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Interview with David Randall


Henna Malik

Who – or what – inspires you creatively?

It could be anything from a bit of graffiti to a sunset... But usually it’s people that inspire me – people’s lives, loves and struggles, including my own. When it comes to music, it could be any genre, as long as it feels raw and honest. I’m listening to a lot of dubstep at the moment, and the new album from Aziz Sahmaoui – former frontman of the Orchestre National de Barbes – who played a brilliant set at WOMAD in July. Politically, I feel inspired by – as well as concerned about – the ‘Arab Spring’ in general and the Egyptian revolution in particular. In my view, the outcome of the ongoing revolutionary process in Egypt is the single most important factor in the struggle for a free Palestine and for justice and real democracy across the region.

You’ve said that music and politics are ‘natural partners’. In what way?

Music, like all culture, is a reflection of society with all its diversity and contradictions. All music is political, in some sense. Every time we watch a Beyoncé gig, an episode of American Idol or a music video on YouTube, we are being invited to internalize a set of values and ideas about what is cool, what is sexy, what is ‘normal’ and what matters. There’s an ideological component and therefore political ramifications to all music and culture. Music is shaped by changes in economics and technology, which are both affected by political struggle. But occasionally, music can also play its part in progressive attempts to change the world. It can inspire and help to cohere people around political demands and the belief that a better world is possible.

What makes you angry?

The many millionaire Conservative politicians who pretend to be concerned about ordinary people but in reality have contempt for us. The sell-out careerists of the Labour Party who pretend to talk for the Left but have given up all hope of changing the world in any meaningful way – and who probably never read Marx in the first place. The smug commentators in the media who continually and uncritically pedal Islamophobic and other racist ideas... lots, really! But I try not to dwell on anger too much. Rage Against the Machine sang that your anger is a gift. That’s true, but only if it is channelled in a constructive way.

Music can inspire and help to cohere people around political demands and the belief that a better world is possible

Do musicians and artists have responsibilities in an unjust world?

We all have responsibilities to one another. An injury to one is an injury to all. Musicians and artists tend not to be at the cutting edge of political struggle, in the way that more organized workforces can be. But the decisions we make about our art and our careers do affect other people. For example, Palestinians experience great injustice living under the illegal Israeli occupation. Western governments, at best, turn a blind eye to this, seeing Israel as a strategic ally in an oil-rich region. So the representatives of Palestinian civil society have called upon ordinary people around the world to support the imposition of boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel, until Israel recognizes its obligations to the Palestinians under international law. This is a hugely important nonviolent attempt to force Israel’s oppressive apartheid regime to change. I think that anyone who cares about injustice must take up that call. For musicians and artists, that means we have a responsibility to join the cultural boycott of Israel, as Faithless did last year.

How did the single ‘Freedom for Palestine’ come about?

I first went to Israel on tour with Faithless in 1997. We had a day off in Tel-Aviv so I decided to make a trip to Gaza. I returned there on another occasion and I’ve been to the West Bank many times. When you see with your own eyes the humiliation and suffering to which the Palestinians are subjected daily, you want to do something, however small, to show your solidarity with their struggle for justice and self-determination. For me, that meant writing a song and inviting musicians from around the world to record it.


New Internationalist issue 446 magazine cover This article is from the October 2011 issue of New Internationalist.
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