Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 3 members of Pussy Riot, the feminist punk band, will be held in prison until at least March 2013 whilst awaiting trial for performing an anti-Putin punk song in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Pussy Riot have been protesting for many months now against Putin’s crack down on freedom of expression in Russia – for example see my news blog item Pussy Riot Song Protest in Red Square. Their Cathedral protest performance has been condemned by the Orthodox Church, which is urging the government to take strong action against the women.
The Sex Pistols have been in the news recently in connection with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and the Olympic Games. Plans are underway to re-release the Pistols’ God Save the Queen, originally released in 1977 during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee events.
The song caused huge controversy, both for the defaced image of the Queen on the cover, and for its lyrics, which include “God Save the Queen / A fascist regime”; despite a ban by the BBC, the record managed to get to number two in the charts. This time round the song is likely to be up against a special Jubillee song of celebration written by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and pop singer Gary Barlow, do to be released at the end of May; perhaps this time the Pistols will get to number one!
The Sex Pistols are also in the news after they declined to take part in the Olympic ceremonies, along with various other acts. The Olympic authorities wanted to censor Pretty Vacant by not allowing Johnny Rotten to sing the word “vacant” with his usual slight variation on the final syllable!
Plan B (Ben Drew) has released Ill Manors, a rap that many commentators are heralding as one of the greatest protest songs for years. The song deals with the riots in England last August, and with the underlying problems of social alienation, exclusion, and the hopelessness and anger felt by many young people in the sick manors (inner city areas and housing schemes). Plan B explains his thinking behind the song (and soon to be film of the same name) in an interview with BBC1Xtra. One of his comments seems particularly insightful:
I’m not trying to condone what happened during the riots. It disgusted me. It made me sick. It saddened me more than anything because those kids that was rioting and looting they’ve just made life 10 times harder for themselves. They’ve just played into the hands of what certain sectors of Middle England think about them.
The lyrics are a clever and effective mix of angry and violent rants, such as:
Truth is here, we’re all disturbed / We cheat and lie its so absurd / Feed the fear that’s what we’ve learned / Fuel the fire / Let it burn”, together with critiques of specific issues; the sarcasm of We got an eco friendly government / They preserve our natural habitat / Built an entire Olympic village / Around where we live without pulling down any flats
seems especially apt and timely, whilst other parts of the rap raises questions about government cut programmes being a significant part of the problem:
Who closed down the community centre? / I kill time there used to be a member / What will I do now until September? / Schools out, rules out / get your bloody tools out / London’s burning, I predict a riot / Fall in fall out / who knows what it’s all about / What did that chief say?
Eight members of an anarchic punk band have been arrested in Moscow and charged with public order offences as a result an impromptu performance of an anti-Putin song, prefaced by a chant of “Riot in Russia”. The radical feminist group, Pussy Riot, usually performing in balaclavas, has gained both influence and notoriety following a number of performances over the past few months in a range of venues, including city squares, the Moscow metro and on a bus. One of the group’s members, Garadzha, stated
We are against Putin, against the regime. We wanted to show that this can happen in Russia, that there are girls who are active, who can do things like this.
Staff objections have led Berlin’s biggest opera house, the Deutsche Oper, to drop plans to perform Hitler’s favourite opera. The opening night was to be April 20th, Hitler’s birthday. Wagner’s Rienzi (Last of the Tribunes) was said by Hitler to be a major influence on his political thinking. Rienzi is set in Rome and is based on the life of Cola di Rienzi (1313–1354), a medieval Italian populist figure who succeeds in outwitting and then defeating the nobles and their followers and in raising the power of the people.
The actual impact of the opera on Hitler has been widely debated, but certainly there are clear affinities between the plot and Hitler’s actions; one commentator Thomas Grey has very interestingly stated “In every step of Rienzi’s career – from … acclamation as leader of the Volk through military struggle, violent suppression of mutinous factions, betrayal and … final immolation – Hitler would doubtless have found sustenance for his fantasies.”
Written by Allan Whalley of Chumbawamba, and starring Phil Jupitus with the Red Ladder Theatre Company, Big Society! A Music Hall Comedy will open on January 18th at Leeds City Varieties Music Hall. Big Society examines Cameron’s pseudo-Victorian vision of how society should work based on a muddled philosophy of volunteering, philanthropy and the negating of the state’s responsibilities for social welfare and wellbeing. Allan Whalley sets the action in 1912 saying “You look back to that Edwardian time, and you see pictures of Cameron and Boris Johnson in their tails at college – that photograph could come from 1912.” Whalley says his aim is partly to “recreate what music hall really was, which was a riotous, radical, interesting, good fun, great night out.”
Ray Fisher has died at the age of 70. Ray, the sister of Archie and Cilla Fisher, played an important role in the Scottish folk revival of the late 1950’s, especially as part of the Wayfarers trio with Archie and Bobby Campbell. Her main passion was for Scottish ballads, but she was also active politically, especially as an anti-nuclear campaigner, singing regularly at anti-Polaris demonstrations and CND events. Ray recognised the power of song as a political force, and is quoted as having said “Underneath all of what was going on in Scotland there was a realisation that there was a strength in the music as a vehicle for politics.
Whilst the causes and consequences of the London Riots are indeed complex, and certainly deeper than a lot of the emotive kneejerk comments coming from government and other sources might suggest, it is clear that some powerful songs based in grime, hip hop and rap have captured the mood of at least some sections of the rioters. Take for example the powerful track from 2 K Kolderz They Will Not Control Us which starts:
Dear Mr Prime Minister …
We’re living like shit in this country, while you’ve got your feet up living nice and comfy
Well we know where the problem is, the people acknowledge this: stand up to the politics.
Fuck the Government
I’ve had enough of them.
A very different example is the a cappella UK Riots by Genesis Elijah.
Songs have been released protesting against the practice of fracking, described by one anti-fracking group thus : “Hydraulic fracturing, or “Fracking”, is using over 500 toxic chemicals to shatter rock to extract more natural gas from wells, driving profit up. It pollutes our groundwater and the air and is killing us. It is putting profit over the planet. It is time we ban this toxic practice that is harming our planet”.
For example NYU Studio 20 students have created a very creative and informative video to explain fracking complete with backing rap My Water’s On Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song).
Meanwhile singer Dave Rovics has written No Fracking Way, which concludes with a very clear message!
As if the situation weren’t sufficiently unattractive
We tested the water and found it was radioactive
Now my property is worthless and there’s a tumor in my brain
Half of my neighbors are sick, the rest are just in pain
Maybe I should take the money, move off to live somewhere
But all the places I look at, they’re fracking there
Our choices now are simple, lose that which we hold dear
Or communicate the message in a way that’s unstoppably clear
…Tell these frackers to frack off, both tomorrow and today
Mideast Tunes reports the release of Biyan Raqam Wahid, translated as Statement No. 1. or Communique No. 1, a rap song protesting against, and documenting, the violent government suppression of demonstrations and rallies against the authoritarian and repressive state, as an extract from the lyrics make clear:
We live in silence It’s been years
How long do we have to stay like this — dead
They are always promising reform and freedom
But it seems there is no will and opinions are banned
The song was released online and widely networked. The Mideast Tunes article makes the excellent point “Arab Spring raps strike the same tone as rap’s emergent themes when it was evolving as an American rebellious protest form in the 1970s, with strong roots in “street culture” of urban neighborhoods that spoke to global social and political conflicts. Like American rap’s original investment in formulating lyrics to convey a strong mobilization message.”