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Singer, songwriter and producer Morley hails from Jamaica, Queens, in New York City, but she has traveled around the world to foster social change through her music. She has performed for notable world leaders, including the Dalai Lama, former South African president Nelson Mandela and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Her new album, Undivided, comes out Tuesday. It blends world rhythms with folk, soul and pop. It's inspired by a personal trip to Paris and parts of North Africa — places she journeyed to after the death of a family member.
"I had an opportunity to kind of, you know, use music and feel the music as a tool for healing," she tells guest host Jacki Lyden.
During Morley's time in the Sahara Desert, she participated in the Nomad Women Festival. She worked with performers from Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania and Ghana. Elders from different tribes and hundreds of children also joined, Morley says.
"It was just a phenomenal experience, and I decided to stay longer [in the Sahara]. And in that time, I wrote probably like 30 songs, just, you know, from being there and being in that expansiveness of the desert, and the sunrises, the sunsets," she says.
Her song "To Begin Again" was shot in the Sahara and in the High Atlas Mountains of the Ourika Valley in Morocco.
"I think in our culture [in America], it is not encouraged to stop and start again, and really start from the unknown," Morley says. "I think we're encouraged to buy something to feel better, or to fill ourselves with words or food or partnership, you know, that's not serving us. It's just — sometimes we just need to stop and actually grow again."
Growing As An Artist
Morley has grown a diverse body of work. She began her career as a dancer and has been, at different points in her life, a model, poetry writer and choreographer.
"What really shifted my understanding of my potential placement in the world of art is when I had a chance to choreograph a show for Max Roach. ... It was just this incredible production with all these masters," she says. "You know, every day in rehearsal, I watched the process and I learned the songs that were from a civil rights protest album called We Insist! And I heard that real cry for change through music, and I heard that cry within myself, within that production."
Inspiring Change, Unity And Hope
Morley aims to inspire others through her song "Be the One." The song is directly rooted in her work with teens from international conflict zones, including the Middle East, Northern Ireland and South Africa. The work is done through the program Face to Face/Faith to Faith, which flies participants to New York City for two weeklong workshops.
"We discuss issues of religious conflict, identity and their potential of being future peacemakers and present peacemakers in their community and in their countries," says Morley. "And a lot of the kids are living in townships or in refugee camps. And then you also have very wealthy kids."
She says the kids go from sitting in opposite ends of the lunchroom to having conversations and crushes, and then weeping when they must say goodbye.
"I got to really witness real courage, real humility. These kids have a willingness to open doors that have been boarded up long before they were born and look to see what's possible behind those doors," Morley says.
Hope is a strong theme in her new album. "The word 'hope' for me is always infused with action. My big inspiration for hope is the courage that I read about from people from all over the world, or that I see on a daily basis from the kids I get to work with. Hope is like compassion to me. It's like possibility and living in possibility," she says.