To guitarist and vocalist Peter Holland of the band Odette Magritte, the growing crisis in Darfur, western Sudan is “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
This is just one of many reasons he has become involved as an activist for those who live in Darfur, who have endured war, brutality, drought, and other ordeals for most of this decade.
Odette Magritte is one of several professional and amateur groups that will donate time and music on Saturday, June 9, at the Albert E. Hinds Community Plaza next to the Princeton Public Library for the Jam for Sudan benefit concert. Also performing will be professional musicians Sarah Donner, Radio Swamp, and Eric Ginsberg, and several high school bands including Jello the Opera from Franklin High School, A Lesser Evil, Atlas Ataxia from Princeton High School, Beatnik from West Windsor-Plainsboro South, and Zack Helwa.
It was Holland’s older sister Emily, communications officer for the International Rescue Committee, a Manhattan-based organization that helps refugees in Darfur among other places, who got him interested in Darfur. “I am by no means an expert on the situation there but I have taken more than a casual interest,” he says. “Through her involvement I am showing a very concerned awareness that a brother has for a sister who travels often to a very dangerous region.”
The fundraiser is the brainchild of Aislynn Bauer, a freshman at Princeton High School. She is one of the founders of RADD (Raising Awareness Destination: Darfur), a group that has been involved in raising money and consciousness of the Darfur situation for more than a year now.
Bauer says she first became conscious of the Darfur problem after her mother, Charlotte, took her to see the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” She was touched by the plight of the Rwandans and asked her mother what she could do to help. Charlotte Bauer suggested to her daughter that she get involved in the then-nascent crisis in Darfur.
She had read an article by New York Times columnist Nick Kristof that quoted a former senator, who encouraged everyone to send at least 100 letters to their Congressperson. If each member of Congress had received that many letters during the Rwandan crisis, America might have done something to stop the genocide.
“We can’t go to Darfur and make an impact directly,” says Bauer. “But we can do our part in raising awareness in our communities.” Her father, Dan, is director of communications for McCarter Theater.
She says that while she has no specific monetary goals for Jam for Sudan, the proceeds of the fundraiser will go to Doctors Without Borders, an international relief organization that has been working in Darfur since the beginning of the crisis.
So does Holland. The 25-year-old musician has a history of social involvement. His family story is one that could have been written in Hollywood. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Holland’s father, Lindsay, a musician and poet, was working as a roadie for Bob Dylan in the 1960s when his own father, who was in the oil business but not a rich oilman, suddenly died. “My dad had to take over the business, Barney Holland Oil,” says Holland. “It was a pretty small-time operation. He was going in another direction but life sometimes alters your course.”
Eventually, Holland’s parents — his mother, Nicole, is a professor of art history now at the University of California, San Diego — moved to the west coast when Holland was 10. Holland grew up there immersed in the surf culture. “It’s a little cluster of old beach towns, now combined into a large city,” Holland says of the town where he spent the bulk of his childhood. “The surf culture thrives, and it was wonderful to be a part of it.” Holland attended the Bishop School, a small private school near one of San Diego’s most well-surfed beaches. “It was hard to go to class sometimes.”
The California experience has stayed with Holland, more as an impact on his personality than as an influence on his music. “There’s something about growing up near the ocean, where the waves are constantly refreshing themselves,” he says.
Lindsay Holland, his dad, has stayed in the oil business, but the old Dylan roadie taught his son how to play the guitar. “One day — I was about 13 — my dad was playing ‘Not Fade Away’ by Buddy Holly, the one with that really catchy Bo Diddley rhythm,” Holland says. “It spoke to me instantly. I walked into that room and said, ‘Dad, you have to teach me how to play that.’ He looked at me and said, ‘OK.’ Like all great things, it was very simple.”
Holland continued to learn from his father until he want to college. His aspirations led him to Williams College in western Massachusetts, where he received a degree in art history in 2005. He was also on the pre-med track, and he now works as an office assistant at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan.
“It was a great place people-wise, music-wise, environment-wise. It only made sense that we would find each other there,” says Holland, referring to the members of his group, who, while not always having played together during college as a band, ended up in New Jersey post-college.
The name Odette Magritte does not refer to a specific person. Rather, says Holland, it is a compilation of sounds that the band itself is working every day to build a definition for. He says the group plays a mixture of folk music, lively rock, and a dollop of surf. “It’s kind of like the two sides of a synapse, firing across each other. They have no relation except for they both are placed beside each other. The space between the synapses is where meaning lies, and that is where possibilities are endless.”
The members of Odette Magritte don’t have to go far to practice or collaborate on tunes. Four of the five band members — Holland, Ari Ornelas, Rafael Cruz, and Jiwoo Han, the Williams alums — live in the same rented house in Jersey City. The fifth band member, Shawn Watts, lives in New Brunswick.
Holland wants to use his disparate and diverse background to form a career path for himself. He has extensive health-care experience and, like his father, the mind and heart of a poet and musician as well as a desire to help people. Conversations with his sister Emily have given Holland insight into the enormous psychic crisis an entire region of people is suffering. He is hoping his knowledge of medicine and art can make some contribution.
Says Holland: “I cannot make any claims as to my future but using music as a way to heal people’s hearts is at the forefront of what I want to do.”
Jam for Sudan, Saturday, June 9, 1 to 6 p.m. Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, Albert E. Hinds Plaza. Presented by RADD, a student-led group raising awareness in the community about Darfur. Performers include professional and high school bands. Also speakers and craft projects. 609-924-9529.