Friday, 18 September 2015

A History of Protest Songs

Say it loud: music with a message

It should be stressed from the beginning that this book, written by music journalist Dorian Lynskey, is a brilliant history of protest songs....mostly written and performed by US and European (ie British) artists. 
Apart form Part Three, which covers songs from Chile (Victor Jara), Nigeria ( Fela Kuti) and Jamaica (Max Romeo and The Upsetters), the rest of the book is a fascinating trip through those songs of mostly North-American and British artists, which with their powerful message and music, helped shape or were the background of social changes, upheavals, revolutions and key moments in recent history. 
I do not think that this book is solely aimed at music lovers; it is, in fact, a book that makes sure that each song chosen is given its historical context, thus enriching the story while also paying attention to other songs and artists of the time that are worth mentioning or have a special relevance in order to fully understand the context in which they were written and performed. 

Starting with the harrowing piece Strange Fruit, performed by Billie Holliday, Lynskey takes us on a journey that includes expected artists and songs (Bob Dylan's Masters of Wars, Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will not Be Televised and Public Enemy's Fight the Power), but also presents the work of other lesser known (at least in my case) songs, including the electronic dance band The Prodigy or the Welsh group Manic Street Preachers.

Chile's Victor Jara, the only non-English speaker included in the book
In any case, the book is extremely well-researched and it traces and presents in a very entertaining and informative way the circumstances in which the songs were born. Despite, or perhaps because of its length, (800-plus pages), 33 Revolutions Per Minute is one of those books that can be read at any time, you can put it down and get back to it as you please, and simply enjoy the prose and style of its author, which together with the wealth of information he provides, will make you want to listen to each of the songs here included. 

The only criticism I have is what has been written above regarding the book's scope; more cultural and linguistic diversity would be appreciated, particularly from those under-represented parts of the world (Asia, South-America, Africa...). Other than that, the book is a joy that people interested in music, history and politics should not miss.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Did you dance, Caroline?

The lizard wags its tail on the skirt of Caroline
The 'Tea & Sympathy choir' made its stellar debut at the Gentalha's social centre party last week to celebrate the end of course! We translated into English a traditional and well-known song (Bailaches Carolina?), adapting it to the music and the English rhythm, hence some minor differences between the original and the translation. We will not claim that our choir is ready to join the likes of the those gospel choirs & co that can move people to tears with their renditions of other traditional tunes, but at least we had a good laugh. Here our version of the song: 

Trad, arranged and translation by tea&sympathy

1 On the skirt of Carolina        
is painted a lizard,
when Carolina dances,
the lizard wags its tail.

2 Did you dance Caroline?
I danced, indeed Sir!
Tell me with whom you danced
I danced with my loved one

3 Our Carolina is crazy,
She does everything wrong
She dresses from her shoulders
and undresses through her feet

4 Did you dance, Caroline?
-I danced at the quarters.
-Tell me with whom you danced.
I danced with Sergeant Paul X 3
5 Mister priest doesn’t dance
just because he wears a crown.
Do Dance, mister priest, go on,
God forgives everything.

6 Did you dance, Caroline?
I danced, indeed, Sir.
Tell me with whom you danced.
I danced with my John (three times)

7In the farm of Caroline,
no closed cart is allowed
Only Caroline can come in
Grabbing her pig from its tail

8 With your loved one, Caroline
Never go dancin’ again,
He pulls up your skirt
And it’s hard to pull it down

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Sally Heathcote: sufragette

Life of  a sufragette 
Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst or Emelyn Davison are some names most people interested in the Sufragettes movement may be familiar with. However, as it is easy to imagine, the strength of this radical group of activists lay in its numbers, those committed women who fought bravely against the odds, who staged hunger strikes, who were imprisoned and risked their lives. An example of all this was the case of Sally Heathcote, whose eventful life this book is based on, which tells, in graphic novel format, the adventures of one of the most fascinating civil disobedience movements of the last centuries.
A wonderful team composed of Mary and Bryan Talbot (who published in 2012 another very interesting and acclaimed graphic novel Dotter of her father's eyes, based on a James Joyce's daughter life), and cartoonist Kate Charlesworth, deliver a true page-turner that becomes a must for readers with an interest in social history and the 'votes for women' campaigns. It is also refreshing that the book, rather than give centre stage to those better known figures, the authors chose to focus on a less known activist, who was also from a very different social background to the Pankhursts sisters and other members.

No going back

 Despite the fact of being an invented character, the device works extremely well as it brings a new perspective to a historical movement.
The novel is beautifully designed, it is a joy to read that conveys brilliantly the Sufragettes' urgency and mood. Once again, a powerful and informative book that should be read widely, particularly now that we approach 8 March, International Women's Day.