NEW YORK—A Manhattan concert on Sunday, May 19 aims to inspire people to care about human rights. The event is the launch for ICONS UNITE, a new venture founded by human rights activist James Houston White, to discover and promote artists who use music to fight oppression.
“Music touches everybody’s heart,” said White about his work with the group of about a dozen artists through ICONS, which will launch its YouTube channel this weekend. “It’s influenced me throughout my life, and it’s the perfect vehicle for social change.”
For their Sunday event, the organization is partnering with the makers of a documentary about the persecution of Falun Gong in China called “Free China: The Courage to Believe.” The award-winning documentary produced by Michael Perlman, will have its theatrical release on June 7 in New York City at the Quad Cinema. The practice of Falun Gong, which involves gentle exercise and a teaching of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance, has been persecuted in China since 1999, with thousands of practitioners tortured to death, and hundreds of thousands of arbitrary arrests, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
The film, which is not yet rated but is advertised as suitable for ages 12 and up, will have a 7-day run.
One reason for the partnership between the ICONS and “Free China” is their very similar core principles of freedom of belief, freedom of speech and ending human trafficking. White said that forced organ harvesting isn’t typically included in the category of human trafficking, but he hopes he can change that.
“It’s a new problem we’ve become aware of, especially in China,” he said. “Falun Gong practitioners, house Christians and Tibetan Buddhists are three groups that are targeted for forced organ harvesting.”
But he’s aware that he’s working against a combination of common misperceptions and misinformation.
“A lot still think that forced organ harvesting is an urban legend,” he said. “My hope is to find artists who are already writing music about these causes or who want to be writing music about these causes.”
ICON artists are currently based in the United States, but they will be doing monthly events and streaming videos on ICONS’s YouTube channel. They want to build a live as well as virtual community of musicians who are “heart-centered.”
ICONS works with all genres of musicians, including everything from hip-hop to pop to classical, and even one rapper, Seth Hirsch.
White is hopeful that the power of music will be a force for change.
“We’ve seen it in the course of history, where anthems for freedom have inspired countries and inspired people to work together,” he said. “My hope is to find artists who are already writing music about these causes or who want to be writing music about these causes.”
Sunday’s concert will feature about three hours of performances by four rock and folk-rock groups as well as Tony Chen, the acclaimed composer of the “Free China” movie score. It will be at Susan Sarandon’s SPiNYC Ping Pong Social Club at 48 East 23rd Street on May 19 from 8–11 p.m. The event is open to the public, and VIP tickets are $35, while general admission is $15.
“We want to be a megaphone for artists to fight oppression worldwide with their music,” said White.