Following a horrific period of gender-based violence, and increased protests nationwide and advocacy, singer/songwriter Stephanie "Stef" Kalloo joined the cause with her work in the new advocacy group Do BeTTer Nah. But she also felt an urgent tug to represent her stand with music. And that tug led her to pen the song Leave She Alone and collaborate with D Piano Girl (Johanna Chuckaree).
Kalloo told Newsday during an e-mail interview the catalyst of the song was a build-up of instances.
"The most impactful incidents recently were with Ashanti Riley and Andrea Bharatt. I believed we all felt it as women and we felt rage and hurt. The nation showed that and I was compelled to release that emotion."
Asked about the writing process, Kalloo said usually a hook will come to her first in her head or just the first line.
"With this song, it poured out very easily from me."
She explained the name and concept for the song was inspired by designer and former Miss TT Universe Anya Ayoung Chee's previous campaign, four years ago, which had the hashtag Leave She Alone.
"I contacted Anya and she gave her blessing on it."
She recalled she did not have to ponder a lot about the lyrics because they came from a genuine place.
"I wanted to convey the message of togetherness as women. 'Woman I am and We are her' were the lyrics I chose to complete the chorus and song itself because it sends a powerful note reminding all women that we are here for each other."
She also spoke to parents about teaching their sons respect and the general public, including taxi drivers, "affirming that we all have a responsibility to protect the women in our society."
From her soul
On the choice of D Piano Girl Johanna for the piano and background vocals, Kalloo said she "see(s) a lot of soul, love and power in Johanna when she's performing and I always thought she was a strong woman."
She added: "I admire her work so this was a no-brainer in asking her to jump on this project with me. She accompanied this song so beautifully and I'm so happy she jumped on it immediately with full support."
Johanna recalled Kalloo sent her a recording of her playing the guitar and singing this song and she was deeply moved by the message she wanted to convey.
"Stef has a wonderful and pure spirit and her music comes from her soul. I was touched that she reached out to me to collaborate on this project and I said yes immediately!"
On the lyrics, Johanna said they are very relevant and reflective of what's happening in our society today, and what has been happening for a while.
"There is strength in numbers and this collaboration is no different."
She noted she had the opportunity to also sing background vocals on the song and she was especially moved when they both sing
You do better, never let her down, don't let them get her, or take away her crown. Our voices raise up (sing)!"
She said the end of the chorus, Woman I am, and we are her, is a profound statement that "we are never alone in anything that we do."
"It means that collectively, regardless of gender, age, race, we have a responsibility to do better – be our sister's keeper."
Johanna said she always wants to inspire and uplift people through her music, and for Leave She Alone she tried to create a powerful and emotional accompaniment that matches the lyrics and message of the song.
"The melody and lyrics that Stef created for this song are so powerful and soulful and I wanted to have the piano match and support that I wanted to support Stef in bringing this song to life, I also wanted her to feel personally supported as she, in turn, has made me feel supported by reaching out to me to collaborate on this song. The two of us coming together on this track is something that I will always hold dear to my heart."
The song and music video were both released on March 7 and Kalloo said so far, everyone has been showing a lot of love for it. She added Antonio Achee did a wonderful job with directing and editing the production.
"I give love and thanks to Jeanelle Frontin (from Do BeTTer), Kevin Licorish from Borderless Music group and Geiron Mang (Mang Productions) for their superb music production on this project. I write from a selfless place now where I feel like once a song is out, it's not mine anymore. This is for everyone to connect and correlate their own emotions with change for the future."
Kalloo expressed hope the song would be a wake-up call and also a lesson in some way for the citizens of TT and even to others abroad.
"I want women to feel safe to use their voices and to speak up not only for themselves but for other women. We have to support wherever and whenever we can."
Johanna said there has been an outpouring of support for the song and music video on social media and it has been re-posted many times. She added the radio stations have also been giving it time on the airwaves and they are grateful for that.
She expressed hope the song will continue to bring awareness of gender-based violence in TT.
"Music is an incredible medium for expression and I hope that by seeing two women come together to deliver this message through song other women will know that we are never alone, that there is strength in numbers and that no voice is too small. It feels like somewhat of an anthem for me. When I listen to it and sing along, it gives me strength. I hope other listeners feel the same way as well."
Asked what needs to happen to reduce gender-based violence in TT, Johanna said there have been conversations at high levels about self-defence mechanisms such as pepper spray, and about the regulation of public transport systems, which can aid in preventing some of these crimes.
"These conversations are a good thing and must continue to happen with clear action plans for achieving these goals. (But) sometimes we only look to the authorities for solutions, and while these solutions are important, we can also be agents of change in our own lives. In our homes and schools and communities, as parents, friends, siblings, families, educators – we can each do our part to change our mindset and the mindsets of others, little by little. This is how we evolve."
And Kalloo has been actively involved in seeking to reduce gender-based violence through Do BeTTer Nah. She explained the group happened organically via social media when some "strong, caring and opinionated women" came together to voice their concerns and provide solutions and suggestions to citizens, business owners, and the Government in the form of a working document.
"Jeanelle Frontin, Krista Clarke and I are the main admins but it's a full team effort of women from all walks of life."
She said Do BeTTer Nah recently aligned with Women in Carnival, Together WI, Feminitt, and Drive Against Crime for a peaceful protest around the Queen's Park Savannah and a motorcade from South Park to Port-of-Spain.
"We plan to exercise our voices in more creative and impactful ways for the near future."
And what does Kalloo believe TT needs to end the scourge of gender-based violence?
She replied: "I think teaching empathy at home and schools can result in some major mindset changes whereby compassion and respect become a norm. Harsher punishment for crimes also needs to be in place to deter all the inhumane acts from happening.
"Families are hurting and I think not enough is being done to give them the justice they deserve. I also want women to look out for each other. Give co-workers lifts home when you can, report incidents when you see something happening. Be there to listen and assist in some way if someone close to you is reaching out about domestic violence. It takes a collective effort for a change."
The Leave She Alone music video is currently on YouTube Page and the song will eventually be on all major online streaming platforms.