"Music and other forms of art are by far the most effective kind of social-work that exists. A single, nameless one-hit wonder brings more comfort to the world than almost any single psychologist can hope to in a lifetime." --Ian Brennan
Ian Brennan is a GRAMMY-winning producer (Best World Music 2011) with three other GRAMMY-nominated records (Best World Music 2015, Best Traditional Folk-2006 and 2007). His latest book, Silenced by Sound was published in the fall of 2019. His seventh book, Muse-Sick: a music manifesto in fifty-nine notes was published in October 2021.
He has produced over thirty-five international records in the past decade from across four continents including the countries of Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Cambodia, Romania, Pakistan, and Ghana.
Witch Camp (Ghana), Comorian, John Waters "A Prayer to Pasolini," and the Shletered Workhop Singers are among his most recent projects in 2021.
Other recent releases include the third album from The Good Ones (Rwanda).. It was named one of the "Top 10 Albums of 2019" by NPR's Bob Boilen. Other recent projects are Oakland Homeless Heart "Not a Homeless Person, Just a Person Without a Home," a modern-day Blues field recording made on the streets of West Oakland and with all proceeds benefiting the Coalition on Homelessness. Also, the Fra Fra trio from northern Ghana released a collection of "Funeral Songs."
Brennan produced the Zomba Prison Project “I Have No Everything Here” (Six Degrees Records) with prisoners of Malawi's maximum security facility, a record which was nominated for a Grammy award in World Music. Their followup album "I Will Not Stop Singing" was released in September 2016. The project was featured on the front-page of the New York Times and on the television program "60 Minutes" with Anderson Cooper reporting, a segment which won the Emmy for Outstanding Feature Story in a News Magazine and was nominated for two other 2017 Emmy awards.
In the studio, he has worked with the likes of Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Kyp Malone & Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio, Rain Machine), Flea, Tinariwen, Lucinda Williams, David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Nels Cline (Wilco), DJ Bonebrake & John Doe (X, the Knitters), Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Peter Case, Bill Frisell, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Jonathan Richman, Richard Thompson, and more.
With live concerts, he has produced shows of up to 15,000 people in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington (DC), Portland (OR), Tucson, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and Boston with artists as diverse as Green Day, Fugazi, Merle Haggard, film-maker John Waters, Kris Kristofferson, Tammy Faye (Bakker), the Blind Boys of Alabama, Vic Chesnutt, Peaches, and the Vienna Boys Choir. These shows have raised over $100,000 for local charities and political causes.
In the field, some of the artists that he has "discovered" and produced are The Good Ones (Rwanda), Wayo: Trance Percussion Masters (South Sudan), Acholi Machon, Hanoi Masters, Khmer Rouge Survivors (Cambodia), Abatwa ('the Pygmy'), fra fra, and the Malawi Mouse Boys. Many are the first original-song releases internationally outside of their respective countries in the languages of each band.
Brennan's fourth book, How Music Dies (or Lives): Field-recording and the battle for democracy in the arts (Allworth/Skyhorse, NYC) has been nominated for the 2017 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards. Booklist writes that, “Brennan presents a hefty, bracing tome…”. MOJO reports, “….full of wisdom from someone who cares deeply about the power of real music.” Record Collector describes it as, “Think Alan Lomax meets Steve Albini with a megaphone.” fRoots states, “…it’s an engaging, panoramic read packed with personal observations and thought-provoking soundbites.” R2 (Rock ’n’ Reel) Magazine in the UK reports, “I was tempted to burn all of my albums, so persuasive was the Grammy-winning producer’s arguments….Beg, borrow, or buy a copy of this important book now.” According to Hi-Fi Choice, “It’s not often that you read a book that changes the way you listen to music….if you only read one book about music this year, I strongly recommend that you make it this one.” Songlines Magazine states it is, “…a thought-provoking read that challenges our preconceptions on almost every page.” Monolith Cocktail states, “How Music Dies is an adroit discourse and guide; a valuable reminder of music and arts true purpose,” and LargeHeartedBoy.com describes it as, “One of the most thought-provoking books on modern music that I have ever read.”
His novella, Sister Maple Syrup Eyes, was issued in the fall of 2015 (Pleasure Boat Studio [NYC]). The Readers+Writers Journal praises, “Sister Maple Syrup Eyes is a beautiful book. Achingly beautiful." And Louder Than War states the book is, “….alive with the energy of an eye-witness.” Small Press Picks notes, “In vividly re-creating Kristian’s personal journey, Brennan offers a layered and moving exploration of the truth…”
Brennan was first published at the age of nineteen and has contributed regularly to publications such as The Guardian, Guitar Player, Sound on Sound, Pollstar, Talkhouse, CounterPunch, Modern Drummer, American Songwriter, the Vinyl District, Flood, Zero Magazine, Huck, Songlines, and Tape Op.
"Nepotism and academia are both antithetical to major pop-culture revolutions. Innovation has almost, without fail, routinely risen culturally from the bottom to the top, not from the aristocracy that now rules much of the misnomered 'indie' rock world. Pop culture is rarely a trickle down affair. Be it James Brown, Elvis Presley, Billie Holiday, Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong, Grandmaster Flash, Edith Piaf, Johnny Rotten, Woody Guthrie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kurt Cobain, The Carter Family, Miriam Makeba, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Django Reinhardt, Chavela Vargas or Eminem, many of the most important artists historically have originated from less than auspicious circumstances." --Ian Brennan