reports on Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the place, policy, people, war court.


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