“It’s not the waking, it’s the rising.” With that softly delivered line, Hozier begins one of the hardest-hitting songs I’ve heard in a very long time. “It’s a song about protest songs,” he says, “It’s a thank you note to the spirit of protest.”
Hozier vaulted from obscurity to international acclaim with the roof-raising, anthemic 2013 hit ‘Take Me To Church’ which topped the charts in 12 countries, spent 23 consecutive weeks as #1 on the Hot Rock Songs chart in the U.S., and was a Grammy nominee for Song of the Year. Five years later with ‘Nina Cried Power,’ the now 28-year-old Irish singer/songwriter has delivered an adrenalized and indispensable song that name-checks a beloved roster of vital American artist/activists¹ whose legacies for songwriting, specifically songs of protest, inspired and embodied its creation. One of those artists is Mavis Staples (long ago of The Staples Singers), whose mighty roar irradiates Hozier throughout the recording (and who appears as one of the headset-wearing listeners in the attached video, first at 1:30). With acknowledgments accompanying the release of his video, Hozier also praised her with the note, “Thank you to Mavis Staples, for giving to the world a timeless example of how worthwhile the raising of one’s voice is, in song and in protest.” I later learned that all of the other seemingly random people shown in the video are actually an assemblage of present-day Irish social and political activists hearing the song for the first time, and whose intense and emotional reactions are genuine. That’s incredible. “This song was intended to honor the legacy of protest; to the artists who imbued their work with the vigor of dissent, and a reflection on the importance of that tradition in the context of the rights, and lives, we enjoy today,” declared Hozier. “My hope for this video is much the same.”
For certain, both the message and the music are extraordinary. And, well, extraordinarily powerful.
“It’s not the waking, it’s the rising / It is the grounding of a foot uncompromising / It’s not forgoing of the lie / It’s not the opening of the eyes / It’s not the waking, it’s the rising.”
Now, it is Hozier who cries power.
¹The song’s citations are to (in order): Nina Simone (the title’s inspiration), Billie Holliday, Mavis Staples, Curtis Mayfield, Patti LaBelle, John Lennon, James Brown, B.B. King, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie.
(A second video version showing Hozier, Staples, and all the musicians performing the song in studio was also too good to pass up including)