Salem: Music with a Message

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008

Todd Anders Johnson writes songs that reflect relevant issues.

"Whether it be the recession, or issues going on with health care, quality of education, the disparity between the number of millionaires and the poverty level in the U.S. ... I think there's issues to be addressed in our country," he said.

Johnson will perform his socially-conscious style of music with his band, Salem, on Friday and Saturday, April 18 and 19, at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar.

Salem members include Milo Matthews on bass and vocals, Christian Mockett on guitar and Johnson playing drums and singing lead vocals.

"I like to raise provocative issues within the music and if the music grooves enough that people can be inspired to want to move, then, hopefully, they'd be able to appreciate and identify with some of the lyrics," Johnson said.

On his Website he describes his music as "funk, hip-hop, jazz and Afro-Cuban idioms infused with diverse lyrical content."

One of his songs, "Saragua," was adapted from a poem written by Nigerian poet Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hanged at the hands of the Nigerian government in 1995 for his political beliefs. Johnson put the poem to music and is now working with a variety of international organizations, including U2 singer Bono's One campaign, to feature it.

"There's a lot of political stuff going on (in Nigeria) with U.S.-based oil corporations, poverty and corrupt governments and our U.S. government supporting that," Johnson said.

The song has a Dave Matthews-style of rolling rhythms and groove percussion, with a strong poetic presence in the lyrics. "We'll speak no more of coups and colonels and raids at the dead of night," the song says.

Another song, "Harvest," has strong reggae influences and tells about love in the larger sense. It ends repeating the word for "peace" in both Hebrew and Arabic: "Shalom-Salaam, it's been too long. Shalom-Salaam, it's been too long."

Johnson, a snowboarder from Vermont, has found a way to marry his two loves - snowboarding and music. After having a song featured in a Warren Miller ski movie, he has developed more connections in the ski-snowboard world and is now performing at events like the X Games and King of the Mountain, as well as smaller venues in and around ski areas. He doesn't enter the competitions and doesn't write snowboarding songs, but he is sponsored by a snowboard company.

"I was able to contact my favorite snowboarding company in the world, (LibTech) from Seattle, where I lived for 13 years - a very eco-conscious manufacturer with some really cutting-edge technology," he said. "I've been doing what I can to fly banners and let people know about their company."

He is also pursuing a bio-diesel company with the hope of touring in a bio-diesel vehicle.

Johnson has a background in geography, international policy, urbanization and issues related to hunger and poverty in developing countries. He said he's all about trying to bring about positive changes in the world.

"I think there's a lot of room for further community organizing and building coalitions across different fronts these days, more than ever. And that's what I attempt to do with my music," he said.

• Teri Tibbett is a writer, musician and snowboarder living in Juneau. She can be reached at

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