I attended the Left Forum in New York to chair two panels and to MC (and also play) at the Left Forum's musical evening. The panels were called Art Against Capitalism (I & II), and two were needed to provide all the speakers adequate time to present. The panel description read as follows:
Joining me on the first panel was Eli Smith, a banjo player, writer, researcher and promoter of folk music living in Brooklyn, NY. Eli is a Smithsonian Folkways recording artist and produces two folk festivals annually, the Brooklyn Folk Festival in the Spring and Washington Square Park Folk Festival in the Fall. He has appeared as a guest on terrestrial radio stations such as WBAI, WNYC, WKCR and WDST in New York and KPFA, KPFK and KUCI in California. Eli has presented panels and discussions on folk music at the Left Forum conference and at the Podcamp podcasting conference in New York City. In 2004 He traveled to Caracas, Venezuela as an American delegate to the Encuentro Mundial de Intelectuales y Artistas “En Defense de la Humanidad” (World Encounter of Intellectuals and Artists “for the Defense of Humanity). Eli also served as music consultant for the Civil War film “Racing Daylight” (2007). He has performed and recorded with his old time string band The Down Hill Strugglers, as well as with Peter Stampfel and John Cohen. The Down Hill Strugglers were recently featured on the soundtrack album to the Coen Brothers’ film “Inside Llewyn Davis”, which was produced by T Bone Burnett.
Eli and I presented complimentary talks about the past, present and future in art practices and artistic imagination. While the focus was the United States, especially the development of explicitly anti-capitalist art in the post Civil War era, attention was drawn to the similarities between artistic movements in the US and those in virtually every corner of the globe. Indeed, the role of internationalism and the anti-colonial struggle in the period following World War II was referenced in both mine and Eli's discussion. Still, the main focus of Eli's talk was American Folk Music, its "discovery" by Charles Seeger and its emergence in the years between World Wars I and II as the "anti-capitalist"-"pro-workers" music par excellence. The Civil Rights Movement, the Folk Music Revival and the steady growth of opposition to the war in Vietnam, were closely linked as is well known. Eli brought fresh perspective, however, because he brought us up to date with his own experience as founder and director of two folk festivals currently enjoying success testimony to the vitality of a decidedly anti-commercial trend among young music-makers today.
My own presentation was based on the chapter I contributed to the book Imagine Living in a Socialist USA. The chapter is entitled Imagining Art After Capitalism, an exploration of possibilities, focusing especially on the education of artists and arts in the education of all. I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout (about forty people came to each of the two panels) and by the lively participation in Q&A. It is readily apparent that many people have a keen interest in the subject, recognizing both its potential in the struggle against capitalism and its necessity for humanity's renewal.
Art Against Capitalism II featured Demetrius Noble and Eroc Arroyo-Montano. Demetrius is an activist and nationally renowned spoken word artist. He currently serves as an adjunct professor in the African American and Diaspora Studies department at University of North Carolina, Greensboro and plans on pursuing a doctoral degree in either Literature or American Studies. His research interests include Marxism, Critical Race Theory, African American Literature, Popular Culture and Hip Hop Studies. His work has been published in The African American Review, The Journal of Pan African Studies and The Journal of Black Masculinity. As an activist, Noble prides himself on being a radical cultural worker. He specializes in organizing (and performing in) grassroots community spaces that draw an explicit connection to the role of art and culture in the struggle to forge a revolutionary working-class movement.
Eroc Arroyo-Montano is a father, youth worker, social justice activist, writer, and musician. He represents one-half of the well-known radical hip hop group,The Foundation. Recognized for both their music and their community activism, The Foundation Movement has also been honored by the Urban Music Awards with the award for Best Hip Hop Group, the M.I.C. Hip Hop Awards with the award for Performer of the Year, and the Survivors of Violence with a Community Star Award. They're committed to addressing issues of injustice and oppression, while also entertaining crowds with hot beats and relevant lyrics. Foundation Movement has shared the stage with KRS-One, Rakim, Angela Davis, The Last Poets, Noam Chomsky, X-Clan, Dead Prez, The Coup, C.L. Smooth, Pharoahe Monch, Greg Nice, Michael Franti/Spearhead, Saul Williams, Edo.g, Medusa, Howard Zinn, Wise Intelligent/Poor Righteous Teachers, Soulfege, Lee Wilson, Supernatural, Billy Bragg, Mr. LIF and Amiri Baraka. They have also performed in Canada, Europe, Bahamas, Japan, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, Israel and Palestine. Chosen as Boston's Best Hip Hop Act in the Improper Bostonian's Best of Boston Issue, the Foundation Movement continues to be one of Boston's top Hip-Hop acts, with songs crafted with creativity and balance.
Demetrius and Eroc not only spoke but gave stirring performances which perfectly exemplified art against capitalism. Their contributions greatly enhanced the historical and theoretical presentations made by other panelists, proving beyond doubt that the creative imagination is alive and well. By emphasizing the close association of artistic expression and political activism, Demetrius and Eroc completely demolish the notion that today's youth are disinterested and uninvolved or that popular culture is a wasteland of commodified pabulum. Their work is excellent by any measure, providing powerful evidence that the struggle for freedom is a great source of inspiration for talented artists.
All in all, Art Against Capitalism was a successful intervention in a much needed debate. We'll be revisiting this theme often in the months and years ahead.
We just returned from visits to New York City, Boston and Dublin, Ireland. In New York we performed at the Brooklyn Folk Festival and a salon hosted by Deep Dish TV. In Boston we performed at a benefit for Rick Wolff and his Democracy at Work project, at radical social center, Encuentro Cinco and at the Boston Community Church. In addition, I gave talks at Berklee College of Music and two classes at the University of Massachusetts, one a literature class, another a course on Popular Culture. In Dublin, we opened the first annual James Connolly Festival which continued for the rest of the week, concluding only yesterday (May 10th, as I write this). Overall, the events and classes were inspiring in two different ways. First, the interest of a broad range of people–young, old, diverse ethnicities, etc.–in our Songs of Freedom project, provided more evidence of the continued relevance of Connolly's ideas. This lends further encouragement to our efforts to revive these ideas under present circumstances. Second, in every situation we performed or spoke, there was a powerful sense of renewed engagement. Almost everyone attending, raising questions in discussion or approaching us afterward with further comment, was involved in one or another campaign. From Black Lives Matter to the Right to Water movement sweeping Ireland, attendance at our performances was an extension of political involvement in new mass movements.
At every turn, however, there were pressing questions regarding the state of the world, of music and art, and of particular issues around which people are mobilizing. These questions did not always arise from enthusiasm or optimism. On the contrary, many people expressed a growing frustration with both the lack of organized leadership and the tendency to repeat the same old mistakes over and over again. Repetition often takes the form of reformist demands and appeals to established organizations such as trade unions or governing political parties. The tendency to compromise ideals of social justice using the excuse of Realpolitik can appear overwhelming and is, predictably, utterly demoralizing. Being myself a product of the Sixties, I recognize many of the dilemmas facing young people as very similar to those I faced in my youth. More often than not, they concentrate the contradictions we failed to resolve in the revolutions of 1968. While this could be interpreted simply as living proof that capitalism has to be overthrown for any substantive change to have a chance of happening, the urgency of the moment reveals something else as well. A growing and unmistakable interest in envisioning a future beyond capitalism is now linked with an awareness that fresh ideas concerning society's renewal are a necessary component for waging successful struggles in the present.
Ten years ago we joined protests against the invasion of Iraq. There is a notable difference between those protests and the movements which are presently gathering force. Perhaps the most enduring effect of the Occupy upsurge is that people are very clear on the 1%–99% divide. That the crash of 2008 did not end in a return to "normalcy", is self-evident. The exponential growth of oppositional activity is one expression of this fact. But so is the increasing demand for a fundamental change in the system. Not only is socialism back on the agenda, but a serious effort is underway to consider what actual social relations would prevail if capitalism were in fact replaced. Not surprisingly, argument is heated and positions diverse, yet the urgency with which the task is being undertaken, especially by young people, is compelling evidence that Thatcher's old mantra, "There Is No Alternative", has passed its sell-by date. More and more often, we are approached by audiences, often comprised entirely of young people, with questions about precisely those alternatives and how they could be practically developed. This is grounds for genuine optimism-as opposed to blind faith-that the struggles being waged will bear fruit, not in some piecemeal and temporary reform, but in setting our sights on the liberation of humanity.
Yvonne and I will be traveling to the East Coast, April 17th. Next we travel to Dublin May 4th–10th. We were invited to present a workshop on the James Connolly Songs of Freedom project at the Brooklyn Folk Festival, April 18th. In order to cover the costs of transportation, we immediately began organizing other appearances in New York and Boston. No sooner had this tour been organized than we received and invitation to open the James Connolly Festival in Dublin May 4th–10th. The continued interest in the songs and ideas of James Connolly is inspiring to us, of course, but more than that, it is one sign of the growing resistance to not only the destructive effects of capitalist crisis, but to capitalism as a whole. In each of the cities we'll be playing, demonstrations, occupations and other forms of militant protest are increasing in frequency and size, presenting the definite outlines of a new Movement. More than a momentary outburst-here today and gone tomorrow-the struggles unfolding now give every indication of being sustained over the long-term, focusing more and more clearly on capitalism as the source of suffering and injustice while bringing together disparate forces in a unified challenge to the System’s rule.
April 17th–19th Brooklyn Folk Festival
April 19th Deep Dish TV Salon
April 21st Benefit for Democracy At Work
April 23rd Berklee College of Music (class)
April 24th University of Massachusetts (two classes)
April 25th Encuentro Cinco
April 26th Community Church of Boston
May 4th–10th James Connolly Festival, Dublin, Ireland
A brief note to announce the James Connolly Festival in Dublin May 4th – 10th. Yvonne and I were invited to open the festival May 4th. We are honored to participate and to represent the James Connolly Songs of Freedom project. There'll be more information about this in the weeks to come but for now please go to this link for information.
Also, if you do not already have a copy of the Songs of Freedom you can contact me directly or go to: pmpress.
I will be attending the Left Forum in New York, May 29th-31st. I'll be chairing two panels devoted to, a. how music has been used in the struggle for liberation and, b. Imagining art after capitalism. The exact titles and participants are presently being worked out. I'll post details closer to the date. But interest is great in both themes so I'm sure there will be lively discussion.
In addition, I've been asked to participate in the Left Forum's musical events. Last year's Pete Seeger Tribute was a great success encouraging an ambitious program this year. Plans are afoot to organize four sessions: a comedy event, a spoken word event, a jazz/multimedia event and a Folk/International event. Details will be posted here as they are confirmed.
The forum is to be held at:
John Jay College of Criminal Justice,
for more information: http://www.leftforum.org/
This month, announcements are in order. First off, there is the completion of my book on San Francisco in the Sixties. While there is finishing work to do the basic manuscript is complete and sent to my publisher, PM Press. The title is: The Explosion of Deferred Dreams (musical renaissance and social revolution in San Francisco 1965-1975). The publication date is yet to be determined but one should be announced soon. Still, after eight years of work-and repeated questions about the project's status-I am happy to report that it will soon see the light of day.
Meanwhile, Yvonne and I have been invited to perform at the Brooklyn Folk Festival in April. We will be giving a workshop on Songs of Freedom, the James Connolly Songbook. We want to share the music, of course, but also the process that brought this project to fruition. Many historical, musical and political questions were raised that have broader implications than our specific effort. People have asked how the songs were written in the first place and how they were originally received by the workers to whom Connolly directed them. The choices we made regarding musical accompaniment, instrumentation and "traditional" vs. original composition are also important points to be discussed. We are very happy that our dear friend Eli Smith, producer of the festival, thought it fitting to hold this workshop. We share the concern that those who are serious about music, particularly folk music, have an opportunity to think through all the problems and promise that making it entails.
Which leads me to the next big project I will be working on in the coming year: Songs of Slavery and Emancipation. Upon the discovery of an obscure book called "Mr. Brough's Musical Lecture on the United States", I began investigating songs written and sung by slaves. Curiously, "Mr. Brough's Lecture" was published in Dublin in 1847. The only existing copy is in the Dublin National Library. The coincidence was uncanny. I had similarly found James Connolly's Songs of Freedom in that very same library. But in the case of Songs of Freedom, a book of Irish songs had been published in New York, while "Mr Borough's Lecture" was American songs published in Dublin! The date of publication was especially significant. How far back did the collection of slave songs go? I knew, for example, that William Francis Allen's Slave Songs of the United States had been published in 1867. In his introduction Allen notes that already at that date such songs were disappearing. When I later found texts written no later than 1813 it was clear that both the temporal and lyrical depth of this legacy was very great indeed. Furthermore, the oldest texts I found were not only highly literary in form but explicitly revolutionary in content. This was not coded speech or religious metaphor disguising the yearning for freedom. This was an overt call to arms, obviously inspired by the Haitian Revolution. Herbert Aptheker's renowned study, American Negro Slave Revolts, confirms both the existence of such songs and the social conditions that led them to be written and sung, namely, the struggle of the slaves to emancipate themselves. This convinced me of the pressing need to bring these songs and their history to contemporary audiences. To complete the picture, however, another vital component has to be included. That is the songs of abolitionists. There are in fact many such songs, often written and sung in Protestant congregations devoted to ending slavery. Together, the songs of slaves and the songs of abolitionists, combine to produce a radically different view of American history. I will furnish updates on my progress in the months to come. Stay tuned!
January 19th, Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday is officially celebrated in the United States. The significance of this fact may be lost in the fog created by the hot air of politicians combining with the noxious gas emanating from corporate media. Hence, three basic points:
On December 8, 1999, (21 years after his death) after the King family and allies presented 70 witnesses in a civil trial, twelve jurors in Memphis, Tennessee reached a unanimous verdict after about an hour of deliberations that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.
“There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. And the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief. I wholeheartedly applaud the verdict of the jury and I feel that justice has been well served in their deliberations. This verdict is not only a great victory for my family, but also a great victory for America. It is a great victory for truth itself. It is important to know that this was a SWIFT verdict, delivered after about an hour of jury deliberation. The jury was clearly convinced by the extensive evidence that was presented during the trial that, in addition to Mr. Jowers, the conspiracy of the Mafia, local, state and federal government agencies, were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband. The jury also affirmed overwhelming evidence that identified someone else, not James Earl Ray, as the shooter, and that Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame. I want to make it clear that my family has no interest in retribution. Instead, our sole concern has been that the full truth of the assassination has been revealed and adjudicated in a court of law… My husband once said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” To-day, almost 32 years after my husband and the father of my four children was assassinated, I feel that the jury’s verdict clearly affirms this principle. With this faith, we can begin the 21st century and the new millennium with a new spirit of hope and healing.”
“One hundred years later [after the formal abolition of slavery] the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.
“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check–a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”-Dr. Martin Luther King-"I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington, August 1963
Nonviolence?-Dr. King knew well that this was a matter of tactics, not a fundamental conflict between strategies as has been subsequently portrayed. Yes, King opposed the use of arms against a militarily superior foe-the US government and local police forces. Yes, King upheld the moral superiority of "turning the other cheek" while militantly marching forward into the teeth of white supremacy. Yes, King was opposed by Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panther Party and others who sought, by any means necessary, to overcome the White Power Structure-and were, indeed, more influential among black inner-city youth in, say, 1967. But, no, this did not mean King was accommodating to racism, capitalism or imperialism-a system, King made clear, responsible for the evils faced by not only black people in America, but oppressed people the world over. In his famous "Beyond Vietnam" speech of 1967, King said:
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problem. I have tried to offer my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But they asked, and rightfully so, “What about Vietnam?”..Their questions hit home and I knew I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”
"These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." We in the West must support these revolutions.
"It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."
We live today, not in "revolutionary times", but in the deepening gloom of neo-liberal austerity, religious fanaticism and imperialist war. It is therefore more necessary than ever to celebrate the thoughts and deeds of Dr. Martin Luther King, to commemorate the Liberation for which he fought and died, and the vision he so eloquently expressed.
"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, 'Too late.'"
"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
"Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message -- of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history."
Happy birthday! Happy New Year!
I am indebted to Eric Mann and his stirring eulogy for Dr. King which can be found at the following link: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/19/martin-luther-king-and-the-black-revolutionary-tradition/
Amandla is South Africa's new progressive magazine standing for social justice. Amandla published a tribute to Pete Seeger that made the connection between Pete's musical and political contributions and the generation of South Africans whose militant struggle brought down apartheid. Amandla invited me to comment on that article while addressing the controversies arising from the famous case involving Pete and South African musician Solomon Linda-"The Lion Sleeps Tonight". The following is the article I wrote for Amandla.-MC
Lions Also Awaken
Pete Seeger, South Africa and the Music Business
Since his death in January 2014, Pete Seeger’s life and work have inspired an outpouring of tributes from many parts of the world. Pete's unwavering commitment to the cause of human emancipation, wedded to remarkable musical abilities, left a legacy to be cherished. The tribute to Pete in the last issue of Amandla was noteworthy, however, for two specific reasons: First, its author, Andre Marais, provided a vivid picture of Pete's influence on young South African musicians, especially the "struggle bands" of the 1980s. This rich experience is a crucial reminder that, while Seeger's name may, for many people, be vaguely connected to folk music, Pete was a life-long opponent of capitalism and supporter of socialist revolution. Second, the article made critical note of the machinations of the music industry. "The highly formulaic recycled mangled world of the download and the instantly disposable", accurately describes conditions under which music-even revolutionary music-operates and within which Pete's contribution is of special interest. How did Pete navigate the polluted waters of the mainstream, managing to continue composing and performing while facing prison, blacklisting, demonization and marginalization? How could Pete maintain his integrity while ultimately achieving an impact far greater than most "stars" can even dream of?
A full answer to these questions requires a biography but a few points can be made. Pete was involved with music and politics from an early age, guided by his father Charles Seeger, a renowned musicologist and a communist. Originally given classical music training, Pete would fall in love with the music of rural America, later remarking that becoming a musician meant facing certain choices. On the one hand there were three divergent musical routes: classical or art music, tin pan alley commercial music or the music made by common people-often referred to as "folklore". On the other hand, as Pete himself said, "I remember being continually intrigued by the problem of how a person is going to be an artist and make a living at the same time. Do you teach and then be an artist on the side? Do you work in a factory and be an artist on the side? Do you prostitute your art to make a living by it as, say, an advertising man, or work for Hollywood or radio? Do you try and do both?...I assumed that if I was going to be an artist, and be an honest artist, that I would always be broke."
These questions circulated in a broader milieu which found Pete's generation simultaneously inspired by the Russian Revolution and the growing militancy of the American labor movement. Musicians like Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly were all part of the largest upsurge of radical organizing the US had experienced since the Civil War. In the period leading up to and beyond WWII, the Popular Front strategy, enjoyed enormous success in mobilizing artists and broadly influencing public opinion in the fight against fascism and support for the Soviet Union. This continued unabated after the war, Pete's earlier involvement in the Almanac Singers leading later to the Weavers, all interwoven with political movements and growing notoriety. The Weavers, in fact, had a number 1 hit with a Leadbelly song, "Goodnight Irene", in 1950. By industry standards, Pete was a success. Indeed, the first signs of what would come to be known as the Folk Music Revival were then appearing and these would, even in the face of repression and vilification, have an enormous impact on the next generation.
At the height of the Weavers' success the McCarthy era began. Pete was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to, in short, snitch on his comrades. Pete not only refused to cooperate, he made fools of the Congressmen, leading to his conviction for Contempt of Congress and a year's prison sentence. (this was later dropped on a technicality). From that point onward, Pete was a pariah as far as the music industry was concerned. Yet, relying on the tried and true methods of organizing that are the mainstay of all popular movements, Pete was able to maintain and expand his following. Publications like Sing Out! and Broadside, along with innumerable newsletters got the message out. A tiny label, Folkways, kept recording Pete, eventually producing more than 70 of his albums! Concerts and festivals were often organized by political activists in support of various causes and, coupled with literally thousands of appearances before small but enthusiastic "private" gatherings, kept the music alive, passing it hand to hand, in struggle. Simply put, Pete's political commitments served his musical commitments and vice versa. Being barred from the music industry may, in hindsight, have been a boon, rather than a curse. It certainly didn't prevent the composition of many timeless songs which would become hits for others, nor did it prevent Pete from performing for literally hundreds of thousands of people. Yet, aside from the fact that Pete was an excellent musician by any standard, what was it that enabled him to not only survive but to become world-renowned in the face of overwhelming opposition?
While there are many social and historical variables two outstanding qualities make Pete's example one we can all learn from. First, his firm philosophical convictions were simply invulnerable to the snares and delusions of fame and fortune. It's not just that Pete was a "good person". It's that he had a thorough-going, materialist analysis convincing him that what fame and fortune offer is a lie. Secondly, Pete had an unshakeable confidence in the people who, after all, comprise any movement worthy of the name, and must, in the end, be their own emancipators. On the most practical level, this meant relying on people not only because they had necessary skills (technical, musical or business) but because they were politically committed themselves, motivated by the same ideals, and willing to undertake the tasks of organizing, educating and struggling. In this sense, the most important lesson musicians today can learn from Pete is that staying true and relying on people who share a commitment to popular resistance offers far more satisfying rewards than any of the baubles and trinkets offered by the music business. Above all, Pete proved what can be achieved through collective, egalitarian effort in the cause of justice.
This does not mean, however, that Pete was somehow "above it all" when it came to the music industry. Quite the contrary, he found himself embroiled in all the controversies related to a deceitful business, which are nonetheless, even for the most altruistic musician, an unavoidable consequence of public performance or recording. Indeed, Pete was involved in perhaps the most egregious case of fraud and exploitation ever seen in an industry built on such practices. This is the world-famous case involving a South African musician, Solomon Linda, and Linda's song "Mbube". In 1939, in Johannesburg, Linda and his group the Evening Birds, recorded "Mbube", after Linda signed over the rights to the song to the Gallo Record Company. It became an enormous hit in South Africa from which Linda earned not a penny. By a long and circuitous route, Pete Seeger heard "Mbube" and was immediately intrigued. Pete misunderstood the lyric, substituting a made-up word, wimoweh, for uyimbube, which the Evening Birds were singing. "Wimoweh", recorded by the Weavers, became a top-ten hit in the US in 1952. It would later be made a hit by numerous artists. Eventually, another group, the Tokens, using the title, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", had yet another hit with essentially the same song. The biggest killing, though, was made by the song's appearance in the Disney movie, "The Lion King". By the time the court case was settled, Linda's song was estimated to have earned £10 million.
Solomon Linda died of kidney disease, in 1961, at the age of 53, destitute and forgotten. His family fought for decades for proper restitution, finally winning a settlement, in 2006, from Abilene Music, an American publisher. This at least provided much needed funds for an impoverished family. One should not, however, conclude that somehow justice triumphed. What happened to Linda is standard business procedure, similarly victimizing musicians the world over to this day. While conditions have improved for some, the fundamental situation has not. This is a subject too large to be explored here, but it must be noted that Pete Seeger was for some time tarred with the same brush properly applied to the music industry. The facts speak otherwise, however, for upon learning that there was a living author of the song he'd made famous, Pete immediately sought to send his royalties to the Linda family. In fact, over the course of many years, numerous efforts were made by Pete and his wife Toshi, to ensure that whatever monies were earned from Wimoweh, would go to the Lindas. The difficulties encountered were many and the amounts of songwriters' royalties were, in any case, paltry compared to the millions lining the pockets of publishers.
This led Pete to take extraordinary measures. In a letter he wrote to me, Pete explained: "When I learned the story of how little royalties for the song "Mbube" (Wimoweh in USA) had gone to the African author, I realized that this was a worldwide problem. Why not try to start solving it? I had been collecting book and record royalties for "Abiyoyo", a children's story I made up in 1952. It uses an ancient Xhosa lullaby. The royalties are now split 50-50, with half the royalties going to the Ubuntu Fund for libraries and scholarships for Xhosa children near Port Elizabeth, in Southeast South Africa." Furthermore, in the last years of Pete's life, he undertook the Campaign for Public Domain Reform, which sought to find a UN-based solution to the problem which, under current copyright regimes, leaves the cultural legacies of entire peoples vulnerable to misappropriation and misuse. Pete enlisted me in the effort to present this idea to the UN which is how I got to know the history of Solomon Linda and "Mbube".
The outstanding fact is that among all the parties to the Linda case only one made it his duty to find a reasonable and fair solution. This gesture could make little difference in 1961 or ever since. Yet it demands our attention since it not only exonerates one person, Pete Seeger, it reveals the structures by which injustice is perpetuated. Pete's best intentions notwithstanding, there are legal, economic and political structures that can, at best, be slightly mitigated under the present regime. What is required are far more radical measures, leading ultimately to society's transformation. And toward this end, Pete Seeger devoted his life.
The latest developments include, new music, new performances and new plans for next year. As for new music, Yvonne Moore is currently rehearsing the set of Mose Allison songs that will comprise her new program: In Praise of Mose. For those unfamiliar with him, Mose Allison is a pianist, singer and composer of some of the most insightful songs of the 20th century. He was born in 1927, but only recently retired after 65 years of public performance. Find out more about him by visiting his website and by visiting Yvonne's website.
Meanwhile, Yvonne and I are working on a new repertoire for our duet. We hope to have this ready for a Spring tour in the US. The basic theme is: the war against forgetting. Songs dealing with historical figures, such as John Brown and Geronimo, have been in our repertoire from the start, but, now, inspired by the Zapatista's book of the same title, we've undertaken a series of songs dealing not so much with the past but with ideas that endure, that continue to arise, generation after generation. Ideas like: justice and equality, consciousness and liberation.
Finally, I hope to complete the final chapter of my new book by year's end. This project has taken so long, most of you reading this have probably forgotten about it. I undertook a study of San Francisco in the Sixties way back in 2008. Research took years and writing did not begin until 2011, whereupon, it was interrupted by the James Connolly Songs of Freedom project. I returned to writing in July this year and have, at last, arrived at the end. I will be meeting to discuss publication with PM Press in December but it looks, now, like we will announce publication in March 2015 and the book will be available in March 2016. Stay tuned.
We just returned from Italy where Songs of Freedom was greeted with genuine enthusiasm. Though James Connolly is not widely known in Italy, there is considerable interest in Irish, labor and revolutionary history. The public attending our performances were intrigued by Connolly's story, his leadership of the Easter Rising and, especially, the fact that this revolutionary leader had also written songs! Most of all, Connolly's continuing relevance became clear to all who attended the events. When, for example, we performed at an event in Firenze sponsored by Italy's largest union, CGIL, there was a direct connection made between Connolly's life and work to present-day workers' struggles in Italy. (if you read Italian, see the introduction to our performance, below) Furthermore, once people discovered the content of Connolly's lyrics, they responded with heartfelt gratitude for the inspiration the lyrics provide.
Audiences were varied, from scholars and students gathered for a conference on Irish history at the University of Trento, to young working people gathered at social centers in Trieste and Udine. A high-point for us, however, was performing for two classes of children, studying English in public school in Firenze. These kids had spent the previous month studying Connolly's life and work, learning the lyrics to some of his songs, and greeting us with their full attention. It was especially inspiring to hear them join in singing the Red Flag and Connolly Was There. A special thanks to their teachers for inviting us to perform.
Introduzione – 2014 - Firenze
James Connolly (1868 – 1916) è stato un sindacalista e socialista rivoluzionario. Nato ad Edimburgo, Scozia, da immigrati irlandesi, lasciò la scuola per lavorare all'età di undici anni, e divenne una delle più importanti figure della sinistra del tempo.
Nel 1903 emigrò negli Stati Uniti, aderì al Socialist Labor Party of America, al Socialist Party of America (1909) e all’Industrial Workers of the World. Fondò anche la Irish Socialist Federation in New York nel 1907.
Tornò in Irlanda nel 1910. Ancora oggi è considerato un eroe nazionale irlandese.
Il 24 aprile del 1916, ebbe luogo la famosa Rivolta di Pasqua. Connolly era Comandante della Brigata di Dublino, de facto Comandante in Capo. Dopo la resa, fu giustiziato dagli inglesi per il suo ruolo. Gli sopravvissero la moglie e numerosi figli.
Il progetto Songs of Freedom, ideato da Mat Callahan, riunisce 3 libri di canzoni, in parte inediti, libri ritrovati a Londra, a Dublino e negli Stati Uniti. Di fatti l’originale libro Songs of Freedom è stato pubblicato per la prima volta negli USA nel 1907. Il progetto in sé è stato voluto e sostenuto in Irlanda, negli USA e in Svizzera.
Sul CD ci sono 13 canzoni sia di Connolly sia in lode delle sue azioni e della sua vita. Gli arrangiamenti sono di Mat e sono cantati non solo da Mat e Yvonne ma anche da musicisti provenienti da tutti e tre i paesi.
Sono in vendita qui:
Invitation to the Event at the University of Trento "Giornata di studi: Repubblicanesimo irlandese come resistenza: dal Lock Out ai Troubles passando per l’Easter Rising”, as PDF.
Yvonne and I will be bringing James Connolly Songs of Freedom to Italy in October. Please return to this site for final event information or contact me directly: email@example.com
Songs of Freedom-Italian Tour 2014:
3 October Friday
4 October Saturday
5 October Sunday
6 October Monday
7 October Tuesday
9 October Thursday
Since the launching of Songs of Freedom in October last year, I've been more or less continuously on the road. Now, with a couple months at home before a tour of Italy in October, several projects, new and old, are finally getting the attention they deserve. First, is a belated return to the book project I undertook six years ago-music and politics in San Francisco during the Sixties. My aim is to complete the book by year's end. Second, I'm working on another book, based on the special issue of Socialism & Democracy, now available, called Radical Perspectives on Intellectual Property. The three essays in S&D will be added to by a diverse group of authors. The goal is to provide a comprehensive collection including historical, legal, economic and political dimensions of copyright, patent and trademark. I hope to have this ready for publication in a year from now.
On the musical front, three new projects are slowly getting off the ground. First, I'm completing a group of songs that will enter the repertoire of my duet with Yvonne. Second, I'm collaborating with Yvonne on her next project which is to be called: In Praise of Mose. That is, an in-depth look at the life and work of Mose Allison. Finally, research has begun on a followup to Songs of Freedom. I can't say more about this at the moment but I hope to have another book and cd made in a couple of years.
I recently returned from New York City where I attended the Left Forum. The event attracted 4500 people, hosted 400 separate panels and featured speakers such as Harry Belafonte, Cornel West, Angela Davis and David Harvey. My participation included two panels and performance at a Pete Seeger Tribute. The panels were Music, Social Movements and Revolution and Radical Perspectives on Intellectual Property. (see May News for details) Both panels were well attended, encouraging lively discussion. As I have come to expect, argument erupted at the Intellectual Property panel due to the divisions between those (usually musicians and journalists) who defend copyright and those (usually open source and free speech advocates) who defend Aaron Swartz, internet file sharing and freedom from government surveillance. The confusion that has been sewn is very effective in pitting one group against the other-perfect divide and conquer tactics. I refer anyone interested to the article ("15 Years Since Napster and What Have We Learned?") for further information.
I will be chairing two panels at the Left Forum in New York City, May 30-June 1, 2014. One panel will be Radical Perspectives on Intellectual Property which will critically examine the role of copyright, patent and trademark in the fields of music making, industrial production and telecommunications. In my presentation I will explain what led me to the conclusion that copyright and IP generally need to be abolished. I will describe how the Music Industry exploits musicians and why it is only recently that empirical study has been made to determine what, if any, benefit musicians actually derive from copyright.
Concerning political economy, economist and economic historian, Michael Perelman, will present a wealth of research focusing on patent and the relationship between capitalist crisis and the development of IP. Perelman will show how IP is a core mechanism of capital accumulation, not merely a formal, legal appendage. Michael’s book, “Steal This Idea” is one of the all too-rare applications of Marx’s crisis theory to IP.
The other panel I will be chairing is called: Music, Social Movements and Revolution. Here, I will present my research into the recently re-published, James Connolly Songs of Freedom songbook. This includes not only Irish revolutionary music but the music Connolly encountered in the USA at the beginning of the 20th Century-especially that of the IWW and of African-Americans . Since this coincided with the dawn of the Music Industry as we know it today, the clash between capital and labor in the field of music will also be examined for its continued relevance.
Eli Smith will speak on the satirical songs of the IWW including the work of Joe Hill and others, about "People's Songs" and the early works of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others, and about the seminal but largely forgotten work of John Handcox and the Southern Tenant Farmers Union - the first racially integrated union in the South that used indigenous folk music forms to great effect and fought for the rights of sharecroppers.
Christine Kelly will explore the relationship between a left-wing organization, the International Workers Order (IWO) and the rise of the American folk song revival. In existence for nearly 25 years, the IWO was an enormous supporter of progressive cultural movements. Through its financial backing, events organizing, and relationship to folk icons like Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger, the IWO laid a foundation for the popularization of folk song that would occur in the mid-twentieth century.
For more information about Left Forum and this year's program please visit their website: www.leftforum.org
Launching Songs of Freedom
On October 3rd, the band traveled to Dublin for the concert in Liberty Hall. Liberty Hall was donated by the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), Ireland's largest union, with whom the James Connolly Songs of Freedom Project had consulted since the beginning of this process. SIPTU further contributed by publishing in their periodical, Liberty, an interview with Mat Callahan explaining the history of the project. Joining the band onstage were local Dublin musician Daoire Farrell, actor John Smith reciting Connolly speeches and James Connolly Heron, contributor to the new version of Songs of Freedom, acting as MC.
Completing the Irish launch was a concert on October 5th, at Sandino's night club in Derry. This event was sponsored by the Derry Trades Council and not only did the Council donate money to cover expenses, they mobilized some of their members to attend the performance. Long time activist, Eamonn McCann introduced the show and musician Connor O'Kane provided a rabble-rousing set of mainly his own compositions. McCann would subsequently write of the event for a local newspaper, the Derry Journal.
England and Scotland
With the generous assistance of renowned Scottish author, Jim Kelman, Mat traveled to Edinburg and Glasgow. Jim not only organized the events but provided important historical background regarding Connolly's relevance to Scottish labor and political struggle thus setting the stage for Mat's musical performance. The first event took place October 25th at the Edinburgh Independent Book Fair. The second was held October 26th at Glasgow's Glad Cafe.
The United States
This month-long tour of the West and East Coasts, included 20 concerts, six hour-long radio programs and several print-media interviews and reviews. Following is a quick list of the dates and locations of events:
Thursday January 16th
Friday January 17th
Saturday January 18th / Sunday January 19th
Tuesday January 21st
Wednesday January 22nd
Friday January 24th
Saturday January 25th
Saturday January 25th
Sunday January 26th
Sunday January 26th
RADIO: KPOO, KALW, KRBC, KPFA (2 times), Making Contact-George Lavender
Friday January 31st
Saturday February 1st
Sunday February 2nd
Tuesday February 4th
Wednesday February 5th
Friday February 7th
Saturday February 8th
Sunday February 9th
Samstag, 1. März 2014, 22h - 23.15h
Samstag, 8.März 2014, 21h
The Swiss tour was a great success aided by a major story by Pit Wuhrer in WOZ and radio promotion by Mark Stenzler of Radio RABE, Bern and Radio LoRa, Zurich. Not only were the events well-attended but the enthusiasm of the public for the music and history of Songs of Freedom confirmed our original assessment of its current relevance. What began as a humble attempt to revive interest in James Connolly turned out to be an inspiring example of what can be done by implementing his ideas. As Connolly so often said, "The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!"
Bern, 14. April 2014 - Mat Callahan
Impressions of our Switzerland Tour
Concert in «Haberhaus», Schaffhausen, 13 March, © Simon Brühlmann
Concert in «Folk im Himmel», Pieterlen, 2 March, © TKA
The James Connolly Songs of Freedom Band Tours Switzerland
After Yvonne and I completed a month-long tour in the US we returned to Switzerland and began preparing for our tour with the whole band. We've already had the first two performances (in Jona and Pieterlin) both of which went well. We're now on to the next round beginning in Dübendorf. Hope to see you along the way.
For those who can read German please see the article published 27 February in WOZ.
Schweizer Tour März 2014
Samstag, 1. März 2014, 22h - 23.15h
Sonntag, 2. März 2014, 17h
Donnerstag. 6. März 2014, 20h
Samstag, 8. März 2014, 21h
Sonntag, 9. März 2014, 18h
Donnerstag, 13. März 2014, 20h
Freitag, 14. März 2014, 20h
Samstag, 15. März 2014, 21h
Sonntag, 16. März 2014, 20h
Songs of Freedom West Coast and East Coast US Tour with Mat Callahan & Yvonne Moore
Join Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore on the SONGS OF FREEDOM TOUR to celebrate the recent PM release of Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Songbook, edited by Mat Callahan with introductions by Theo Dorgan and James Connolly Heron, and the companion album Songs of Freedom CD. West Coast and East Coast tour schedule below.
Friday January 17th - Santa Rosa, CA-Arlene Francis Center-Doors: 7PM
Saturday January 18th - Burlingame, CA (in the am)
Sunday January 19th - Burlingame, CA (in the pm)
Tuesday January 21st - Oakland, CA - 7pm - Donation
Wednesday January 22nd - San Francisco, CA - 7pm - Free
Friday January 24th - San Mateo, CA - 7pm
Saturday January 25th - El Cerrito, CA - 2pm - Free
Saturday January 25th - Berkeley House Concert - 7:30pm - $10-20
Sunday January 26th - Berkeley, CA - 12pm-2:30pm
Sunday January 26th - San Francisco, CA - 5pm - Free
Thursday January 30th - New York, NY - 7pm - Donation
Friday January 31st - Brooklyn, NY - 8pm
Saturday February 1st - Portsmouth, NH - 9pm - Free
Sunday February 2nd - Hartford, CT - Matinee - 2pm
Tuesday February 4th - Rochester, NY - Workers United Union Hall - Donation
Wednesday February 5th - Buffalo, NY - 7pm - Donation
Friday February 7th - Troy, NY -
Saturday February 8th - Boston, MA - 2PM-5PM
Sunday February 9th - Boston, MA - morning service
Saturday, March 1st 2014, 22h – 23.15h
Sunday, March 2nd 2014, 17h
Thursday, March 6th 2014, 20h
Saturday, March 8th 2014, 21h
Sunday, March 9th 2014, 18h
Thursday, March 13th 2014, 20h
Friday, March 14th 2014, 20h
Saturday, March 15th2014, 21h
Sunday, 16. März 2014, 20h