The day after Tiffany Majette was recorded on video being wrestled to the ground by a Philadelphia police officer during a Black Lives Matter protest in Center City, she wrote a song called “Mama’s Baby.”
Majette, whose stage name is Orion Sun, accompanies herself on piano on the beautiful, prayer-like track, recorded in her South Philadelphia home studio. “She brought me in this world,” Majette sings, “White world against me.” In a calming voice, she asks a question: “Who gon’ protect me?”
The song is part of a wave of music that’s become the soundtrack to protesters’ anger and dismay over George Floyd’s death in police custody — along with Meek Mill’s “Otherside of America” and Run the Jewels‘ “Walking In The Snow,” among others. And “Mama’s Baby” shows how quickly music can now go from inspiration to making an impact.
On May 30, the second day of protests in Philadelphia, Majette was in front of the Municipal Services Building, where the Frank Rizzo statue then stood, when she was pushed by police. Part of the encounter was captured on video by a friend, and is posted on her Orion Sun Instagram page. Majette wrote on Instagram that she had begun to be handcuffed but was then let go.
Five days later, Majette, who in March released her debut album, Hold Space For Me, posted the completed “Mama’s Baby” on the online music store Bandcamp. She attached a note that detailed her experience.
“I experienced police brutality on May 30, 2020 while protesting in Philadelphia,” she wrote. “Police have failed to protect and serve me. they had no problem throwing a black woman to the ground over what? nothing. ... the people i was/am fighting for were murdered. why are people numb to the death of my people.”
Majette set the minimum price to purchase the song at $1, with all proceeds donated to a GoFundMe page seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in Louisville in March, and the Loveland Foundation, which makes therapy available to black women and girls. By the end of the day, she had raised over $12,000.
That dramatic week began when Majette and her girlfriend Zubeyda Muzeyyen, who performs as DJ Haram, were near the Rizzo statue with their bicycles.
“We were peacefully protesting,” says Majette, 24. She held a handmade sign. One side read: “We Learned Violence From You,” a quote from a speech that activist Tamika Mallory made in Minneapolis. The other side said “My Existence Is Protest.”
She didn’t know why police approached that area, she says. “But I had my bike and I decided to use it as barricade to kind of block them from coming into our section.”
“And I just got hit with shields, I got slammed to the ground," she says. "These two cops had my arms and were twisting them in different directions. And they had my face up against the building and one of the cops put a handcuff on my right hand.”
"And then another cop walked by and said, “Let her go, let her go.” I don’t know why, but I’m really grateful that they did that.”
When she went back to get her bike, she was thrown on the ground again, she says. Another friend, not realizing it was her, captured the incident on his phone.
Majette left the scene then stayed out protesting until that evening’s curfew went into effect, fired up on adrenaline. “I was walking by a bank, and then I heard glass shattering behind me,” she says. "I was like, Let me get away from this area. I don’t want to be any part of that.”
‘A weird full circle’
Amidst the chaos though, Majette says, “everything that I saw made sense. I was a little overwhelmed when I was out there, because by grandmother marched with Martin [Luther King Jr.] and it just felt like a weird full circle. I was feeling angry. I was feeling frustrated. I was feeling sad.
“I’m just so over the racism. ... I mean, literally me just showing up in a store or in all white spaces is protest in a way.”
“The longer I think about it, it just makes me sad. Wow. This progress was just camouflage, really. There are more black people in spaces than there were before, but we really haven’t moved that far, and that realization is astounding to me. ... Why? Why?”
When Majette got home, she says, she threw up and felt weak. Her body started to ache.
Seeing herself on video brought her back to the moment. ‘Everything was moving so fast .. I was like, please, I cannot get arrested. Because COVID is still out there. I don’t want to be in a holding center. And they had ripped my mask off. So when I saw the video, I was like, so that actually happened.”
A mother’s heartbreak
When she posted it on Instagram, Majette’s mother, who lives in Georgia, saw it, too. Immediately, the phone began to ring. In tears, Majette had to talk her mother out of getting in her car and making the journey north.
Her mother was crying, too. “I was calming the river that flowed from my mom’s eyes, 830 miles away over the phone,” she wrote on Bandcamp. “She was worried crazy and heartbroken.”
The next day, Majette started working on music on her computer. “And then I went over to the piano, and wrote “Mama’s Baby,” she says. “I had just been really anxious, even before the protests. So I was just really on edge, angry. And then when I listened back to the song, I just felt calm. I felt like, everything’s going to be OK.”
If it had that effect on her, she figured, she should share it. She posted a snippet on Instagram, “just to give people a moment, to just detach from the horror that is happening, that is also necessary. Because things have to change. But it can get a little overwhelming when you’re not taking care of yourself.”
She first planned to release it for free, but then decided to make it a fundraiser to support Taylor’s family as they seek justice in the investigation of her death and consequences for those responsible. “I’ve noticed that the black women that suffer at the hands of police brutality sort of get overshadowed by the black men, and black women need to be treasured and need to be loved and cared for," she said. "And then I found out about the LoveLand Foundation.”
Sales of the song raised just over $12,000 that first day, with a biggest donation of $1,000. The next day, Majette posted the song for free on YouTube with a video of animated images and adorable family photos. YouTube matched the amount donated to Loveland, bringing the total over $18,000.
“It’s a humanizing song,” Majette says of “Mama’s Baby,” which ends with a simple demand: “At least respect me.”
Is it also a protest song? “I’m just a black woman, just talking about my experience,” she says. “But like i said earlier, that is a kind of protest.” With “Mama’s Baby,” Majette turned her experience into music that has immediately made an impact in the world.