Sunday, October 27, 2013

Brand New Revolution

By now nearly everybody in the world has seen Russell Brand being interviewed by Jazza Paxman and, essentially, saying everything that many of us think and feel about the current state of politics and social organisation. We all applaud and, like a sugar rush or shot of strong spirits, the emotions rush to our heads and we punch the air while sat in front of our computer, smart phone or tablet; and there lies the rub. We remain seated.

Then, like the old stereotype about a Chinese meal (I have no idea how that started as everytime I’ve been to a Chinese restaurant I’m fine for at least 8 hours), you find yourself feeling empty again. Once you start examining the reasons for this you soon start to see the flaws in the Brand new way of doing things. Not that there is anything wrong about some good old ranting about the system, I made a career of it in The Members. My problem is with the “Don’t Vote” thing.

Have you noticed just how poisoned the national discourse has become, particularly about immigrants and benefits? You know why? Because UKIP turned up at the polls, that’s why. Simple. Every time you hear some person saying voting doesn’t change anything the response should be “NOT voting changes everything in a way you don’t want”. When all these myopic, two dimensional UKIP politicians turn up on our TV screens pointing the finger at some fictitious EU immigrant threat they are there because somebody else didn’t bother voting.

They represent a scare for a Conservative Party that is so regressive and cut off from its own heartland, and in response they feel obliged to co-opt the rhetoric, which they couch in mealy mouthed platitudes, in turn our media leaps upon the story feeding the immi-frenzy that passes for politics and in turn the apparently more liberal parties feel obliged to ape and mimic these positions because a dumbed down electorate will repeat and elaborate upon the anecdotal evidence put up by a party of bigots that is UKIP. And this happened because many on the left believe that voting doesn’t change anything and didn’t turn up. UKIP doesn’t believe that, and as a result they are the ones setting the parameters for what passes for political discourse.

There are plenty of people out there, the young, the poor, the dispossessed and the desperate, who don’t vote. They are not stopped from voting, there’s no voter ID type scam in place that would cause them problems like they have in the land of the free, they just don’t bother. There’s a mixture of politicians are all liars and cheats and “I’m not really into politics” and this allows the elites to ensure their continued existence, allows for the dismantling of the welfare state and the destruction of the NHS.

If you don’t vote then your opinion really doesn’t count at all. It doesn’t matter how many online petitions you sign or how many Facebook posts you like if your voice isn’t represented in voting numbers then no one is listening. I admire 38Degrees, Change and Occupy but they don’t have any political representation so their opinion meant sod all when parliament passed the recent lobbying bill. UKIP have no MPs but their voters have scared a major political party and skewed the national conversation.

Imagine if those voters had supported immigrants and the weak. We might have a far more reasonable discussion. Almost a revolution.

Now that’s a brand new way of thinking.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fela Kuti, Revolutionary Dream.

In 1971 I was sixteen, turning seventeen in October. It was the age when music was becoming my life’s blood and starting to influence how I saw the world and related to it. My friend Mark and I would float around Camberley town centre, from coffee bar to record store talking about the value of this band and that band; we’d also crowd into the listening booths and beg the older bloke (at least twenty two) to let us hear whole sides of albums. It was Mark who dragged me into the booth and said “You gotta hear this!” and played me Heroin by the Velvet Underground; I dragged him in to hear Dirt by The Stooges. Record shop guy sort of tolerated us and then one day said “You two need to hear this”. It was Why Black Man Dey Suffer by Fela Kuti.

I never really listened to music the same again.

Over the years this early openness to what was out there musically has brought so much joy to my life. Disco, reggae, soul; the list is endless. For ages I felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, or at least a member of a small gang who used strange words like Fela, Franco, Sunny Ade or Joujouka. It didn’t make me a purist, it just made me open. Then it got called World Music and somehow in two simple words this magical music was put into a box marked “Liberal Middle Class Muesli Eaters”.

For me Fela is revolutionary music, by a man who walked the walk, talked the talk and took all the beatings handed out to him by an oppressive state. A man who articulated the problems that Africa faced from rapacious multi-nationals and corrupt governments many years before NGOs and pressure groups caught up with him was a giant. He was educated, sophisticated and informed; he chose to sing in pidgin English because it was a language that was pan-African, it enabled his message to travel beyond the borders of Nigeria and brought the issues he sang about, and highlighted, into the consciousness of the wider populations. He was a lot more scary than The Clash.

Now Knitting Factory Records are re-releasing several of Fela’s most important albums and they’ve led off with a pretty good compilation. Actually it’s a fucking great compilation but if you’re a Fela fan you’re always going to gripe that this song should be there, and that song, oh, yeah, and that one. I guess one of the problems is that so many of his songs clock in a big time so in an effort to introduce as many songs as possible you either edit or find the shorter ones.

That said this compilation has such towering greats as Everything Scatter and Expensive Shit, the breathtaking Sorrow Tears and Blood and the angry, and politically exact, Colonial Mentality.

For a true illustration of the power of music you cannot do better than anything by Fela. Right now we are living in difficult times, we have a government pressing down on the poorest in society, we have a middle class with a shrinking share of the national wealth and we have the youth of our country being priced out of education and work. Now, more than any other time, we need artists to step up to the plate and make common cause. I appreciate that pop music never changes much, but it changes the general environment, the water we swim in. When we are fed a diet of One Direction and Emelie Sande, when even the “challenging” bands are wary of speaking out about politics then we must delve into Fela Kuti. We must throw ourselves into his music like fishes desperate to breathe.

Everything Scatter

Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go
Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go
Them go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans
Them go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans (I.T.T.)