Lula Wiles calls out for revolution on pointed new album, ‘Shame and Sedition’.
On their new release, 'Shame and Sedition,' Lula Wiles addresses our current political and social landscape, naming the tendrils of racial capitalism, misogyny, and colonialism that permeate the media and our lives. Available May 21st from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the band's remarkable and poignant third album showcases songs that capture America’s reckoning around its own narrative, in conjunction with the trio’s new, evolved sound.
Written entirely in lockdown, Isa Burke, Ellie Buckland, and Mali Obomsawin’s latest work was recorded over three weeks in early summer 2020 in a farmhouse in the Wabanakiak homeland. As the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, social isolation, death, soaring levels of poverty, and racial injustice, Lula Wiles felt an urgency to produce a record that reflects the raw tension of this moment and demands meaningful action.
The trio have also dialed in their sound to an even greater extent; in earlier iterations of the band, Lula Wiles earned praise from NPR, PAPER, and The Boston Globe for their three-part harmonies, which leaned heavily into folk and Americana. Today, Burke, Buckland, and Obomsawin, who originally connected at college, have embraced a brasher indie-rock aesthetic, with layers of piano, acoustic strums, expansive electric guitar, warm bass notes, and mid-tempo percussion. Even with this latest sonic dimension, each song is built around Lula Wiles’ pitch-perfect harmonies and incisive lyrics.
On ‘Shame and Sedition’s opening track, “In Dreams,” Obomsawin channels and responds to the words of the great James Baldwin. A citizen of the Abenaki Nation, she notes that “In Dreams” is a dedication to “all people fighting colonial oppression around the world.”
“We have been looted of our lands,” she says. “We have been looted of our lives and bodies. We have been looted of our labor. But we will never be looted of our fire — our right to reclaim what is ours, and our power to ignite revolution and liberation.”
Another track, “Everybody (Connected),” echoes the delicacy of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” in melody and spirit, with the observant lyrics, “Everybody wants to be connected to something bigger, all in all they want their paradise to grow to such a figure.”
Meanwhile, the harmony-driven “Do You Really Want the World to End,” which is co-written with drummer Sean Trischka, looks at allyship and inaction. The song describes the feeling of having to implore others to care about “people like me and my friends,” a group designation left up to the listener’s interpretation, and asks the listener: how can we help repair the damage being done to local communities, the world at large, and future generations?
Drawing sharp connections between colonization and capitalism — how the two revolve around each other and affect the haves and the have nots — ‘Shame and Sedition’ takes one of the wealthiest men in the world to task on “Oh My God.” Addressing Amazon kingpin Jeff Bezos, Lula Wiles sing pointedly, “I’ll admit that you’ve done pretty well so far / Did you think that you would end up where you are? / Do you think that you’re a god now, in your fancy cars? / Stepping over bodies, grinning like a movie star” before throwing out a warning: “Hunger is an engine, and anger is fuel.”
"The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible,” reads an opening quote from poet and social activist Toni Cade Bambara in the liner notes to ‘Shame and Sedition.’ The band identifies “shame” here as a number of things — an obstacle, a catalyst, a manipulative force, a power dynamic. It is what Burke, Buckland, and Obomsawin identify as a mechanism in the United States, a place that operates less as a country as it does a giant corporation grooming obedient servants. The pandemic has revealed the rot at our core, and Lula Wiles seek to address the myriad problems we face. Like so many artists before them — Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, CSNY, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, and too many more to name — Lula Wiles are unafraid to use their privilege and platform to shed light on some of the most pressing issues of our time.
“The interconnected legacy of colonialism and capitalism is long and ugly, and it reaches from illegitimate international borders all the way down to interpersonal relationships,” reads ‘Shame and Sedition’s liner notes. “We live in a world that often makes it difficult for us to be good to each other, and to ourselves. Perhaps in retrospect, we can read that story in all of the songs on this album. We hope that ‘Shame and Sedition’ will invite listeners into the uncomfortable, confrontational spaces where transformation happens.”
"The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” — Toni Cade Bambara
Shame, the bottomless, multi-dimensional burden of many. Shame, a concept foreign to these lands that has so pervasively announced itself here. Shame, both an obstacle and catalyst to solidarity. Shame, an impulse. Shame, which simmers in the bodies and minds of trauma survivors. Shame, a sinister and manipulative force that holds power over both colonizer and colonized. Shame, a power dynamic.
Sedition, the reclamation of power. Sedition, the divergence from legacies of orchestrated violence. Sedition, the strength to confront, to listen, to understand. Sedition, the strength to sit with shame. Sedition, the strength to trust or the courage to try. Sedition, an impulse. Sedition, the power of solidarity and the potential for healing.
These two concepts circle around and eclipse one another throughout this album, and in our lives today. How many ways can we perceive them, feel them, process and engage them? How many edges comprise the spheres of their influence? How can we liberate one another and ourselves?
We spent three weeks in early summer 2020 making Shame and Sedition in an old farmhouse in Wabanakiak, recording each day and taking turns cooking for one another each night. One workday ended around 1 AM, with Isa overdubbing the album’s loudest electric guitar performance from an upstairs bedroom, with the rest of the band outside, listening to it echo into the road. Another day, as we were recording the final chords of a good take, we heard the rain begin to pour onto the roof through our headphones, picked up through an omni mic in the attic.
Had things gone according to plan, we would have spent the prior months playing shows and festivals across this continent. Instead we’d been locked down in our separate homes, writing and developing these songs via shared Google docs and voice memos, and growing increasingly sure that it would be a long time before we played them for an audience. The uncertainty and isolation felt across the world during this time infused the songs and performances on this record with a strange urgency, a tension and rawness that feels closer and truer to our experiences than any other work we’ve done together. As we write this, so much remains unclear. But the conditions that give rise to these songs have existed since long before we were born. We have merely used this moment to offer our voices and thoughts on where we are and where we may go.
In Mali’s words, the album’s opening track “is inspired by the writing and expressions of the great James Baldwin, and by the common struggles of all people fighting colonial oppression around the world. We have been looted of our lands. We have been looted of our lives and bodies. We have been looted of our labor. But we will never be looted of our fire—our right to reclaim what is ours, and our power to ignite revolution and liberation.”
“Television,” written collaboratively in the studio based on a chorus written by Eleanor, examines the manufactured ignorance and division that is sold to us, and the violence that is often concealed from us—even as we are brought into it. On “Oh My God,” Isa shames and sneers at those who profit off their fellow humans’ labor and suffering, and suggests that their downfall should be so inevitable as to be laughable. Songs like “Mary Anne,” “Cold Water,” and “The Way That It Is” inhabit moments of release—the painful yet liberating process of letting go of harmful and unfulfilling relationships.
“Do You Really Want the World to End” was co-written by the band and Sean Trischka in hopes of exploring themes of allyship and inaction. Driven by Mali’s experiences—on the road and in personal relationships̶—of feeling like she has to beg others to care about “people like me and my friends,” the meaning of the chorus evolves throughout the song. Whose world is it that may be ending? As the “apocalypse” has already arrived for Indigenous and colonized peoples many times over, how can allies help repair those worlds? What silences and sickness must be overcome in order to clearly see and take care of one another? What about the future of all young people? What is required of the generations alive today to provide any future at all for “people like me and my friends”?
The interconnected legacy of colonialism and capitalism is long and ugly, and it reaches from illegitimate international borders all the way down to interpersonal relationships. We live in a world that often makes it difficult for us to be good to each other, and to ourselves. Perhaps in retrospect, we can read that story in all of the songs on this album. We hope that Shame and Sedition will invite listeners into the uncomfortable, confrontational spaces where transformation happens.
Lula Wiles - Live at Caffe Lena: Taking their name from a Carter Family song, this trio is deeply rooted in traditional folk music, but equally deep is their devotion to modern songcraft. Their songs span heartbreaky acoustic ballads to honky-tonk swagger to contemporary grit and back again, all anchored by powerful three-part vocal harmonies. The band members swap instruments and frontwoman duties, with Ellie Buckland (vocals/guitar/fiddle), Isa Burke (vocals/guitar/fiddle), and Mali Obomsawin (vocals/bass) each contributing their own singularly expressive vocals, instrumental lines, and songwriting. Onstage, the band gathers tightly around a single microphone for a spirited and emotionally resonant live show.
Caffè Lena offers extraordinary music in an intimate venue steeped in history. It has been in continuous operation longer than any other folk club in the USA. First opened in 1960 in Saratoga Springs NY, the Caffè's early years were entwined with the social movements of that era. Emerging artists such as Bob Dylan, The Freedom Singers, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris and Don McLean took their turn on the stage, alongside esteemed veterans such as Clarence Ashley, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James and Pete Seeger. The venue has been called “An American Treasure” by the Library of Congress, and has received recognition from the GRAMMY Foundation for its contribution to American music.
Photo Credits: (1ff) Lula Wiles (unknown/website).