Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Europe's shame:adrift, washed ashore, ignored, scapegoated...

Millions on the move
A tragedy of catastrophic dimensions is unfolding under very own eyes and we chose to look away. The mass media have long ago decided to shift their focus; once the headlines and all the resulting scandal pretending we cared over the dead body of a drowned Syrian boy made way for the umpteenth political crisis, we have been left with very little information on what is happening with the scores of people who are forced to pack up and leave their homes.
And yet, a lot is happening on our doorstep. For starters, people in countries like Syria and Afghanistan are still fleeing for fear of their lives; these are, according to the UNHCR statistics, the countries where most refugees come from but by no means the only ones. Somalia, South Sudan and Eritrea are other countries that heavily 'export' refugees. But most of them, let's make this absolutely clear, do not come to Europe. The countries hosting most of the worldwide refugees and asylum seekers are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran. Let's dispel this myth because other countries (poorer and less prepared to deal with huge numbers of people) are bearing the brunt, not Europe neither any other Western country.

Where most refugees go
The global numbers of people on the move are mind-boggling, with an estimated 23.1 million people seeking refuge, a number that goes up to 60 million if we consider what is known forcibly displaced people (refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people).
In other words, over 60 million people are roaming the world, far from home and with little or no access to the basic conditions that the Human Rights chart establishes (food, shelter, education, health...).
If that weren't enough to make us think AND act, Europe is now witnessing a situation that takes us back to the dark times of last century's Germany. Like then, we know people are dying, not in concentration camps but in European shores and also at sea. We know it, our politicians know it, our media of course know it.
The deeply shameful and flawed European Union-Turkey agreement of last March is just an example of how the Europeans (I mean the States, not necessarily their people) have privileged their interests over people's safety.
Returning asylum-seekers to Turkey (a country whose human rights records has been consistently criticised by NGOs and other Human Rights organisations) in exchange for an extra financial support of €3 million to Turkey is something future generations will hold us accountable for. Simply put, this is moral bankruptcy of the highest order.
But things can -and indeed do- get worse because the Mediterranean has become a floating graveyard, where thousands of humans have found their deaths on their escape from poverty, war or persecution. According to the Missing Migrants account, more than 3,700 people have died or have gone missing this year so far. These numbers speak for themselves, really.

In the middle of this we find, however, some good news thanks to all the people who have chosen to do what the governments don't. Many volunteers and aid workers are adding their bit through their unsung commitment, literally rescuing people from a very likely death. MSF, Open Arms, Save the Children and others are there on the ground helping people and bringing some dignity to a continent that is becoming more and more passive.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Skeleton Tree: one more time with sorrow

Harrowing,daunting, intense...immense

Most listeners will approach Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' latest instalment with a very specific frame of mind; indeed, most, if not all, reviewers will bear that in mind when carefully analysing and stripping bare the ins and outs of an album that is as demanding as emotionally daunting.
The reason for all of this is, of course, the dramatic event that turned Cave's life upside down, the tragic death of his 15-year-old son Arthur last year (
So we are all well aware, Skeleton Tree is not going to be a barrel of laughs; very few songs by Nick Cave songs are, really. Over the years, he and his band have become skillful masters at singing about death (though unlike now, it was about other people's) and the darkness, the raw and the gritty. All of this wrapped up in Cave's twisted poetry that produced haunting images.

The album opener sets the mood for what is to come next; the brooding intensity of Jesus Alone, which finds Nick Cave prophetically singing "You fell from the sky, crash landed in a field near the river Adur" (the song was written before Arthur's death), over layers of guitars that create a tense, eerie, almost suffocating atmosphere. This is in stark contrast with "Rings of Saturn" with Cave sort of rapping rather than singing, lightening things up a little before moving on to what is one of the most harrowing moments of the album with "Girl in Amber", a lovely yet painful song that deals with the emotional scars that such a terrible event brings to a couple. The girl in amber is, admittedly, Nick Cave's wife Susie Bick ("if you want to bleed, just bleed"); the song ends with Cave almost crying, his voice drowned in fragility ("don't touch me"). The sorrow and the anger show up in "Magneto" as he confesses "the urge to kill someone was overwhelming" and the insurmountable daily chores he has to face, "I had such a hard blues down at the supermarket queue"  while the next track "Anthrocene" seems to confirm the artist's interest in drawing parallels and metaphors based on ideas and theories coming from the realm of science (just like "Higgs Boson Blues" from 2013's Push the Sky Away did). "I need you" is perhaps when Cave deals with his son's death more openly and it is also one of  the most poignant moments of the whole album; for him,"nothing really matters anymore" since the night in which they "wrecked like a train". Hard not to be moved by such honesty and grief. In "Distant Skies" Cave is joined by Danish soprano Else Torp and together they start to see the light at the end of the tunnel as they set out for distant skies. This catharsis is somehow confirmed by the last track that gives name to the album- Skeleton Tree-  that ends with Cave acknowledging that "it's alright now".

"If you want to bleed, just bleed" 

Thus, Skeleton Tree sees and artist that is able to deal with and purge his demons, laying bare his feelings about a devastating event whilst producing an album of an intensity and honesty rarely seen in today's popular music. Leaving aside the all-too-hard-to-ignore leitmotif that hovers over it, this is a giant step forward in Nick Cave's output, and that says quite a lot about one of the most consistent artists around. It is also noteworthy the influence that Bad Seeds' violinst Warren Ellis plays on the album.
Time will of course tell, but right now I see Skeleton Tree as one of the best albums this Australian bard has ever released and definitely one that will duly show up in the lists of the best albums of 2016.