Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: Gil Scott-Heron - A Message to the Messengers


Speaking ahead of the Songs for Social Justice Festival on Thursday, SweetS (Northern Xposure) said, “Music has always been at the heart of many civil rights movements and revolutions, and it also acts as a vehicle for different cultures and faiths to have some common ground. It is something that reaches so far into our very being and existence that it resonates with each and every one of us on a profound level, indeed even before we can say our A, B, C, D we find it is easier to communicate with a harmony or a bit of melody.  Therefore it is NRNXPO's mission to promote music for social justice in all form's and across all genre's.”

Rap and Hip Hop started out in the 1970’s as a way of communicating a social and political message while having a good time.

Gil Scott-Heron is often credited with being the Godfather of Rap, he was rapping to music by 1970, some time before Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa created Hip Hop as a means of bringing communities together, offering young people a route out of gangs and encouraging social harmony.

Gil Scott-Herons’ lyrics focussed on the social and political issues of the time. His music still resonates today and he can still find a new fan-base amongst young people. His 2010 album I’m New Here, was remixed by Jamie Smith of The XX and released in 2011 as We’re New Here.

It is difficult to choose just the one track from Scott-Heron’s extensive, educational and inspiring output, obvious choices would be The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, The Bottle or Johannesburg. However, today’s choice comes from his 1994 album Spirits. A Message to the Messengers calls on rappers, musicians and young people to remember their history and heritage and use this knowledge and understanding to promote positive social change.


Gil Scott-Heron - A Message to the Messengers



Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 - Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100





Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: SOPA / PIPA Blackout Day Protest Songs


This blog was written by John Powles at the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust. STUC Unions Into Schools and the Alistair Hulett Memorial Trust have worked in partnership on the Songs for Social Justice Festival. We would like to thank John for writing this blog.

On Wednesday 18th January 2012 many internet sites intentionally blacked out for the day in protest against the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) legislation now being advanced in the USA. The day of protest has been judged a success by some of the major organisations involved. Wikipedia stated "More than 162 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge. You said no. You shut down Congress's switchboards. You melted their servers. From all around the world your messages dominated social media and the news. Millions of people have spoken in defence of a free and open internet." Meanwhile Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg urged people to protest saying "Tell your congressmen you want them to be pro-internet. We can't let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the internet's development. Facebook opposes Sopa and Pipa, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the internet."

Of course the internet with sites like YouTube, Facebook and the rest is a powerful tool for distributing activism against social injustice, including using songs as a vehicle for protests. Needless to say the SOPA / PIPA protests have led to the creating and posting of songs. The following examples demonstrate just how easy it can be to make protesting voices heard – no expensive equipment is required, no record industry moguls have to be grovelled to, no media pawns of government have to be persuaded – just do it and post it.

The first sample uses the age old method for creating a song of social justice – the adoption and adaption of an existing well known tune and lyric – in this case Don Maclean’s American Pie. Created by LaughPong, The Day The LOLcats Died - #SOPA #PIPA Protest Song [http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/17/the-day-the-lolcats-died/] includes some pertinent lyrics:

”Why, why are laws a thing you can buy? / They got paid off, should be laid off, re-election denied / Our web means more than lawyers, lobbies and lies / So speak up before the internet dies / Speak up before the internet dies”.

LaughPong - The Day The LOLcats Died






Finally in this brief selection Stop the SOPA Song is just a guy in his room with an acoustic guitar and some very clever lyrics:


Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100










Monday, 23 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: The Projects – Anne is a Socialist

There are regular articles in the press which claim that there is no political music around that reflect the times in which we find ourselves. This just doesn’t play out, though it is obvious that there is a void of political song making the charts these days, the charts themselves are not the focal point they once were. Ways of promoting, accessing and distributing new music has changed dramatically in recent years. The internet has been the key factor in this stage in the evolution of music distribution and access.

The internet and social media has also played a role in the uprisings across the Middle East, in the anti-capitalist protest movements which are now galvanizing young people across the globe and in the democratisation of news dissemination. Activists around the world are blogging and organising from the comfort of their own armchair, they are also taking to the streets armed with a camera, a mobile phone and a laptop and then distributing their own first hand accounts of what they deem to be headline news to a global audience.

The video for ‘Anne is a Socialist’ captures footage of protests which we may recognise from our TVs and from citizen journalist postings on the internet, the footage is edited to provide an unflinching visual account of the song’s lyrics and music. The Project’s singer tells Anne’s story via a webcam. Combined, the audio-visuals act as a strong proponent of the protest movements and provide an angry portrayal of the power that the protestors are struggling against.

This contemporary political song is absolutely a reflection of the times; it is a song very much for this moment.

Sadly, Graeme Wilson the singer, lyricist and driving force behind The Projects passed away in December 2011. Ricky Maymi, guitarist with The Projects said “I think this [the Songs for Social Justice festival] is a great thing for his song to be a part of! I'm honoured to be a part of it!”


The Projects – Anne is a Socialist

Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 - Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100






Sunday, 22 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: Rev Hammer - Freeborn John: The Story of John Lilburne – The Leader of The Levellers


The Songs for Social Justice blogs have so far looked at individual songs on the subject of social justice, often stating that the bands have a canon of fitting material but offering a reason as to why that particular song has been chosen. Occasionally a great album is released with a common theme of social justice, but seldom does an artist release a biographical album about a historical figure.  In 1997, Rev Hammer released such an album.

The story is set during the English Civil War, with a particular focus on one of the main characters of that period – John Lilburne, the leader of The Levellers. John Lilburne struggled against tyranny in the pursuit of equality, fairness and the freedom of speech. The album is a biography set to music and lyrics and is based on Pauline Gregg’s biographical book ‘Freeborn John’. 

Rev Hammer worked with a number of artists on this album, with many taking on particular roles. Eddi Reader, The Levellers, Justin Sullivan and Maddy Prior all make appearances.


Rev Hammer - Freeborn John: The Story of John Lilburne – The Leader of The Levellers


The full album can be listened to here:



Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100







Saturday, 21 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: Michael Franti & Spearhead – I Know I’m Not Alone


Michael Franti is best known as a political activist and musician. His song ‘Television: The Drug of the Nation’, was widely hailed as a groundbreaking mix of political rap/rock. He originally recorded it in 1988 with his first group The Beatnigs and then re-recorded it with his next band The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. U2 brought the song to prominence by using it as the intro on their Zoo TV tour. In 1994 he formed a new band - Spearhead which had more of a soul and funk influence, while remaining political.

In 2004 Michael Franti decided to visit the Middle East to see with his own eyes, the human cost of war. He undertook the trip with a group of friends, a camera and his acoustic guitar. On returning to the USA he edited the footage into a film and encouraged fans to organise screenings in cinemas, in community halls and in their homes.

‘I Know I’m Not Alone’ is that award winning documentary, the filmmaking process resulted in the album ‘Yell Fire!’ which was also the soundtrack to the film. The title of the film is also the name of one of the tracks on the album.



Michael Franti & Spearhead – I Know I’m Not Alone (Song)



I Know I’m Not Alone (Full length film)
 

I Know I’m Not Alone (website, with lyrics and background info):


Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100








Friday, 20 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: Patti Smith - People Have The Power


Today's blog has been written by Paul Simpson, singer and lyricist with The Wild Swans. We would like to thank Paul for his support throughout this project.

Perhaps if Robert Johnson had met Jesus, the Buddha or the prophet Muhammad at the Rosedale crossroads instead of the devil, optimism and positivity in the lyrics of rock songs wouldn’t now be considered quite so Sir Cliff-tastically uncool. Lennon’s caustic anger always trumped McCartney’s hokey nostalgia, than that’s just the way it is, but occasionally a rock song offers hope without making us cringe and such is the case with Patti Smith’s People Have The Power. Those four potent words are about as simple and direct and powerful a message as it’s possible to sing without sounding hopelessly naïve. There’s so much conviction in Patti’s delivery that by the time she reaches the pre-chorus refrain of  The power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools, it's decreed the people rule’ she’s almost levitating with excitement because she knows she just seconds away from the chorus and absolute connection.


Universal truths can be an extremely effective weapon in song, just listen to Give Peace A Chance and All You Need Is Love. OK, the latter’s slightly naïve message was flawed but I suppose All You Need Is Love, Food and Shelter didn’t scan so well. People Have The Power seeks to inspire and fuel change, and what’s more, not just for the ‘stick-it-to-the-man’ hippy-dippy sake of it, but in a constructive, focussed, ‘we outnumber you, stand aside, we want out’ way.  

Ironically the William Blake inspired verses of this anti war song - all shepherds and soldiers sharing visions of peace beneath the stars, appeared shortly before the so-called ‘liberation of Kuwait’ and the Persian Gulf War. My favourite line of all in the song is ‘People have the power - to redeem the work of fools’.

For me Patti Smith’s simple message of optimism and the desire for change through union has never been more relevant than in these ill-governed times. 
Paul Simpson.


Patti Smith - People Have The Power



Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: The Spatial AKA Orchestra – Ghost Planet


We can’t leave this song out. The updated classic by “General” Jerry Dammers, probably one of the most potent and poignant songs of the 1980’s and beyond, this version warns of a Ghost Planet, if we don’t address world issues. This band are an absolute treat to see live playing ska, funk, reggae and soul, I for one look forward to them cutting some vinyl in the studio.
(Terry Anderson STUC)

Jerry Dammers and The Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra
Ghost Town / Ghost Planet (Lyrics)

“This Town Is Coming Like A Ghost Town
All The Buildings Have Been Torn Down
This Place Is Coming Like A Drag Place
A Dead Place
Wipe The Smile From A Child's Face

This World Is Coming Like A Ghost Planet
On This Here Planet
If You Treat Man Like Mouse He Will Breed
Treat Man Like Fly And He Will Swarm


This World Is Coming Like A Rubbish Tip
It Coming Like A Cesspit
That's Feeding, Feeding On It's Own Vomit
Coming Like A Rubbish Dump
In Need Of A Stomach Pump

This Place Is Coming Like A Disgrace
A Child's Smile Turned Into A Ghost Place

This Place was a Back Stabbing Greedy Corrupt Place
What, What Is That, What Is That Sweet Sickly Smell
Is It Heaven, Turned Into Hell ?”


The Spatial AKA Orchestra – Ghost Planet




Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100





Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: The Nightwatchman – The Road I Must Travel


Alongside fellow musician Serj Tankian, Tom Morello founded ‘Axis of Justice’ in 2002 to bring together musicians, music fans and grassroots organisations to fight for global social justice. Recently Morello has played short sets at Occupy camps across the USA and Europe

Tom Morello is best known for his work with the politically charged Rage Against the Machine. He also played guitar with Audioslave and is currently guitarist and lyricist with Street Sweeper Social Club and The Nightwatchman.

It is a difficult task to choose just one single track from across Morello’s industrious output of songs about social justice. This song is from The Nightwatchman’s early days when Morello used this moniker to record and play as a solo acoustic artist. ‘The Road I Must Travel’ has an excellent accompanying video in which Morello is surrounded by pictures of his inspirations, the footage also includes quotes from a number of those figures.


The Nightwatchman – The Road I Must Travel




Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100








Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: The Clash – 1977


36 years ago, there was a revolution in pop music. The popular protest songs of the 1960’s had faded. Young people growing up in multi-cultural working class neighbourhoods found the problems of society cut across ethnicities, that the root causes of unemployment, poverty and lack of progress could not and should not be blamed on BME and migrant communities. The Queen’s Silver Jubilee loomed. A referendum on Scottish devolution was on the horizon. Glam Rock, Prog Rock and Showaddaywadday ruled the charts – the bands had nothing to say.

The music and charts changed dramatically when a bunch of teenagers from London decided to over-throw their older peers and create a new sound which was influenced by the rebellious socio-political messages found in reggae. The new music came to be known as punk. It rejected conforming to the class structures, its ethos was D.I.Y. and the records they listened to were British and Jamaican reggae.

The Clash was the most obvious band to have had reggae influences in their music and they are credited as having brought the political edge to punk. Their music and songs were a reflection of their times and personal experiences, their messages connected with young people.

The Clash are often cited as being inspirations to countless other musicians, they gave many bands their first opportunity to tour and play in front of large audiences. The Clash broke down the superficial barrier between band and audience. Their music was innovative and changed with each album. Their song ‘1977’ railed against unemployment, the lack of opportunities for young working class people and the Jubilee.

Disastrously, 1977 sounds as relevant today as it was 35 years ago.


The Clash – 1977


Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100






Monday, 16 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: The Impressions – We’re a winner


Any composition with Curtis Mayfield involved normally grabs the attention of all soul music lovers. Curtis Mayfield wrote this uplifting composition with lyrics to encourage the listener into action by accepting that the time for self-pity was over and that one should acknowledge his or her worth, even in the face of opposition. The song points people towards collective action as a self - improving and empowering route for both individuals and communities – it does this through amazing vocals from Curtis set at a gentle uplifting pace.


The Impressions – We’re a winner (ABC Records, 1967)


Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100





Sunday, 15 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: Tracy Chapman – Talking ‘bout a Revolution


Tracy Chapman came to global prominence when taking to the stage at the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium, a concert which was broadcast live around the world. Three years after Live Aid, this concert had a more political stance and demanded an end to apartheid in South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. The organisers, which included Jerry Dammers, staged this concert at a time when the Conservative government of the day regarded Mandela and the ANC as terrorists.

A second concert was organised in 1990 two months after his release. He regarded this as an official international reception, the concert was once again broadcast around the world. Mandela attended and took the stage for a total of 45 minutes, he did not meet the British government on this visit to the UK.

Tracy Chapman’s set at the first concert, and this song in particular, seemed to capture the mood of the day. It catapulted her from being a little known artist that sang about social activism to becoming an international artist that sang about social activism. She also performed at the ‘Nelson Mandela: An International Tribute for a Free South Africa’ concert in 1990.

Tracy Chapman - Talking 'bout a Revolution - live at the 'Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute':

Further information:


Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100








Saturday, 14 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: Pop Will Eat Itself – Ich Bin Ein Auslander


Pop Will Eat Itself teamed up with Fun-Da-Mental for this driven anti-fascist song. It was from the album Dos Dedos Mis Amigos, which was the band’s most political output.

Released in 1994, it was written following the 1993 election of a BNP candidate to the Millwall council seat. This was the first time that a BNP candidate had been elected. After much local campaigning by anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations alongside local people and trade unions, the BNP lost the seat at the following year's election. It was not until 2002 that the BNP were once again able to get their members elected to local councils in England. 


The work undertaken in the area against the BNP demonstrates that local campaigning can and does successfully drive back the fascists. This song still resonates, as the BNP still have elected members and today Unite Against Fascism are holding a rally against the fascist EDL as they take to the streets of Barking in London.

The cover of the single had a clear focus on anti-nazi symbolism. The song got into the Top 30 and the album reached No. 11.

After Pop Will Eat Itslef split up in 1996, one of their singers – Clint Mansell – started writing film scores and has now written the scores for The Wrestler, Black Swan and Moon amongst many others.



Pop Will Eat Itself – Ich Bin Ein Auslander 


Songs for Social Justice Dance Night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100









Friday, 13 January 2012

Songs for Social Justice: Gary Byrd and the GB Experience – “The Crown” on Motown records


An 1980’s Motown rap with Gary Byrd featuring Stevie Wonder – this song for me celebrates diversity and inspires you to explore your roots even if the status quo view in school, society or the media tells you to look the other way and believe in the same old line. Musically it moves along with a skip and proves the point that celebrating, smiling and making a political and social point can all be done at the same time – a gem of a song.
(Terry Anderson, STUC)


Gary Byrd and the GB Experience – “The Crown”


Songs for Social Justice dance night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100







Thursday, 12 January 2012

Disability Living Allowance - the perfect storm



As the coalition Government continues to impose draconian cuts on working class people in the United Kingdom, while at the same time attempting (and failing) to create the false illusion "we are all in this together" ; however the disabled movement is fighting back.

We have already witnessed the introduction of the flawed Workplace Capability Assessment where around 4 in 10 of those judged fit for work have the decision overturned on appeal.


Now proposed changes to Disability Living Allowance are currently in the House of Lords.  These cuts seek to reduce the cost to the Government of providing Disability Living Allowance by 20%, a conveniently round amount of savings, after which they attempt to claim that the lives of disabled people will be improved.


Not surprisingly the disabled movement is not standing back and accepting these cuts and a report on the proposals, Responsible Reform has been written researched and funded by disabled people, their friends and carers. This report clearly shows that the majority of those who responded were overwhlemingly against the proposals yet the Government is forging ahead with its attack on disabled people, apparently ignoring the views of individuals and organisations who took the time to respond.


Pat Onions, recognising the fact that many disabled people cannot attend public demonstrations such as the Hardest Hit Rally in Edinburgh on the 22nd October and the STUC's People First on October 1st  to fight for their rights has launched an e-petition on the UK Government's website to ensure their views are aired . The petition urges the Government to stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people their carers and their families.


This petition currently has 14401 signatures and is open until the 1st December 2012. We would urge readers of this blog to sign Pat's Petition and help reach the 100000 required to secure a debate in the UK Parliament on this issue.

Ian Tasker
STUC



Songs for Social Justice: Primal Scream – Come Together


Jesse Jackson’s speech at Wattstax in 1972 is sampled at the start of this song. Wattstax was a music festival organised by Stax Records on the 7th anniversary of the Watts Riots, which lasted for five days. The root cause of the riots is still discussed today, but racism; discrimination; high unemployment; poor schools and poor living conditions for African Americans living in the Watts area of Los Angeles are regarded as being factors.

The influence of politicised popular music and culture can be heard in many of Primal Scream’s songs and interviews. In the autumn, the band condemned the Tories when they were said to have used a Primal Scream song at their party conference.

On Primal Scream’s recent 20th anniversary tour of Screamadelica, singer Bobby Gillespie added extra lyrics to Come Together relating to the economic and political climate of today, repeating the refrain ‘Agitate, Educate, Organise’ at some of the latter shows.

Primal Scream – Come Together (Live at T in the Park):

Jesse Jackson – Wattstax:


Songs for Social Justice dance night featuring guest DJ Jerry Dammers -
o      Thursday 26th January
o      STUC Centre, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow
o      6.45pm – midnight
o      Tickets £8/£4 Available direct from the STUC - 0141 337 8100