Meet the Winners of Berklee's Songs for Social Change Contest

Presented by Berklee's Songwriting Department and Songs for Social Change initiative, the annual contest encourages students to write songs that promote positive change.

May 4, 2021
Photo of Martín Guas

Martín Guas

Image by Ashley Yu

Berklee’s Songwriting Department and Songs for Social Change initiative recently held a virtual showcase of songs recognized in the 2021 Songs for Social Change Contest. The open-themed annual contest, held for more than a decade, encourages Berklee students to write songs expressing their convictions about social issues and promoting positive social change. Songwriters who won awards or were recognized in this year's contest hail from 12 U.S. states and Argentina, Canada, Cyprus, England, Guatemala, India, Iran, Jordan, Mexico, Singapore, and Spain. 

Martín Guas 

Martín Guas B.M. ’20, a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from La Plata, Argentina, won first place for his song “CREO,” which addresses corruption, racism, sexism, and injustice in the world and specifically Latin America. A postgraduate studies student at Berklee, Guas’s music and lyric-writing style are rooted in Latin America’s folk tradition with contemporary influences. He has shared stages and/or recorded with John Legend, Natalia Lafourcade, Kurt Elling, Alejandro Lerner, and others. 

Watch the video for "CREO" by Martín Guas:


''I started writing songs when I was a kid, almost unconsciously, but trying to express things that I couldn't say with words,” said Guas. “Later on I understood that music had the power to change and inspire not only ourselves, but also people around us. I strongly believe that social change comes from different environments and perspectives, but definitely cultural expression is one of them, and we have to speak out for the injustice around us every day to be able to dream of a better world."

Mel Fine 

Photo of Mel Fine

Mel Fine

Image courtesy of artist

Second-place winner Mel Fine, a 20-year-old singer-songwriter out of Sharon, Massachusetts, performed their song “In Between.,” a hauntingly honest and raw self-love anthem detailing their journey growing up outside the gender binary. Fine has performed extensively throughout the Northeast, was nominated for New Act of the Year at the 2019 New England Music Awards, and was awarded the 2021 Performance Division Voice Award by the Berklee Voice Department. As vice president of the Berklee Songwriters Club, they help other songwriters to connect and reach their fullest potential. “Nonbinary representation is few and far between in media,” said Fine. “I submitted this song to share a slice of my experience, celebrate queer identities, and hopefully help others feel less alone.”

Watch the video for "In Between." by Mel Fine: 

Aashna Gupta 

Photo of Aashna Gupta

Aashna Gupta

Image courtesy of the artist

The showcase was held virtually, as the students performed their original songs from various locations around the globe. Third-place winner Aashna Gupta performed her song “Choke” from her hometown in Gurgaon, India. A songwriting major at Berklee, she sang about the air pollution in her hometown and the need for environmental change. “I think we needed the contest this year, now more than ever,” said Gupta. “I wanted to bring attention to the climate change in my city and how it affects us, especially as singers—every vocalist here that I know is suffering greatly with their voice, and I wanted to write a song that made our voices heard (ironically) in some way. I’m extremely honored to be one of the award winners.”

Watch the video for "Choke" by Aashna Gupta: 

About the Contest

The contest, originally established by a gift from the Luongo family, has received endowed funding from Kevin Block-Schwenk, associate professor in the Liberal Arts and Sciences Department. Block-Schwenk has donated more than $300,000 to the contest, as well as an additional $200,000 for various other social justice initiatives at the college, making him Berklee’s most generous living faculty donor. The endowed fund will permanently yield the student award money for the contest: $1,500 for the first-place song, $1,250 for second place, $1,000 for third place, a $500 honorarium for each song performed in the showcase, and smaller honoraria for songs featured on the contest's SoundCloud playlist. Through December 2021, Block-Schwenk is offering to match every dollar donated to the Songs for Social Change Fund, up to $15,000. 

“Though I’ve been involved with Berklee’s Songs for Social Change Contest and Showcase for more than a decade, this year was raised to a new level, with a record number of submissions, even amidst this pandemic and after a year of remote learning,” said Mark Simos, professor in the Songwriting Department and faculty contest coordinator. “Our entries this year reflected the creative alchemy of Berklee’s diverse community—of musical styles, cultural backgrounds, social perspectives. And in our new virtual showcase format, student writers also spoke eloquently about their writing process and the creative challenges of writing songs that—we all still believe—might just change the world: a world more in need than ever of these songs, and these talented, passionate, brave, and dedicated young songwriters.” 

The contest and showcase were organized by Simos, with the production team of Joe Bennett, professor in the Professional Music Department, and Dan Cantor, associate professor in the Songwriting Department. Ten faculty from across the college served as judges for the more than 130 entries. Also supporting the initiative are Bonnie Hayes, chair of the Songwriting Department, Amer Koudsi, coordinator in the Songwriting Department, Jessica Halton, senior director of Institutional Advancement, and Sharon Bernanke, business administrator in the Professional Writing and Technology Division. The contest and showcase are also made possible by donations from Block-Schwenk and and Pat Pattison, professor in the Songwriting and Liberal Arts and Sciences departments. 

Stream the showcase on Facebook and listen to a selection of the winning songs on the contest's SoundCloud playlist.

Berklee’s 2021 Songs for Social Change Contest Winners

Award Songs

  • First Place: “CREO,” Martín Guas (La Plata, Argentina)
  • Second Place: “In Between,” Mel Fine (Sharon, Massachusetts)
  • Third Place: “Choke,” Aashna Gupta (Gurgaon, India)

Showcase Songs

Alphabetical by last name

  • “For We Deserve Life/الحياة نستحق,” Maha Alkurdi (Amman, Jordan)
  • “The Flood,” Gabriella Atkinson (Strafford, Vermont) 
  • “My Body Isn’t Yours,” Marissa Carlin (Boston, Massachusetts); cowriter: Max Margolis 
  • “From the Ashes,” Sierra Cornell (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
  • “¿Y Tú, Qué Harás?,” Mar Fayos (Barcelona, Spain) 
  • “MARTYR,” Abel Garcia (San Antonio, Texas)
  • “Give Love a Try,” Allegra Maizels (Toronto, Canada)
  • “Grey,” Camille McDermott (Washington, D.C.)
  • “Yubarta,” Sofia Oviedo (Guanajuato, Mexico)
  • “Sheets,” Forest Romm (Canton, Georgia)
  • “I’ve Seen,” Zach Seals (Woodstock, Maryland)

Finalists: Invited Playlist Songs

Alphabetical by last name

  • “Black Man in America,” Hannibal Ahmed (New York City, New York)
  • “Breakthrough,” Noa Angell Boon (Singapore)
  • “Something to Believe In,” Claire Davis (Troy, Michigan); cowriters: Darby Sabin and Jensen Krall 
  • “Kindness Ain’t Always Easy,” Nicole Demers (Vancouver, Canada)
  • “Better Now,” Jiro Duenez (Mission Viejo, California)
  • “Masquerade,” Samuel Foster (Issaquah, Washington) 
  • “Flying Cars,” Samantha Hozven (Stony Brook, New York) 
  • “Time Runs Out,” Nicholas Kitsopoulos (Madison, New Jersey)
  • “A Song for California,” Emi McSwain (Bedford, Massachusetts) 
  • “The Game,” Angela Morano (Mendon, Massachusetts)
  • “Qué fácil es,” Aitana Poey (Cuba/Guatemala); cowriter: Aurelio Adasme 
  • “Green Giants,” Mason Turner (Langley, Washington)
  • “She Stands,” Stella Webb (London, England)
  • “The Minority,” Mallory Wynne (Blackwood, New Jersey)

Judge’s Shout-Outs

  • Rodney Alejandro, Associate Professor, Songwriting: 
    • “How Can We Do This to Each Other?,” Matt Gershun (Boston, Massachusetts) 
  • Prince Charles Alexander, Professor, Music Production and Engineering:
    • “Tomorrow,” Cameron Thistle (Haymarket, Vermont) 
  • Joe Bennett, Professor, Professional Music/Liberal Arts and Sciences:
    • “Closeted,” Maya Wagner (Hillsborough, New Jersey) 
  • Dan Cantor, Associate Professor, Songwriting:
    • “Rainforest,” Parker Sundby (Rapid City, South Dakota) 
  • Erin Chase, Assistant Professor, Songwriting:
    • “Brand New Age,” Aimee Lefkowitz (Seattle, Washington); cowriter: Rita Nelson (Lagrange Park, Illinois)  
  • Christiane Karam, Associate Professor, Voice: 
    • “Deng,” Mahya Hamedi (Tehran, Iran), set to poetry by Amir Talebi 
  • Rene Pfister, Assistant Professor, Voice; Artistic Director, Berklee Theater Arts Collaborative:
    • “What Only the Fools Know,” Sophia Drozd (Fairfax, California) 
  • David Reiffel, Assistant Professor, Songwriting; Theater Division, Boston Conservatory at Berklee
    • “Anomaly,” Prithvi Prakash (Plano, Texas) 
  • Kevin Siegfried, Professor, Theater Division, Boston Conservatory at Berklee:
    • “Prayer,” Georgis Lernis (Nicosia, Cyprus) 
  • Mark Simos, Professor, Songwriting: 
    • “La Caja de la Muerte (The Box of Death),” Mercedes Escobar (Guatemala City, Guatemala)