Wed. Jul 17th, 2019

Songs that demolish walls | Babelia



It is one of those beautiful paradoxes that make us envy the robust political culture of the United States. In the middle of Trump's era, the closest thing to an official label that has that republic has published a formidable book combo with four discs where leftist songs dominate, to put it simply. There are also many songs interpreted in Spanish; a mariachi even appropriates San Antonio rose, classic western swing Moreover, a muezzin is included with his adhan, the call to prayer made from the mosque, apart from a fragment of a zkir Sufi

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The label in question is Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution, a network of museums and research centers; Two-thirds of your budget is covered by the federal government. Since 1988, the Smithsonian has been acquiring the catalogs of Folkways, Paredon, Arhoolie and other minority labels created in the heat of folk revival or of particular obsessions (after the sessions for the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now, Mickey Hart, drummer of Grateful Dead, dedicated energy and money to recordings of field and rescues of forgotten music). Smithsonian Folkways controls some 60,000 recordings, a number that grows with specific productions of its own. The commitment of the Smithsonian to those visionary disks was not limited to the preservation of the masters: it also demands that they be commercialized. That means that Pete Seeger (condemned during the witch hunt), Woody Guthrie (troubadour of dissolute habits) or Lead Belly (homicidal) today are technically artists sponsored by Uncle Sam.

With its immense archive and its access to the photographic collections of the Library of Congress, The Social Power of Music it seems both an exhibition of editorial muscle and a challenge to trumpism. Several songs dedicated to the emigration drama appear, including 'Deportees', the reflection of Woody Guthrie on the crash of the DC-3 plane that, in 1948, returned 28 Mexican braceros to his country; Guthrie's indignation derived from their being despised, both in life and after his death.

It is a success of The Social Power of Music that two of his albums do not contain protest songs, strictly speaking. Social Songs and Gatherings explores the role of music as a mortar for communities, from children's songs to chipewa songs, through weddings, funerals, carnivals and -naturally- the rhythms of a Saturday night that can survive the steamroller of globalization. Or to agree with the invading sounds: the Sam Brothers 5 are a band of zydeco who plays a hit of Chic with accordion and washboard!

Maybe you need more explanations the disk dedicated to sacred sounds. After some Puritan excesses, the United States was founded on the then radical idea of ​​religious freedom (hence, anomalies such as the consumption of peyote is perfectly legal in the rituals of the Native American Church). It is known that the churches played a major role in the fight against slavery and, more recently, in the establishment of civil rights for the African-American minority: the hymns on redemption worked as levers against oppression. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or Navajos contribute to enrich this section.

In the first album of the anthology, Songs of Struggle, we find the echoes of epic union battles. Joe Hill, agitator of the Industrial Workers of World who was shot in 1915, emphasized the use of songs, his own and those of his co-religionists: "A pamphlet, no matter how good it is, is never read more than once, while a song is learned and repeated over and over again, (...) if a person can put a few common sense data in a song, dressed in a layer of humor to remove seriousness, can manage to teach a large number of indifferent workers to pamphlets or economic science texts. "

Giants like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie stand out, singing alone and briefly united in the Almanac Singers, a product of popular front alliances. Bob Dylan is represented by his most universal song, 'Blowin' in the Wind 'here performed by the New World Singers of Happy Traum and company. The compilers give space to the movements of Puerto Ricans and Chicanos: the agricultural workers of César Chávez turned into a flag a seemingly harmless song like 'De colores'. Feminists incorporated demands that are fully valid today, such as 'Reclaim the Night', vibrant interpretation a cappella by Peggy Seeger in 1976.

The fourth CD, Global Movements, expands the focus to major conflicts of the twentieth century (and even earlier, with that evocation of the Commune of 1871 which is 'Le temps des cerises', here recreated by Yves Montand). He begins by recalling the Spanish Civil War with 'Viva la Quince Brigada', in Pete Seeger's version, and continues with a choral reading of 'Bella ciao': the song in unison generates feelings of strength and unity. The battles against colonialism, the apartheid and the dictatorships implanted with the complicity of Washington.

The presentation text highlights the continental influence of the New Chilean Song. Although the people are sovereign and can choose instinctively: 'Do You Hear the People Sing?', The musical Les misérables, It has been sung in innumerable demonstrations, from Turkey to South Korea. But Trump also parodied him in his presidential campaign: in cultural wars, every message can acquire double edge.

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