Harnessing the Power of the Musical Alphabet

3-18-2015 2-42-26 PM

For Sean B. Cohen, “it’s what made sense.”

In 2010, Sean and a few of his friends founded Jam for Justice, a Montreal-based organization combining social justice and music through benefit concerts for a variety of causes. It’s unclear what, if anything, served as a catalyst for Cohen to establish this organization. What is clear though is that, at that time, he was a young man filled with equal parts passion and disillusion.

Just in his first year of CÉGEP, he was already “frustrated at everything.” After years of effort advocating for a medley of different social justice causes, he saw no tangible results. Through it all, music weaved in and out of his life, consoling his disillusionment, serving as a much-needed constant and unfailing outlet. Music has always been therapeutic to him. Starting from age five, it never failed to surprise him in a pleasant way. For Sean, an hour in front of the piano was nothing less than therapy.

It’s unsurprising that music became the heart of his passion. The closest thing to an epiphany he had was during his experience performing side-by-side with musicians in Cuba. He realized that music is something that transcends boundaries of languages, causes, and ends. There may be a million different causes to fight for, but the pain, vexation, and courage to fight against an injustice – whether it is homelessness in Montreal or persecution in Cuba – is a similar creature. Expressed through a musical alphabet, the expression of the emotional strife that underscores struggles for social justice worldwide is universal.

Though it was founded first and foremost to support social justice through music, Jam for Justice gradually came to support music as a cause in and of itself. On its own, the promotion and preservation of music is a cause to fight for: a necessity for social development. Throughout our talk, Sean continually emphasized the importance of creating opportunities for musicians. Not only does Jam for Justice exist to raise funds for worthy causes, it exists also to give exposure to budding musicians. “We don’t mind first time performers because we believe in potential.” Not only are musicians given opportunities to perform, they are also given an opportunity to support social development and well-being. To Cohen, musicians are untapped resources, and Jam for Justice helps to foster passion for different causes. Though organization may have been borne of frustrations from social justice causes, it has caught on another objective; Cohen and others followed this instinct, and pursued this alternate philosophy.

The newest initiative of Jam for Justice is in line with such thinking: an album called Just Jammin. It features 18 individual musical acts who came together, volunteered their time, and contributed music they wrote. All proceeds will go towards On Rock Community services, a community organization which works to provide various resources to the West Island community. To Cohen, the fact that this CD has brought together these individuals is a testament to his belief that music is a powerful way to bring people together.

Innovation doesn’t always stem from eureka moments or profound epiphanies. Oftentimes, it’s a steady build-up of frustration, elucidation, failures, and transcendence. More often than not, the initiatives that change the landscape – like how Jam for Justice changed the landscape for musicians in Montreal – are flexible and organic. Innovation is a living, breathing thing. Giving such initiatives room to grow, to adapt and play out is often the best way to harness resources, along with the unique benefits they have to offer.

Just Jammin’ can be ordered or downloaded using the discount code: bullandbear25