If any good has come out of the Iraqi crisis it’s the way in which millions of people worldwide have protested. The web has played an enormous role in this organization. Among musicians, some have spoken out in real time – stand proud, you Texan Dixie Chicks! Others have taken to the web.
The sites listed below are among the leading antiwar sites; all of them offer free MP3 downloads. And sometimes more. Made by the people behind Sonic Youth, veteran experimentalists from New York, protest-records.com offers a slick series of stencils for neighbourhood subversives. (I’d recommend ‘Bush’n’Bones’.)
The music, organized in 10 volumes, is eclectic: indie rockers Mudhoney and Chumbawumba rub shoulders with turn-tablists like DJ Spooky, plus fast-rising songwriter Cat Power. The Beastie Boys number ‘In a World Gone Mad’ – a howl of punk-rap – is its finest moment.
Smaller sites have gems, too. REM, who have rushed a mix of ‘The Final Straw’ on to their site remhq.com are the biggest-name band to raise their voices.
It also happens to be a great song: Michael Stipe’s vocals and an earthy, acoustic guitar are a stunning combination. Zack de la Rocha, last seen leading Rage Against the Machine, makes his solo début on marchofdeath.com. No stranger to radical politics, de la Rocha enlists a sound storm of electronic backing from DJ Shadow to ram the message home. For those still hankering for a Hendrix moment, it has to be Lenny Kravitz, who has teamed up with Iraqi pop star Kadim Al Sahir to record ‘We Want Peace’ (rockthevote.com).
There’s much more out there but what’s really interesting is that as radio and TV get anxious about airing the ‘political’ stuff it’s the web that’s filling the gap.
For jazz enthusiasts who feel that their listening sometimes lacks a little passion comes Exile, an album that doesn’t mince its words. ‘This album is a prayer for the world to acknowledge the Palestinian essential right of return,’ its Israeli composer, Gilad Atzmon, states in the sleeve-notes. Brave words and braver notes, for Exile – made by musicians and singers who are all in real or self-imposed exile – is an album that uses music as a metaphor for conflict. Atzmon, a clarinet, sax and flute player, takes Arabic lyrics and sets them with ‘Israeli’ music – witness the centrepiece ‘Al-Quds’ – and, in so doing, makes us painfully aware how close Jewish and Palestinian cultures could be.
Much of Exile takes its dynamic from Atzmon’s lead; accordions and ouds pop up from time to time to underscore that this isn’t a beard-stroking album as much as a shoe-leather burner. That said, it’s ‘Al Quds’ that will get any dancer to stop in their tracks, featuring the powerful vocals of Reem Kelani, an ethnic Palestinian who can trace her heritage back to Muhammad.
The song’s title is the Arabic name for Jerusalem. As the band improvises on the music to ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ – a sentimental song going back to the Six-Day War – Kelani substitutes a poem of Palestinian exile by Mahmoud Darwish. It’s nothing short of audacious, and Exile carries it off courageously.
Datong in contemporary China is a town of wasteland and new roads, of haves and have-nots, of community fracture. Xiao Ji and Bin Bin are unemployed – the state textile plants have gone, or are going, bust. They hang around the snooker hall. Although her pay cheque is late, performer Quia Quia has work as a traditional dancer – in a road show to promote Mongolian liquor. Xiao Ji has a crush on her. Bin Bin’s girlfriend Yuan Yuan is prim and focused – on going to university to do business studies.
This is the new China – of the mobile phone, pop music, cigarettes, television – where an unemployed youth like Xiao Ji, affecting baggy trousers, combat vest and hair in his eyes, is impressed by the films of Quentin Tarantino. Director Zhang-Ke’s style, though, is relentlessly unshowy, deadpan and undramatic: everyday life is worthy of time and consideration. His lingering camera and mic stay with his characters, who, apart from Yuan Yuan, are outsiders unable to change or escape from their world.
Stolid Bin Bin and conformist Yuan Yuan are temperamentally well matched, but she’s inevitably leaving him behind. Nagged by his mother to join the army, he tries to but discovers he has hepatitis – and healthcare costs money. ‘There’s no fucking future,’ he tells Yuan Yuan. This is punk philosophy, but without the spunk, the spit, the spirit – and where despair, not defiance, dominates.
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
Gil Courtemanche’s debut novel, a bestseller on its publication in his native Canada, is a barely fictionalized account of Rwanda in the days leading up to the 1994 genocide perpetrated on the Tutsi minority by Hutu extremists. The book is based on Courtemanche’s own experiences as a journalist in Africa and he describes it as ‘a chronicle and an eye-witness report’. His principal characters – many based on real people – are the group of Kigali residents who congregate around the social hub of the swimming pool of the Mille-Collines Hotel. Among them are Bernard Valcourt, a disillusioned Quebecois journalist, and Gentille, a shy, beautiful waitress who is a Hutu but is often mistaken for a Tutsi. Bernard and Gentille embark on a passionate, doomed love affair as the country slides towards catastrophe.
Courtemanche sets the lives of these individuals against a vast political backdrop, including the aids crisis ravaging Africa and the savagery of the ‘structural adjustment’ imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. These issues sit awkwardly in the novel, though, and the momentous subject matter often overwhelms the personal narratives. That said, this is a moving and brave meditation on love and evil as well as a scathing indictment of an ‘international community’ inert and complicit in the face of genocide. As Bernard says, pondering how we can construct happiness among carnage and chaos: ‘If you want to keep living... you have to believe in things as plain and obvious as brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours, hope, respect, solidarity.’
One No, Many Yeses
Whatever its proponents tell you to the contrary, the neoliberal model of economic globalization results in a net flow of capital from poor countries to rich. Since the 1970s the gap between the rich and the poor has widened dramatically and poverty and deprivation has become more widespread.
But as the neoliberals turn the screw the poor are fighting back out of necessity and with resourcefulness. In One No, Many Yeses Paul Kingsnorth travels the globe in search of the character of the movement behind the ‘anti-capitalist’ headlines and uncovers inspirational success stories along the way.
We get to see the Brazilian Landless Movement (MST) taking back land for survival and self-sufficiency; guerrilla bands reconnecting electricity in South Africa; citizens making fundamental legal challenges to corporate power in the US; and the West Papua independence movement fighting to stop American mining company Freeport stripping the country of its natural resources.
Kingsnorth tracks the internationalization of these local developments from the Encuentro gathering hosted by the Zapatistas in Chiapas in 1996, through the formation of the organizing force behind the demonstrations – People’s Global Action – to the initiation of the World Social Forum. He explodes the myth that ‘the movement’ is simply against capitalism and has nothing constructive to offer in its place and he expounds the most widely held programme for change.
This gripping, highly personable travelogue is essential reading for anyone who wants to get up to speed with the growing social-justice movement.
On 16 October 1998, to the delight of millions and the fury of his unsavoury pals such as Margaret Thatcher, the former dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet, was arrested in London and charged with torture and murder on a warrant issued by the Spanish judge Baltazar Garzón. Ariel Dorfman, the celebrated writer and activist, has charted the historic process of the case in a short but immensely powerful book, Exorcising Terror.
Dorfman intertwines his own history – so vividly told already in his memoir, Heading South, Looking North – with a chronological account of the interminable extradition procedure. He also reflects on the meaning for Chile and the world of the unprecedented incarceration of the dictator. There are important international issues here that go far beyond the blood on Pinochet’s hands. As Dorfman points out, we are told that the march of globalization is unstoppable – so how about a globalized justice from which despots could not hide? Milosevic may be on trial in The Hague but what about Idi Amin, Mugabe or Mengistu? What about Henry Kissinger?
This book vividly captures the catharsis the trial brought to the millions of Chileans whose lives had been blighted for so long by the dictator. The pages blaze with a passionate desire to see justice for the people tortured and murdered by his vile regime. Despite the British Home Secretary’s craven decision to let Pinochet go on ‘health grounds’, Dorfman ends with a convincing argument that the process has been ‘una victoria para la humanidad’ – a victory for humanity.
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