Daniel Roumain's Musical Activism

Roumain’s compositions are grounded in classical training and modern social awareness.

Daniel Roumain: Artistic self-expression is the one place where you can simultaneously be selfish and selfless.

In the world of composer, violinist, and activist, Daniel Bernard Roumain, creativity serves the common good, the violin is a weapon, and music is a language. His most recent composition for Opera Philadelphia, We Shall Not Be Moved, is about the 1985 bombing of a black liberation group in West Philadelphia. Writing it, he says, was an act of translation. 

Roumain: For me, the process of writing this opera started with the words, and, specifically, the libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. In those words are clear rhythms. In those rhythms are clear musical ideas. Yeah, so I always say that I'm kind of mining. I'm just pulling out the music that's already in the words.

The son of Haitian immigrants, Roumain says he owes his finely-tuned ear to parents who demonstrated how to be fully engrossed in music.

Roumain: Not only did they love music, but they sang in the house. And that's actually really important, because they embodied the music that they loved, and that made a big impression on me.

Today, Roumain's goal is to spread a message of music's power to society as a whole.

Roumain: I teach a class called “Artists as Activists,” and we study artists like Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, even Prince, who really put their work out there, and put their ideas out there, and really took a stand. And, I feel, I'm trying to make a connection in many ways—not only towards social change, but towards activism in my work.