Composer, vocalist, producer, and music director Tariq Al-Sabir shares some of the tracks that have fed his diverse musical portfolio—songs that celebrate hope, spawn ideas, or give permission to rage. On February 28 in the David Rubenstein Atrium, you can see excerpts from Al-Sabir's newest piece, #UNWANTED, a multimedia examination of Black people's navigation through social media and technology.


"Who's Watching the Watcher" by LaBelle

Just three years ago, I learned about the genius that is the group LaBelle (*facepalm*), largely because I've had the blessing to work with several artists who have been mentored by members of Labelle. This song, penned by Nona Hendryx on their 1976 album Chameleon, hit me right in the gut during a morning commute. I couldn’t stop listening for weeks. The refrain “Nobody seems to care when they got their share of the pie. Nobody seems to care until the waters rising high” ignited a revolution in me. "Who’s Watching The Watcher?" is a blast of rhetorical questions calling out oppressors and those question still deserve our attention.


"Village Ghetto Land" by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder is my favorite musician overall. There’s lots of Stevie influence all over #UNWANTED’s music. Stevie’s work makes us feel an incredibly wide range of emotions, even within one song. If you didn’t pay too much to the lyrics of "Village Ghetto Land," you might feel comforted and warm but the song's vivid text does not provide any hope; not even directions to hope like the end of "Living For The City." I think that's one of the things that makes this piece so unique and striking.


"Up on the Roof" by The Drifters

This King and Goffin classic, recorded by The Drifters, describes what it means to get away from all of the noise down below and retreat to a sacred place for rest and recharging. #UNWANTED references "the algorithm” quite a bit. The algorithm is exhausting. We explore "the algorithm” being many things, but generally it is all of the carefully crafted systems that trap us and make decisions for us. In one way or another we are always working for it and paying lots of attention to it. "On The Roof," like #UNWANTED’s Self-Care moments, is an ode to escaping “the algorithm.”


"Mad" by Solange

Like a lot of my peers, I really needed Solange’s A Seat at the Table. I think this album resonates with so many of us because it really does speak TO us and talks us through some harsh realities rather than just talk about them. "Mad" was the first song ever that made me really believe that I have the right to be angry, 'cause we “got a lot to be mad about". Finally, I have permission.


"I'm Going to Get My Baby Out of Jail" by Toshi Reagon

Toshi is a mentor and friend whose music has changed the way I approach life. Toshi covers this song, written in the 1960s by Len Chandler, on her most recent album SpiritLand. It is powerfully relevant today. When I listen I think about the thousands of black people in jail doing hard time for non-violent drug offenses and black activists in America and worldwide who have been wrongfully imprisoned for trying to make the world a more honest and less oppressive place. I also think about the many black people who have been wrongfully banned from their social media platforms for weeks and months at a time plainly for critiquing sexism, racism, and bigotry.


"Someday We'll All Be Free" by Donny Hathaway

Donny Hathaway is my favorite vocalist of all. This song means so much to me because it is written with mental health as its focus. The lyrics are written by Donny Hathaway’s friend Edward Howard, who cared for him deeply and wanted to encourage him. It has since become an anthem for freedom overall, but that doesn't take away at all from its original purpose.

Here are some more tracks that inspire me.


"Optimistic" by Sounds of Blackness

"You Haven't Dont Nothin'" by Stevie Wonder

"Fuck The Police" by N.W.A.

"Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holla)" by Marvin Gaye

"Weary" by Solange


Listen to the full playlist.