Out of Our Cells – Checking In

The Out of Our Cells project, which aims to collect songs by incarcerated composers in the DC jail and record them using local artists in the DMV, is in process, and going great.

Dunia and Aram kicked the project off with a visit to the DC Jail in November, where we recorded six different artists singing their own work a capella. We then reached out to our local network, and lined up eight different recording artists who are willing to arrange and perform the songs this spring.

In February, we returned to the DC jail to meet with our chosen composers, bringing along the students in SOC’s Musical Cultures & Industries class, an SOC PhD student, several of our recording artists, and a journalist from a national outlet. Once again, we recorded the composers performing their own songs, and they got a chance to tell their stories to the artists and students in the room.


In February and March, we have had three recording sessions. We kicked things off with Unikue, who arranged and performed incarcerated author Harold Cunningham’s poem “Find Our Missing Black Girls” in a neo-soul style. Then Dunia & Aram recorded incarcerated composer Dasani Dawson’s song “Jail Calls,” using a reggae soul style. Most recently, we recorded Rob Coltun and Jaja Bashengezi performing incarcerated composer Marquis “Lil Wok” Funderburk’s song “Dreamland” in a Congolese guitar style.

Next steps include five more recording sessions over the next two months, public release of the recordings, and public concerts featuring these artists and songs, as well as return visits to the DC Jail, to play the recordings for the composers, and (hopefully) to perform the songs live for the people incarcerated in the jail.

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