Saber Singers Use Voices for Activism


photo courtesy Maya Puaa

The Saber Singers after performing at Keoneula Elementary’s Fall Fair, November 2019.

On June 19, 2020, the James Campbell High School (JCHS) Saber Singers Club combined their collective passions of singing and social activism in a music video featured on their Instagram (@saber_singers) in order to show support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.  

Seniors Maya Puaa, Alliah Burke, and Chelbi Espiritu (who all contributed to a large portion of behind the scenes in making that video) are Saber Singer members who share those passions, albeit in different ways.  Puaa and Burke are co-presidents of the club and both long term singers- Puaa has been singing since she was eight and Burke “since the womb” as she likes to put it. On the other hand, Espiritu, the manager/editor is a little more shy about singing in front of people she doesn’t know but enjoys the emotion that comes with singing.  

But regardless of these differences, music has brought them together, and the same holds true for the roughly 20 other members of the JCHS Saber Singers.

“[Saber singers] is like the most family kind of club you can get on campus. We’re all really close, spend lots of time together, and all love the same thing: music, sharing our voices, and advocating,” Puaa said.  It might be surprising that a group of singers has such a strong link with activism but Puaa, a self-proclaimed history nerd, explained that throughout history music and the arts have always been linked to social activism, and people have always sung about the things they haven’t been able to get. 

“If you can use your voice to sing you can use your voice to speak,” Burke said, and during the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement during the summer, especially after the death of George Floyd, the Saber Singers knew they had to use their voice.  

Although the project was largely student-led, Dwayne Karlo Manzanillo, the former advisor of the club was the first one to reach out to Burke, Puaa, and Espiritu once protests started. He came up with the idea of a music video that the club could do to show support for the BLM movement, and the trio wholeheartedly agreed.

Once they began, the music video was a massive undertaking, especially in choosing the right song with the right message, and the right singers who were committed to the cause.  It was difficult to organize all the singers while they were apart during the pandemic, Puaa mentioned.  Wanting to make sure their message of unity and standing up for human rights was clear, but not controversial, was also a struggle.  Eventually, the Saber Singers settled on a song, “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo, that perfectly represented their message and voice.  By the end, over a dozen members of the club contributed, each singing along to their own portion of the song. 

Wanting to make the music video even more impactful, they reached out to the Artist Alley Club in order to add BLM-inspired art to the video.  Burke and the club’s current advisor, Ryan Tong also recorded footage from protests to add to it, and Tong recited a couple verses of poetry. 

Behind the scenes, Espiritu struggled with single-handedly editing the entire video and the effort of syncing up the audio.  The Saber Singers even had to take down the music video and re-upload after it was finished because of small mistakes. But because of the importance of their message, the club was determined to “do it right” and their entire team was very receptive.

However, being able to express all of their voices ended up being worth it in the end. “We wanted [to make the music video] to let people know that we love to share our voice and that singing is powerful,” Espiritu said.  Saber Singers also thinks that their music video had a generally positive impact on their community as well and hope that they’ve inspired others. “As long as we spread the message to anybody that we can, that’s what’s important,” Puaa said.

Continuing on to the current school year, the Saber Singers representatives expressed an interest in more projects similar to the Black Lives Matter music video. As for now, there are no official plans, but one thought remains clear: with so many loud voices in the club it would be impossible to keep them quiet.  For the future, they hope to keep the momentum up with their activism- “Not only speaking out for basic human rights” as Burke puts it, “but also celebrating the good and talking about the bad.” 

No matter what, they all agree Saber Singers is going to continue to remain a safe space, a family, and a group of people who speak out (or sing) about the things they believe in.