Piano chords shift like the swinging pendulum of time, in and out and up and down as they lift towards the soft soprano sax. It hums quiet reflections over the thrumming of the snare – the inescapable roll of the drum which tinges the sound with a gleam of war. Thus begins Ben Williams’s new video for “Toy Soldiers,” a quiet start to the emotional epic which follows.
Set to the sounds of Ben Williams’s band, Sound Effect (comprised of Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano saxophone, Matthew Stevens on guitar, Christian Sands on piano and Fender Rhodes, Masayuki Hirano on synths and Fender Rhodes, John Davis on drums, and Etienne Charles on percussion) the video syncs up the instrumental “Toy Soldiers” and the hip-hop laced “Toy Soldiers” (Reprise), both tracks off Williams’s most recent album, Coming of Age. Co-directed by Ben Williams and W. Ellington Felton, and filmed/edited by Todd Starr, this video asks its audience a simple question with a complicated answer… what are we fighting for?
The piece starts simply enough, with this quiet flow of sound that quickens to rumble as vignettes of a soldier grappling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (portrayed by Timoteo Murphy) in life post-war flash across the screen. Encouraged by blurs of war footage, the track eventually builds up to a break down – both musically and mentally – and transitions into “Toy Soldiers” (Reprise). Here we see Williams opt for a grooving electric bassline alongside Sound Effect to underscore the flows of singer, poet, and emcee W. Ellington Felton.
The storyline then shifts to draw on the images which opened the film – shots of Murphy’s inner child (depicted by Felton’s son, Tobias) playing with plastic toy soldiers. Like a child, Murphy darts around corners and crawls across the carpet of his home, face smeared with black paint, bearing his imaginary arms but very real memories.
Williams, whose own father served in Vietnam and whose grandfather served in WWII, has witnessed the lasting effects that war can wear on the mind. In the spirit of Bill Withers’s “I Can’t Write Left Handed,” this video begs the question, “What are we fighting for?” – both literally and figuratively. While scrutinizing war’s cause and effect, it does so without questioning the bravery and honor of those who stand to fight. It confronts the root of the problem – war itself – leaving audiences to wonder why we are in that position in the first place while still honoring and upholding the brave souls who fight for our country, each and every day. Alongside Ben Williams, Sound Effect, and W. Ellington Felton, let us remember those we have loved and lost defending our nation, today of all days.