As Greens we have an international perspective on many things and yet localization with respect for a cosmopolitan diverse culture is important to us. One of the best ways of supporting this paradox is the international language. Some claim that Maths is this language, but not everyone can count and even if they do how many use the same system? How many months in a year are there? Which base should we use? The duodecimal (base 12) system would be best, yet we metricate – except in the English speaking New World where the mile, pound and gallon still rule.
Instead I would say the common language of our culture is music. When traveling the world I have noticed how often this plays an important part in our lives. In fact I don’t know anyone who never listens to music or performs it in some way or another. Increasingly people are looking to their cultural roots and are mining their rich inheritance to take back the control of music from the Multinationals.
Such tools as Kazaa Lite and Napster are often portrayed in the media as the tools of criminals attacking the legitimate profits of honest musos. But who’s profits are they really attacking? I believe that the fall off in mass record sales is a good thing. Maybe not for the fake ass A&Rs, and those who don’t perform away from the frequency correcting studio equipment, but certainly for the people who want individualistic voices to sing out in freedom.
The modern music industry is a relatively new phenomenon. He who pays the piper calls the tune, reveals that at one time performers were honored more than the original song writer, albeit under the payer’s remit. This situation that prevails in much of Africa where successful music is copied and then without royalties being paid. Once written it is then public domain. This culture of sharing has even been adopted by those visiting the Dark Continent, for example Paul Simon’s Graceland album and the Black Mambazo that has spread to the West.
The tradition of honoring of the bard and musician is good. But placing them on a pedestal far apart from the people is bad. At one time music wasn’t something purchased from a commercial outlet produced by people distant in land and culture. Songs and stories were swapped and told as part of the rich oral culture that everyone shared in and created, much as jokes are today. These ballads, ditties and ayrs were something all participated in. Everyone sang. We sang at work, marching to war, in the taverns, the parlour and of course at worship. Music reflected people’s dreams and history and was integral to their daily living.
A Green way of approaching this World puts music back in the control of the people, by the people and for the people. There have been mass music movements that have done that; Skiffle where anyone could have a go and did with tea chest double bases and big jugs; Punk where bands, as did Crass, stipulated you were “To Pay No More Than …” to keep their music available for all. And even today there is free music available from the web with the excellent Liquid Connective (1) in the vanguard.
So where is this culture of living inclusive music still alive? Everywhere if you look. Gwyneth Connell living in the USA is an alumni of the DQ of Amherst College (2) The DQ is led and run entirely by a student group. Gwyneth says they “arrange and perform a pretty diverse repertoire of music”. Alternating between touring one year and producing a CD the next the music is available for future generations to learn. Amongst their repertoire are Rocket Man and Please Please Me, quite recent songs. Yet the group can trace its origins back to founded as part of a “Glee Club”.
Songs that reflect this heritage are Lord Jeffrey Amherst , Resound ye Circling Hills and Good Days.
Further south in the Americas can be found the Coral da Universidade Anhembi Morumbi (3). Daniela Pinto da Silva, a singer in the Coral based in São Paulo, values the sounds found in Brasil. “Latin Music”, she writes “is often lumped together in Europe, but Brasilian music is different and is quite distinctive.” Not that the Coral confines itself to a purely Brasilian selection. “We’d love to learn new music from around the world” Dani cries. Having seen them perform, you will hear Italian; O occhi manza mia, Latin; Jesu Salvator Mundi, English; Rock My Soul and Hebrew; Ose Shalom, being amongst their songs as well as the expected Portuguese; Rosa Amarela and O Cio da Terra performed in harmony in Churches, Universities and other public places. They are a group that plays its part in the community and is open to all.
So what is happening closer to home? Song and sound is alive and well in Europa too. I stayed with Alice Reve in Paris a few weeks ago. She plays with the Front Musical d’Intervention (4). The musicians concentrate on protest songs; Battan L’otto and Chant des Intermittents being a couple of them. They play mostly tunes created since la révolution française. Of that era are La Semaine Sanglante and La Carmagnole.
The FMI perform on the streets, in marches and at concert halls. I particularly enjoyed A Las Barricadas and Where have all the Flowers Gone. FMI are always looking for new tunes to add to the very impressive list from many lands and in many languages already known to them. The Front participates in the community with direct action for les sans-papiers who are now increasingly seen world wide from the indocumentados in the U.S. to the supposedly “bogus asylum seekers” of Eire. Although their activism extends to peace, antiglobalization and they have taken an interest in recent pension reform which affected festivals, performers and artistes across France this Summer.
Here in caru Cymru the Keeping Music Live campaign of the Musicians’ Union certainly finds favor. Wales has long had a tradition of singing after the Rugby Game and is internationally famous for its male voice choirs. Claire Sain Ley Berry sings with the Côr Cochion Caerdydd (5). Côr songs sung in Welsh include: The Internationale and also Mae Gen i Freuddwyd (I have a dream) which is a peace song, and Buddigoliaeth (Victory) which is a good old rousing communist song, and of course the national anthem Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau. Yet other lovely songs are also sung by them in other languages. These include Scottish; Freedom Come all Ye, Spanish; Plegaria, Xhosa; Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica and Arabic; Biladi.
The Côr doesn’t confine itself to peace songs, but also sings songs of protests and social change. The Whole Wide World Around is sung to show “solidarity, because we all are comrades….” according to Claire. And a song that might well be thought of as part of the Green cannon of protest song, The World Turned Upside Down was originally a nonsense song sung by The English Diggers.
So what of my own musical background? Do I practice what I preach? I grew up in a house where music was always around. Melodeon, piano, guitar, fratoir, recorder, faedóg and 5 string banjo would regularly sound out at parties and practices. My father drums in the Bograt Ceilidh Band. He often keeps the beat of the bodhrán to The Black Velvet Band and for dancing drums the tune The Cock of the North. As a child I went charity carol singing round my village with St. Andrew’s Church Choir. Some fine Carols I crooned included Stille Nacht and Good King Wenceslas with a few from Hymns Ancient & Modern. Later on I frequented the local pubs where folk clubs and sing arounds provided the music. Favorites were, Wild Mountain Thyme, Bound for South Australia, The Streets of London and Star of the County Down, which are still sung in them today.
Upon moving to London I went to many legendary parties in Cooper Road where we danced and sung to mostly Mediterranean culture of the party goers. Often on guitar were Joel Lopez-Ferreiro and Ángels Ciercoles. They played the Big Spanish singalong favourites; Sin documentos by Los Rodrgíuez and Para No Verte Mas by La Mosca Tse Tse. “Para no verte mas is quite an easy chorus to sing,” according to Joel, “if you can manage to play Es-topa”. Various Catlan performers’ music were also enjoyed for example the work of Luis Llach. It wasn’t only an Iberian experience as Turkish, Greek or Italian entertainment most always filled in the gaps between the discussions on politics, travel, life and love.
Now I spend much of my Summer reliving the 15th Century with Buckingham’s Retinue (6). Re-enactment is a hobby that celebrates the past with gatherings like Leominster Medieval Fair. This Fair was organized by Joan Thwaites, a Green Party member, and is a successful annual new event with traditional music. Joan hopes that “it will grow and will help local groups to get going.”
At most events after battle is done, and the public are gone, out come the song books. David Hemsley editor of the Swan Song is particularly keen to “raise the musical standard” of reenactors. Sue Green ably accompanies him, she plays many traditional instruments and believes “ the vast majority of us are able to produce some kind of music and should be encouraged to do so.” To help develop talent in song and ability with instruments like the hurdy gurdy, hornpipe and tabors she will be hosting a number of musical so irées over the Winter season.
The Bucks sing protest songs; including Levellers and Diggers, Manchester Rambler and Wat Tyler; songs of history; Agincourt, Over the Hills and Far Away songs of freedom; The Foggy Dew, Rising of the Moon and ballads lamenting the tragedy of war; The Young British Soldier, Hangin’ on the Old Barbed Wire, No Man’s Land, The Locke Hospital and The Band Played Waltzing Matilda). Although songs are mainly sung in English we also have the odd French; L’Homme d’Armée and Latin; Gaudette song as during the 15th Century those running things were often trilingual. Our music reflects the chivalric ideal that was “mettez en romance” as well as the part Rome played in the Catholic nation ruled by the of Crown of England. My musical odyssey continues with the Green Parties.
When visiting Comahoatas Glas in Dublin they treated us like kings and took us to a shabeen. A spontaneous (or so it seemed) session sprang up. To the taste of the potcheen could be heard the beat of the bodhrán and the mandolin strum. Ceilidh mille failte! from the fair city. At every Green Party of England and Wales Conference there is a Revue. At the Revue anyone can get up and perform (even those without talent). Jean Lambert MEP sang a version of Because I Got High and Owen Clarke a version of Green Grow the Rushes-O. Both of these had the words changed to make what is called a filk, which is part of a vibrant tradition of re-inventing and updating of music for the masses.
When on the campaign trail Matt Wootton has treated me to a wide variety of music, some of it in Javanese! Gwent Green Party meetings usually end with a song. And Swansea Green Party alternates between business meetings and Social Folk Evenings (with too much Dylan), you would expect no less in the “Old land where the minstrels are honored and free” as our national anthem loudly proclaims. It is good to hear these songs being sung across the globe, but lets have some more Green Songs. How about a FYEG anthem, a song about Dubya or a clarion call to vote Green? Get working on them now. With any luck we might hear a few at the General Assembly in Oxford, UK, in 2004…
For more info on these groups see:
3. Coral da Universidade Anhembi Morumbi contact <email@example.com>
5. Côr Cochion Caerdydd contact <firstname.lastname@example.org>