Through music, a national nonprofit, started by two women who’ve been friends since high school, is trying to raise awareness and help grassroots efforts to fight human trafficking.
Songs Against Slavery is putting on its 25th benefit concert Tuesday night, Sept, 27, at Wichita State University. The concert will feature SHEL, a group of four Colorado sisters who’ve been gaining national and international attention, along with local trio En Power and Light. Musician Grace Theisen, one of the founders of Songs Against Slavery, also will perform.
“We’re excited,” Theisen said. “We’ve never been to Kansas.”
But they know that the problem is very real in Wichita, where reportedly 400 youth ages 12 to 14 are at risk every year for sex exploitation or trafficking. The concert, sponsored by WSU’s Campus Ministry Connect, will benefit WSU’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking, whose mission is to end abuse and sex exploitation through research, consulting with community groups and helping victims escape their situation.
“I truly believe there is no worse thing that can happen to a person,” said Lauren Lancaster, co-founder of Songs Against Slavery. “It affects every single part of you. A researcher has said the trauma is like being a victim of the Holocaust.”
Lancaster and Theisen are high school friends from near Kalamazoo, Mich., who founded Songs Against Slavery as freshmen in college. In 2014, after graduation, they took their awareness efforts full time, with Lancaster serving as executive director and Theisen in charge of artist relations, booking concerts throughout the country from their base in Nashville, Tenn.
The headliner for WSU’s concert will be a familiar one for some. In a last-minute booking that brought them to WSU two years ago, SHEL – billed as a virtuoso indie-folk band – drew about 300 people, said Jonathan Flesher, director of WSU’s Campus Ministry Connect. Flesher has been involved in local anti-trafficking efforts, as well, working on the Wichita Children’s Home street outreach team and a statewide roundtable forum with Karen Countryman-Roswurm, now the executive director of WSU’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking.
SHEL is gaining attention in the music industry, having been named No. 16 on iTunes alternative chart and No. 13 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart – a listing of up-and-coming albums – earlier this year. NPR had high praise for the four home-schooled sisters’ “awesome” cover – and very different version – of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” which is on the group’s second full-length album, “Just Crazy Enough.”
Dave Stewart, a British musician, songwriter and record producer who is perhaps best known for having paired with Annie Lennox as the Eurythmics, called SHEL “a DIY sort of band of the future.”
The group’s name is the acronym formed by using the first letters of each sister’s name: violinist and guitarist Sarah, keyboard and piano player Hannah, mandolin and guitar player Eva, and drummer and beatboxer Liza. All four do vocals as well.
En Power and Light, a local trio that describes its sound as “a mixed bag, including folk/blues/soul steeped in rich three-part harmony,” will open for SHEL. Members are guitarists Paul and Scott Fowler and cajon player Lezlee Herd.
“We always try to have a local opener,” said Theisen, who will be the second opening act.
In between sets, SAS and individuals from WSU’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking will talk about the issue of human trafficking and share information about what’s happening locally to fight against this modern-day form of slavery.
“People often have the perception this happens only oversees, but this will give them information that it’s happening right in their hometown and how they can get involved,” said Lancaster of Songs Against Slavery.
Songs Against Slavery
Where: East patio, Rhatigan Student Center, Wichita State University (rain location: CAC Theater)
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27; doors open at 7 p.m.
What: A concert featuring Colorado indie-folk band SHEL, local trio En Power and Light, and Grace Theisen to raise awareness and funds for efforts to fight human trafficking. Part of the proceeds will benefit WSU’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking.
Tickets: $15 general admission, $5 for WSU faculty and staff, free for students with ID. Available online at songsagainstslavery.org/events/ or at the door.