- Hi Danielle.
- Hey Ali.
How have you been?
(Ali laughing) - My daughter and I are still really into Broadway, and musicals.
Music has been a big part of helping me through.
(little girl laughs) - I think the playlist that's really been making me feel joyful and happy is one that I call Shower Jams.
(Ali laughing) - Really hyper, up-tempo music that I play, so that every morning it feels like I have a little bit of a commute.
- What I'm so excited to explore is what's being created now.
(mellow music) - So, today we'll be looking at musicians who are using their artistry and their craft to respond to this current moment.
(modern, mellow music) (modern, mellow music) - Today's one of those days.
I feel really bad.
I don't see any hope, I don't see where this is going.
- [Ali] Music producer Ricky Reed was feeling the same way a lot of Americans were in March.
Worried, and afraid.
- I don't know what day it is, what time it is.
Time is a flat circle, bro.
- [Danielle] He's worked with an impressive roster of artists, including Halsey, Kesha, Leon Bridges, and last year he hit a career high.
- 2019 was the year of Lizzo.
♪ Hair toss ♪ ♪ Check my nails ♪ - [Interviewer] We're here with Ricky Reed!
- My name was getting more out there, and people are knowing who I am.
- The Grammy goes to Lizzo!
(crowd cheering) - [Ali] But like all of us, this year changed everything.
- It's like dystopian.
Feels like somebody's screaming with a pillow over their mouth.
Just to sort of get through the day.
The world that I had worked so hard to build for myself, you know, was- was collapsing.
You know, my first thought was, well, what can I do during this time?
♪ I'm so live ♪ ♪ Even though I feel ♪ a little dead inside ♪ A livestream!
That's what we need!
You know, me and ten thousand others.
Welcome to Nice Live.
Wow, look how untanned my underarms are.
My name is Ricky Reed.
This is a show where I attempt to show you that you're not the only sad one.
- [Ali] Ricky went live multiple times a week and it eventually helped him to get through each day.
- Broadcasting inspiration, screaming into the void.
Let me know how you're feeling on a scale of one to ten.
Decimal point included.
Thought I was sort of providing a service, almost.
We could all gather, process this.
Should we do a group exhale?
(Ricky exhales) (rapid drum tempo) - I started working on music in the middle of a livestream.
I'll just show you guys what I do, here's how I produce.
I'm gonna make a drum beat, I'm gonna do this, do that, you know?
Two, three, and... (mellow beat) - The tenth one that I did, oh, I had had the hardest, hardest day, and I was working on a song.
♪ Just take your time ♪ ♪ Count your blessings ♪ ♪ Just lay right here for a second ♪ - It cracked me open, and I cried.
That was when the whole thing changed.
- What up?
Dude, you killed it!
- I was gonna start making my first album in seven years.
What up, guys?
- What's going on?
- This is a community album.
Terrace, are you there?
- I'm right here.
- There were days where I needed to reach out to my closest friends, and then you have some people that I've been fans of for years.
Dave Longstreth, the Dirty Projectors.
- What's happening, man?
- Jim James, singer of the band My Morning Jacket.
One of my heroes.
- I just always hope that the music is a source of joy to people, yeah, 'cause that's what it is to me.
(mellow music) (mellow music) ♪ If I had only known how ♪ long I wouldn't see you ♪ - The song Us (How Sweet It Was) is a story about missing being around people.
And, to me, it was a love song to humanity.
♪ What I would give tonight ♪ to be right there beside you ♪ - [Ali] Ricky had an idea to make a music video using his audience's experiences during the pandemic.
- [Danielle] And a woman who documented her harrowing experience on a sailing trip across the Atlantic reached out, and Ricky featured her footage in the video.
- Right when this thing was heating up, not only was she missing her love, but she almost lost her life.
- I also felt a lot of guilt, texting friends who are just losing their minds, their hearts, and people they love.
- Of course they talked all about it in the livestream, so I had to drop in.
I think so many of us, we're experiencing that same thing.
The guilt, the not having a choice.
I don't have to cross the Atlantic, but some of the people that I love are just, like, miles away from me, and I can't be with them.
- This is your intro music!
- Oh yeah, let's go, hey!
- This wouldn't have been made under any other circumstances.
It's a reminder to never again take for granted how lucky we were to just exist around each other.
All right, see you soon.
Love you guys.
- Ricky started this pandemic feeling so isolated, and used technology to connect.
That's what music does, it quite literally syncs us together.
Our heads will bob in unison to a beat.
(mellow music) (percussion instrument clanging) - [Danielle] Music can be a personal touchstone for a moment in our lives.
But it can also become something of an anthem that defines an era.
♪ We shall overcome ♪ - We Shall Overcome, that's been called by the Library of Congress one of the most powerful songs of the 20th century, and it's a defining song for the Civil Rights Movement.
This year, people have been protesting in record numbers, and a large amount of protest music has been created to help define this moment.
I Can't Breathe by H.E.R.
♪ I can't breathe ♪ - I Just Wanna Live by twelve-year-old viral sensation Keedron Bryant.
♪ And I see what's being done ♪ ♪ To my kind ♪ - And Lockdown by Anderson .Paak ♪ The people are rising ♪ ♪ We thought it was a lockdown ♪ - [Protestor] Black Lives Matter!
- [Ali] We wanted to talk to someone for whom music is the message.
- What's up, Self-Evident, I'm Madame Gandhi, visiting you from New York City.
(music playing off of electronic soundboard) - [Danielle] Madame Gandhi has played percussion for M.I.A and Thievery Corporation.
- [Ali] She sees herself first as an activist focused on feminism and then as a musician.
- We always assume our own powerlessness but never our own power.
Folks ask me, you know, "Are you a musician or are you an activist?
Which is the priority?"
It's actually my activism did come first.
It's a really emotional time.
Actually, I don't ever think I've cried so much at a protest.
(drums pounding) - Usually I find myself really hyped to be on the road, to travel, to speak, to perform, and with those opportunities no longer available because of the quarantine, I've never made so much music in my life!
Resistance music is about saying your truth.
In 2020, during the time of civil unrest, I find music one of the most powerful ways to teach, to empower, in a way that we really haven't seen before.
Settle back in and hang out with us as we perform this virtual show for you.
This is called Waiting For Me, I'm Madame Gandhi.
(high intensity electronic music) (high intensity electronic music) ♪ When I wake up in the morning ♪ ♪ Hit space bar and start recording ♪ ♪ My mom says that she'll adore me ♪ ♪ The earth is still waiting for me ♪ (high intensity electronic music) ♪ Waiting for me ♪ - Waiting For Me is a global protest anthem about moving away from restricted, oppressive spaces and into liberation.
♪ Brown girls of the world they need us ♪ ♪ Truth is love and love will free us ♪ (high-energy electronic music) ♪ Love will free us ♪ - I want my audience to ask, "What does my oppression look and feel like?
And what does my freedom look and feel like?"
♪ I've been livin' in the wild now ♪ ♪ When you taste freedom you're ♪ not tryna get tied down ♪ ♪ Hear it in the words I ♪ say and the way I walk ♪ ♪ I'm not part of their lies now ♪ - The beat, the hook, the melodies, those things pull you in.
And then you might listen and say, "Oh wow, I'm learning something!"
I love having my friends remix some of my work.
You know, jamming to it.
That part feels like, you know, music enables collective action despite having to be in isolation.
And in that way, it's actually one of the most effective, positive viruses.
(high-intensity electronic music) (high intensity electronic music) - I hope that when folks listen to my music, I honestly want them to feel loved, and encouraged, and seen.
Go and do your thing, that's what I actually feel.
(high-tempo drum beat) - Thank you.
- PBS American Portrait is... - A platform where... - People can go to in order to share their experiences.
- So join in.
- Go to pbs... - .org... - /americanportrait.
(soft violin music) (gentle piano music)