“Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music…whether it’s metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values” – John Harris
Harris expresses a sentiment many of us feel – in our hearts of hearts, we know that there is something missing in modern music – a politics, a passion, a sense of protest.
The music mainstream is characterised by ‘soulless music, artless lyrics, goalless movements and heartless gimmicks’ and yet under our feet a revolution brews from the stages of music venues across the country.
This revolution has no base other than music’s third world, the underground.
I refer to the underground, as the ‘third world’ to reflect the Peruvian American rap artist Immortal Technique’s observations…that the underground has all the natural resources, the talent, the man power and the passion, but has none of the access to the music markets that remain so manipulated and dominated by the powerful few.
Just like the third world though, the underground also spawns creativity, protest and resistance.
While the mainstream stays eerily quiet, the pulse of popular resistance beats on. Musicians are coming together to articulate what many of us feel but are unable to express. These musicians are uncaring of the marketability of their work.
They offer the discerning listener a raw, passionate and articulate response to the injustices we see and feel.
While traditional structures teach us that the love between two men is immoral the music of the underground gives us the poetry to resist this prejudice.
From The King’s Will’s ‘Love Against Homophobia’:
To some people
My love is somewhat alien;
When he comes up, they start subject-changing, and
In some states he’s seen as some contagion –
In those zones, he stays subterranean;
Some love my love; they run parades for him:
Liberal citizens lead the way for him:
Same time as some countries embracing him,
Whole faiths and nations seem ashamed of him:
They’ve tried banning him,
Prayed that he stayed in the cabinet,
But my love kicked in the panelling, ran for it –
He’s my love! Can’t be trapping him in labyrinths! –
Maverick, my love is; he thwarts challenges;
The cleverest geneticists can’t fathom him,
Priests can’t defeat him with venomous rhetoric;
They’d better quit; my love’s too competitive:
He’s still here, despite the Taliban, the Vatican,
And rap, ragga in their anger and arrogance,
Who call on my love with lit matches and paraffin –
Despite the fistfights and midnight batterings –
My love’s still here and fiercely battling,
My love’s still here and fiercely battling,
In this underground world, lyrics carry the sentiment of a generation growing up surrounded by violence and prejudice that we are unable to articulate a response to.
The underground does not demand protest but offers a fertile space for resistance to grow.
The underground crosses causes, continents and musical genres. Just as under the streets of Harlem you will find the dirty beats of subversive hip-hop, so under the soil of Middle-England you find the subversive chords of new-folk…and no, I’m talking about Mudford and fucking Sons.
Chris T-T for example expresses the concerns of the rural working classes as he takes on The Countryside Alliances’ (we’ll call them ‘the cunts’ for short) hypocrisy when he sings:
You loved the fucking poll tax, you propped up Margaret Thatcher
And you didn’t give a fuck about Tony Blair
‘Til he threw your hobby back at ya
Of course, a world-wide underground does not escape attention. Immortal Technique comments on this in his track ‘Open your eyes’ when he says, “When they [The Record Companies] need new assets, new artists to prostitute…, when they needed new concepts… they came to the underground”
Often music that pushes moral, social and musical boundaries becomes the pre-fix to new trends – new marketable trends. Subversive characters are marketable – think of John Lydon and his butter adverts.
So how should we, as consumers, respond to artists who rise up from the streets and onto the record company’s balance sheets?
Should we walk away from the likes of Frank Turner who sing of liberty and freedom whilst playing at the G4S/ATOS sponsored Olympics? No, of course not.
There is nothing inherent about protest being distinct from populism, and certainly nothing inherent about poverty and protest. Billy Bragg stands as a testimony as someone who has ridden a wave of popularity and prosperity and remained, relatively speaking, true to his values.
When Turner is quoted in The Guardian saying that “Rock n Roll will save us all” and that “anyone can take the stage” – The Guardian ‘raises an eyebrow’. For the rest of us it offers a signpost to resistance that surfaces in the mainstream.
When protest music such as Bragg, Turner or even Dylan rise up on to the airwaves and newspaper sheets of the masses, we should be pleased but we should never lose sight of where it came from.
Only in here will you find the raw passion, politics and protest that we are missing in most of our modern music.
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Band Aid 30 lyrics as ‘patronising and fatalistic as they are bizarre and untrue’
Madagascar missing from Band Aid 30 logo
There is nothing, literally nothing, in the whole world, that I dislike more than sweeping generalisations and crass oversimplifications – nothing!
It is out of this bugbear that [at least part of] my dislike for Band Aid/Band Aid 30 comes from.
I plan to take off from where the ever-awesome Bim Adewunmi left off when she wrote in the Guardian about how the lyrics of the original Band Aid still haunt her. Under the headline ‘Band Aid 30: clumsy, patronising and wrong in so many ways’ Adewunmi writes:
“…there were a few parts of the song that always stuck in my craw. For example, the lyric that begins: “And there won’t be snow in Africa …” It does snow in Africa! I say under my breath every December when shopping malls roll the track out.”
Well indeed – just as I can assure you there is snow in Africa so I can also assure that the original Band Aid song is filled with idiotic sweeping generalisations and crass oversimplifications – you know….the sort that niggle at me until I am forced to write an irate blog post.
Adewunmi finishes her article by offering what I feel to be premature credit though saying:
“To his credit…[Geldof] has said some of the lyrics will be tweaked slightly for this new version. Gone are the references to Africa’s “burning sun” as well as the assertion that it is a place where “no rain nor rivers flow”.
Well yes, this may be true but believe me, it does not seem that he has learnt any lessons about crass generalizations. While reference to famine and starvation have been removed (acknowledging that those “inappropriate” lyrics did not reflect that swathes of Africa that are “booming”) he has instead replaced them with these pearls of linguistic idiocy:
“At Christmas time, it’s hard but while you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear”
Firstly, let’s clarify something Bob – we (the generalised European/American masses) are not all having fun at Christmas. We are sleeping rough, dying of cancer, being beaten and raped by our partners, choking on pieces of lego and/or drinking ourselves into oblivion. I have no doubt that many people enjoy Christmas day greatly but this hits at the heart of the problem Bob, not everyone does.
Just as not all Europeans enjoy Christmas, so (it should be axiomatic but evidently it isn’t) not all ‘West Africans’ live in a ‘world of dread and fear’ because ‘there’s death in every tear’.
Ebola has killed around 5,000 people at the time of writing and has impacted on many more. It is a crisis that is as terrifying for those as involved as it is potentially life-threatening. According the MSF latest update:
Now in West Africa alone this leaves (off the top of my head), The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea – Bissau, Mali, Niger, Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso etc etc who have nothing more than a vague geographic connection to the Ebola crisis.
But hey – why let the reality of millions of people get in the way of a good song?
The lyrics of Band Aid 30 continues:
No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa
The only hope they’ll have is being alive
Where to comfort is to fear
Where to touch is to be scared
How can they know it’s Christmas time at all”
These lyrics are as fatalistic as they are simply not true, as patronising as they are utterly bizarre.
Did no one think to point out to Geldof that when you get some very well paid Europeans to sing that there is “No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa” that you are rather undermining the millions of West Africans who will be living in peace in West Africa this Christmas – including I might add the courageous, well organised, and utterly wonderful Nigerian health workers who contained and then removed Ebola from their country?
And then the back to that line again, “How can they know it’s Christmas time at all” – well here is a suggestion…. Either through the wide-spread access to the internet or perhaps because a few of the approximate 400 million Christians in Africa know when one of the own most important celebrations of the year takes place.
This song, in both its literal lyrics through to its conceptual approach is depressingly archaic. What is more depressing though is that so few of the mistakes from the cringe worthy original Band Aid seemed to have been rectified. As much as I have focused here on the simplistic idiocy of the lyrics there are also a plethora of other questions that need answering such as why Band Aid still has such little input – both musically and logistically – from people from the countries that the song aims to be helping?
Still, to every cloud there is a silver lining. At least they don’t still have have Bono singing that line which is maybe the most insidious in pop history:
“Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”
Donate to the MSF response to the Ebola crisis here.
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Filed under Music, Social comment
Tagged as Band Aid 30 lyrics, Bob Geldof, Ebola, what is wrong with band Aid 30