Category Archives: Music

Paul Robeson

How does one begin to describe such a giant of a man as Paul Robeson? I met him when I was a young girl, in a recording studio in Sydney where he and my father were recording some songs to commemorate his appearance at a concert in the Sydney Stadium of which my father was compere. He bent down his great head and shook my hand, and his deep mellifluous voice uttered words too gracious to pierce the awe the magnificence of his presence inspired in me, so that I could not have recounted what he said had my life depended on it. I listened quietly as they talked, and heard my father recite Talking Union Blues, the first rap song I ever heard, and watched as the hands of Paul Robeson clapped, like two celestial bodies thunderously colliding in the vast and cavernous reaches of space.

A lawyer, athlete, cultural scholar, author, fluent in several languages, an actor, singer, human rights and civil liberties activist, in every way a most remarkable man, who suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous political opposition, by whose occult government agencies he was allegedly eventually destroyed. Described in this short biography as the ultimate Renaissance man, Paul Robeson’s impact on American politics and the dialectic of social equality also in Australia in respect of its aborigines cannot be overestimated, to say nothing of his rich musical legacy.

As Othello

Here are two examples of his incomparable voice.

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Georges Brassens

My father introduced me to the satirical, scathing, and wonderfully melodically and rhythmically difficult songs and the voice of Georges Brassens when I was but a small child, my father singing along to his recordings, I gazing at the few images of him on the record covers. In time I wanted to know what the songs meant and my father spared nothing in their translation; neither the contempt for the hypocrisy of French society of his time, nor the import of his sometimes abstruse allusions. Such, I think, typifies my relationship with my father.

Fascinated by the atypical and voluptuous way Brassens articulated the “r” in French, and by the sociopolitical implications of his lyrics which clearly indicated a man who loathed the repressive intent of the law and the violence of its execution, and whose attitude to humanity bordered on the misanthropic, I was thereafter made a keen student of the issues contemplated and despised by the anarchical mind, and formed a desire to learn French, which seemed by its very vagueness compared with English to lend itself interestingly to nuance and ambiguity.

However, life has a tendency to intervene in the plans of mortals, having a punishing agenda which seeks its own fulfilment, and I therefore have never mastered French, and certainly not well enough to dicipher the oft coded language of Georges Brassens. I do, though, have a very good French accent, or so I’m told on the rare occasion I’ve had the opportunity to exercise its speech with its natives, and have included one of the songs of Brassens, which didn’t seem too difficult to play, in my own repertoire, Chanson Pour L’Auvergnat.

Here are a few youtube clips of some of his songs for your enjoyment or education.

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Up she rises…

Okay, so the world’s off to hell in a handbasket but that should be no reason to fall into a deep depression. What the hell am I saying! I guess if one wants to remain as healthy as possible, quite a feat given the deadly toxins we’re forced to eat, drink, breathe, one has to avoid thinking on the kind of things which make one angry, frustrated, miserable, and try somehow to conduct oneself as though there were nothing threatening one’s life and health, and indeed that of the entire frigging planet.

I confess that the issue of the Fukushima Number 4 Reactor really got to me, resulting in a significant slump of spirits, then tension and stress which brought on a four day migraine (so far but still counting), and, the immune system depressed thereby, another bout of the flu. Such a pity, because I was doing so well avoiding working myself into a lather over around a thousand other issues plaguing the world, simply by refusing to look at them, hear about them, read about them, or think about them. But anyone who’s tried to block out the rottenness of the world without actually removing himself from it will probably attest that it’s not the easiest thing to do. In fact I can think of any number of things which are easier to do, including making a purse out of a sow’s ear.

It’s remarkable with what alacrity others will ruin one’s day with a grisly recounting of the worst news, so that one might even be accosted at the supermarket by a friend one hasn’t seen in an age with a detailed breakdown of the latest horror, not so that one might be kept informed as a preamble to action, but so that there might be a sharing of the frustration and anger leading to nothing but paranoia and hopelessness. Not that I blame them; it’s natural to want to alleviate one’s own anxiety about the evil trends underway in the world, erroneously thinking that talking about them constitutes some kind of attack on them which might limit their destructiveness. Not that I believe talking doesn’t lead to positive action; in fact positive action is seldom achieved, unless performed solo, except by first talking. But I marvel that others can immerse themselves in bad news whilst not actually doing anything helpful, and remain optimistic and cheerful.  So I’m not going to discuss the mass chemical poisonings, genocide, wars, rampant corporate greed, political deceptions, hijacking of religion to serve evil ends, murders and torture, or any other atrocities committed every day on the planet. Aren’t you glad I didn’t? No, instead I’ll focus on something pleasant, uplifting, and encouraging. Let’s see…….

Paralysed by illness and inertia, and a certain amount of ennui, I turn to the kind of music clips on youtube which usually guarantee a measure of restoration of spirits, music being the universal language of goodwill and love, and selected two to share with you, which demonstrate music’s accessibility to both young and old.

 

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Mikis Theodorakis

Zorba The Greek is one of my favourite movies, which seen as a child in the early sixties made a deep and enduring impression on me. I completely fell in love with the music of Mikis Theodorakis, its joy and melancholy, its power and beauty, and I still can’t hear it without being moved to floods of tears. I fell in love too with Anthony Quinn who brought the character Zorba to life with such understanding and enthusiasm that I find it difficult to separate the actor from the character and from the music of Theodorakis; the three elements welded so perfectly as to form a kind of other entity which has become a part of my own psyche. But back to Mikis Theodorakis…

I wonder whether his music would mean so much to me if I hadn’t known anything about the man. I am quite naturally attracted to people who sacrifice their own lives to improve the lives of others, people whose concern for their own safety in the face of tyranny and injustice takes second place to their conviction to oppose evil governments and social wrongs. No, that’s just crazy. The music speaks volumes about the man and his heart, and I couldn’t fail to be moved by it.

“What comes naturally in my mind when I hear the name Theodorakis? The artist that so intelligently fused classical music with folk and popular bouzouki greek music and popularised the work of great Greek poets like Elytis and Ritsos. The composer that showed the world what Greek music is like, through his soundtrack for “Zorba the Greek”. At the same time the freedom fighter comes forth, a man that participated in protests for the rights of the working class, a man who was imprisoned and tortured for the ideas he believed in, who travelled all over the world performing against the military junta in Greece, someone that still has the guts to criticize modern Rome’s foreign policy.” PAVLOS LIONTAS

Here are some clips, the only ones I could find which actually played properly all the way through, (since Google took over YouTube things have significantly fallen apart) which focus on the piece of music for Zorba’s dance.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Zorba The Greek is a pitiable creature who must do everything in his power to find a copy with all speed. I recall the movie in vivid colour and richness, although I learned much later that it had been screened in black and white, so intense was the impression it had made on my mind at the time. I understand though that now it’s possible to get it in colour, and I strongly advise seeing such a version.

Another movie, Z, about the Greek military junta which destroyed the lives of so many during the sixties, features the music of Theodorakis, who at the time the movie was made was being tortured, buried alive twice amongst other unimaginable horrors, and Costa Gavras was able only to use pieces which Theodorakis had formerly written, rather than new compositions from the great artist which he had hoped to inspire.

 

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Miriam Makeba

A very important part of my childhood was the music which used to be played almost constantly, or so it seemed, on the record player in my parent’s house. What my parents lacked as responsible adults with children in their care, at the very least they partially compensated, albeit unwittingly, providing an education in music which drew from a highly eclectic collection of records.

Miriam Makeba became a sensation because of her opposition to apartheid in her native South Africa, and was banished. Living in exile for several decades she gave concerts internationally and cut a large number of records, most of which my parents bought, and appeared on television. Her voice seemed to me to be the voice of Africa, and I was fascinated, and still am, by the clicking sound made in her language, which is clearly heard in the following clips.

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Pete Seeger

Of all the people who made a strong impact on my sensibilities throughout the agonising years of my growing up, Pete Seeger was chief. His voice resonates in my soul, his goodness and courage stirs my spirit, and his longevity testifies of the divine necessity of his remaining among us to remind us of what is truly good and noble. Pete is still active despite his advanced years, still singing, still showing up at important political demonstrations, a bulwark against encroaching inhumanity and a champion of civil rights.

I anticipate his passing from this world with dread, believing in my heart that the moment he leaves us the pressing darkness, kept at bay by the light of his presence here, will overwhelm and consume us, and the resistance to injustice of which he was the vanguard will collapse under the weight of burgeoning global hostility and selfishness. I know there are others committed to the cause, and would not be so ignorant as to dismiss their contribution and effort, their sacrifices, but none has the power to impart with gentleness of manner and strength of conviction such a cohesive and inclusive unity of purpose and universal brotherhood as Pete Seeger.

Being members of the Sydney Push, about which I shall write at a later time, my parents had access to a great number of political activists, writers, musicians, and artists, all of whom turned up to a party I recall they threw to raise money to mount a defence for Pete’s trial for contempt of Congress, each guest paying to enter with a yellow ribbon pinned to the clothes as proof of participation. Hundreds turned up. Here is a quote from Wikipaedia relating to the trial:

“On August 18, 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Alone among the many witnesses after the 1950 conviction and imprisonment of the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress, Seeger refused to plead the Fifth Amendment (which asserted that his testimony might be self incriminating) and instead (as the Hollywood Ten had done) refused to name personal and political associations on the grounds that this would violate his First Amendment rights: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”[54] Seeger’s refusal to testify led to a March 26, 1957, indictment for contempt of Congress; for some years, he had to keep the federal government apprised of where he was going any time he left the Southern District of New York. He was convicted in a jury trial of contempt of Congress in March 1961, and sentenced to 10 years in jail (to be served simultaneously), but in May 1962 an appeals court ruled the indictment to be flawed and overturned his conviction.[55][56]”

Anyone who doesn’t know of Pete Seeger must educate himself immediately. Seek out his YouTube appearances and listen to his songs, read everything there is to find about his life, and then, and only then, will something of great value be grafted in to the soul. Here he is with Woody Guthrie’s son Arlo…

And here in this video you’ll see at the end what kind of man he is…

Pete formed a group in his university days called the Almanac Singers, and later, to worldwide acclaim, The Weavers. Here they are at their reunion concert, and you can see that the chance of seeing them together again created a rush on tickets…

Here’s Pete with Arlo’s old man Woody when the two of them were young men.

Well, it’s just another picture of Pete.

Here, in advanced years, appearing on the David Letterman show, Pete articulates his basic tenet that the world’s issues can and should be addressed through song, the unifying medium…

My hero.

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