Columbia songwriter writes anthem about human trafficking

Sometimes a journalist has to ask a question he knows is a dumb one, just to get the source to start talking.

Asking a songwriter why she wrote a particular song is one of those. Oftentimes, the answer is along the lines of what Paul Henried, as Victor Laszlo, says to Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine in "Casablanca."


"You might as well question why we breathe."

That's what songwriters do, ya dope.


But when talking about her new song, "Freedom," Janice B. follows Laszlo's thought to its conclusion. "If we stop breathing, we'll die," the resistance leader says in the classic film. "If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die."

Janice Buerkli lives in Long Reach and has been performing and recording her soul-infused songs as Janice B. in these parts for several years. I first got to know her when we both worked in the late, great Flier building on Little Patuxent Parkway, me in the newsroom, she in the credit department.

She's now performing a similar function with Laureate Education Inc., but we've keep in touch and I've followed her musical doings with interest.

Her latest project will have her playing an unusual daytime gig, opening the Maryland Freedom Conference, at Towson University Jan. 31. The event, hosted by the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force and the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, will present information and strategies to combat the reportedly growing global phenomenon of people being shanghaied into lives of prostitution and slavery.


As Janice learned about the extent of human trafficking, an anthem arose.

"Over the past few years it seems I would frequently come across it on news programs and, like most people, I thought it was something other countries dealt with, images of young girls being sexually exploited," she told me. " I didn't know it was right next door to us affecting men, women, and children.

"Something just moved me to write about it. I also think that when you put a song to something, people remember it. Like the ABC song. No one forgets their ABCs, ever."

Along with Maurice Carroll, Mosno Al-Moseeki and QueenEarth, Janice in the fall recorded, at Baltimore's Stinkiface Music, a world-music-tinged tune demanding justice.

She has only lived her life as someone else's property

Betrayed and taken as a child, sold by her own family

Her innocence it has a price, her sex is their commodity

Getting rich at her expense while she is trapped in poverty

Janice released the recording Jan. 1, in connection with Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and has been donating sales (downloaded at janicebmusic.bandcamp.com/releases) to Safe House of Hope, in Baltimore. The nonprofit provides education, training and support to victims of human trafficking.

"I guess, as an indie artist, I've come to the point where I can keep writing and recording, but if there is an opportunity to do some good with this little gift of mine, I need to act on it and give something back," Janice told me.

Deciding to go beyond donating her proceeds, she went in search of an organization that might be put her song to good use. The organizers of next week's conference responded, so now the band is set to reassemble to kick off the event.

The Maryland Freedom Conference takes place Saturday, Jan. 31, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the West Village Commons of Towson University, 8000 York Road, in Towson. Any adult who is interested in learning more about human trafficking, its effects and how to fight it are invited to attend free of charge and may register at mdfreedom.eventbrite.com.

Money madness at the movies

What "An Inconvenient Truth" was to global warming, "Pay 2 Play: Democracy's High Stakes" is to campaign finance. In it, filmmaker John Ennis explores the seamy world of big money in politics, to sometimes funny and constantly provoking effect.

I've helped to organize a free screening on Thursday, Jan. 29, that will also include a brief presentation on how each of us can help to stem the flood of cash that is polluting American democracy. Liz Bobo, recently retired after several terms in the House of Delegates, has agreed to speak. We're still working on some other notable folks who have tackled this issue.

The event starts at 7 p.m. and takes place at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia.

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