© 2019 Songs in the Key of Free. Photos © 2017 Gabriela Bulisova

WHO WE ARE 

Meet our members:

August Tarrier is a community arts activist and a leader in carceral arts programming.  She is the founder of Songs in the Key of Free, a program that challenges mass incarceration through collaborative arts practice and by creating partnerships with inside artists through musicianship and songwriting, and of the Superheroes Project, an arts-based workshop for survivors of sexual trauma. Her primary focus as an artist is to provide opportunities for all of us to be in charge of our own stories, and to direct how we are represented in story to the culture at large.

Brian Farrow performing with Gangstagrass

Brian Farrow is the producer of the Songs in the Key album, which is a song cycle addressing mass incarceration recorded inside a maximum-security prison in Montgomery, PA. Brian is a multi-instrumental and multi-genre musician out of North Omaha, Nebraska. He currently tours with Gangstagrass, a hip-hop and bluegrass fusion band, and the Grammy Award-winning Dom Flemons, the American Songster, and is on his recently released Black Cowboys album on the Smithsonian Folkways Label. He also performs with groups like the trad jazz-based Capital Focus Jazz Band headed by David Robinson, the hardbop-inspired Krewetet, headed by Alvin Trask, Arabic folk experimentalist Huda Asfour, bluesman Jonny Grave, the R&B stylings for Tara Trinity, Prince George’s Philharmonic, Zambian rock musician Sitali Syowle, and many more.

Funmi Babalola is a recent Computer Science graduate and has been in Philadelphia for just under a year. Throughout her life she has been involved with helping lower income communities gain access to the things easily taken for granted: shoes, clothes, bikes and education materials. Growing up in Ghana, she was taught to always give back and help her neighbors. Her mother would bring her along to charitable events she hosted and by 14, Funmi founded her first non-profit organization, with some friends from school. Through Youth of Hope they would raise donations from partnering schools - and their own closets - to donate over holidays, especially Christmas.

She believes music as a means of storytelling opens the door to empathy. By joining this movement, she hopes to help bring the voices of the inside out. She supports Songs as tech guru, working on many platforms, such as social media, databases, and websites.  

Outside musicians

At 12, John Francis started writing, recording, and performing. Son of ministers and musicians, Francis grew up with folk, rock, and gospel music at the center of his life. At 18, he enrolled as a Literature and World Religions major at Messiah College near Harrisburg, PA. There he immersed himself in the classics of poetry and prose, honing his craft as a songwriter. After graduating, Francis traveled to Ireland where the musical traditions of his family’s homeland added more fuel to the fire. While living in Philadelphia, Francis released the critically acclaimed “Strong Wine & Spirits”. With the single “Heavy, Heavy Love”, the record garnered extensive radio play in the North East. Drawing on the deep waters of Rock n roll, Folk, Country, and Gospel music, Francis conjures the spirits of his eloquent brand of songwriting and passionate live shows.

Alexa Gold (Alexis Simmons) is a highly requested background singer for a wide variety of acts, such as Hip-hop/Soul singer Jaguar Wright (the Roots Crew & Jay-Z Unplugged), Cee Knowledge (aka Doodlebug of Digable Planets) and the Cosmic Funk Orchestra. In 2008, she established herself as a soulful House singer, writing "Selene-The Goddess of the Moon" (Phuture Sole Recordings) and several House singles with StealVybe productions, which extended her musical reach from Philadelphia to South Africa. She co-produced her first independent R&B/Soul project "The Art of Seduction," and in 2010 she co-founded an all-female Performance trio called The Femme-mynistiques, an alt-soul devoted to the Divine Feminine. Their eponymous EP is Here Comes the Femme-mynistiques. Her most recent project, an EP, is titled Audio Therapy.

J. Smith (Jordan Hobson-Smith) is an emcee from the Philadelphia area. The Main Line Times says, “Greater Philadelphia artist J. Smith brings the positivity and uplifting sound back to hip hop, while still remaining relevant.” Smith’s most recent single is M.O.N.E.Y. and his forthcoming album is titled Goin’ Up.

Miriam Davidson has been Artistic Director of ANNA Crusis Women’s Choir since 2012. A multi-instrumentalist/vocalist, singer-songwriter, author, recording artist as well as choral director, she joined synagogue choir rehearsals with mom and dad at age five. She is proud of this thoughtful and passionate choir more than she can say. As a performer she has toured extensively throughout the US, garnered many awards from both the Folk and LGBTQ communities and has recorded and co-produced eight CDs, several of which have won national awards. Her favorite instruments are accordion and banjo and she is proficient on both. For the past eight summers, she has led a pick-up choir of seventy people at a Unitarian Universalist summer institute, who, after four short rehearsals, sing their hearts out to a standing ovation crowd. She has directed the Festival Choir at the National Women’s Music Festival, is Music Director at the Unitarian Congregation of West Chester, as well as Makhelat Micha’el Community Choir at Mishkan Shalom.

ANNA Crusis Women’s Choir is the country's longest running feminist choir.  In her forty-two year history, ANNA has sought to act as an agent of social change by empowering, challenging and uplifting audiences with music that inspires and transforms. ANNA stands alone as a community committed to musical excellence where women from all walks of life, musical experiences, economic backgrounds, sexual orientations, ages, racial and religious heritages can come together, united in the desire to create a place where they feel safe and supported. Over the years ANNA has been a home for dozens and dozens of women wanting community, friendship, support, family, and a home where music binds together, music that promotes a mission.  ANNA’s repertoire reflects the rich diversity of human lives and struggles. www.annacrusis.org

Documentary filmmakers & photographers

Gabriela Bulisova is a multimedia artist and documentary storyteller. Her intimate projects bridge the gap between fine art and documentary practices and focus on the impact of incarceration, the plight of refugees, and the aftermath of war and environmental disaster. Her commitment to these issues is fed by a passion to expand awareness and engender meaningful change. Bulisova’s work has been exhibited extensively in the United States and abroad, and she has received numerous grants and awards. She was awarded an MFA in Photography and Digital Imaging from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and she teaches photojournalism at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. Bulisova is a member of Women Photojournalists of Washington and Atlantika Collective. www.gabrielabulisova.com

Mark Isaac is an artist working in photography, video, and installation. His documentary work focuses on diverse social issues, including the impact of mass incarceration in the United States, the environmental health of our waterways, and village life in Central Europe. His fine art work focuses on our deep immersion in electronic media and our capacity for positive change in the contemporary moment. Isaac’s work has been exhibited in galleries in the United States and abroad, featured in photo festivals and conferences, and published in print and online publications. He was awarded an MFA in Photography and Digital Imaging from the Maryland Institute College of Art and studied extensively at the Corcoran College of Art + Design and the Smithsonian Institution. He is a member of Atlantika Collective. www.markisaac.net