I am pleased to announce a new weekly column for BIRP which discusses the music featured each week on the episodes of the news broadcast, Democracy Now!
(*What follows is an introduction feel free to skip down to…*)
Democracy Now! is a national, daily, independent, award-winning program hosted by journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez and is broadcast on the internet, satellite providers DISH and DIRECTV, Pacifica, NPR, community, and college radio stations.
Their mission is to provide their audience with access to people and perspectives rarely heard in the ‘corporate-sponsored’ media. They provide an amplifier for the voices of ordinary people around the world who are routinely ignored by the names most recognizable as ‘the news.’
With this same apparent mentality, their musical intermissions are curated. On each episode, they play an eclectic pair of songs that coincide with current events discussed.
More times than I can count, I have wondered what exactly they were playing, impressed by their choices and the effect it has on the atmosphere of the show.
You can sometimes hear them playing indie favorites like Woods, Zola Jesus, and The Album Leaf-- just going off my own memory. They often pick out great tracks from the back catalogue of American Classics that will send you into the throes of nostalgia and missing your great-grandparents. And then they'll play music— as with today's installment of The Music Of Democracy Now! compiled from last week’s episodes— where you're reminded of the appeal of something from Awesome Tapes From Africa or a good foreign film. From time to time, they'll even host an exclusive performance. Neil Young and another personal favorite comes to mind-- Downtown Boys.
From their in-depth coverage and their commitment to unbiased, steadfast journalism to the broad range of music they introduce and reintroduce their listeners to every day, we hope you enjoy this weekly series and give independent media the credit they deserve in these trying times.
Brief discussions of the content and the music of the week’s broadcasts will be included with each installment. Enjoy.
“Drone Bomb Me”
What a wonderful track to begin with. This song comes to us from the album HOPELESSNESS by ANOHNI, previously known as Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons. This album is deep, dark, and powerfully ambitious. It was produced by ANOHNI with coproduction efforts coming from Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke. The album’s soundscapes stretch wide and the lyrics brood over those internal societal illnesses which ail our own nation and so often reach far across the world. The themes found here are rarely presented elsewhere in a genre like pop. And yet, this track is the album’s lead single and it’s first track. It’s front and center for that which follows it- a beautifully emotional and sobering look at where the artist stands in the world today. This album is weird and unconventional, but that said I cannot recommend it enough. Although it sounds like little else, in my head I’m placing it alongside FKA twigs, Petite Noir, Saul Williams, Massive Attack, and even Yeezus.
Drone Bomb Me appears on June 3, 2016 episode of Democracy Now! following an interview with U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain Captain Chris Antal in which they discuss a sermon he gave in Afghanistan and the moral fallout that ensued his witness of the US drone program.
This track is from the album Dhaalu Raa by the artist Ahmed and the group who popmatters refers to as the first Maldivian rock band. I love the mood this track embodies. The album is well-versed in the sounds of it’s own region as well as those which have been imported from abroad, without making any unfavorable sacrifices in the process— which is a tough feat to accomplish. There’s a lot of attitude present on Dhaalu Raa, and although it may not suit the average BIRP reader, if this track peaks your interest, I suggest checking out the rest of the album.
Bakari appears at the end of the June 3 episode, preceding the Democracy Now! report on the asylum granted by the U.K. to former Maldivian President and proclaimed climate activist Mohamed Nasheed following an armed coup in 2012— by supporters of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom— and Nasheed’s subsequent jailing in 2015.
Leyla McCalla is a singer, songwriter, and cellist of Haitian descent. This track is quaint, lovely, and reminiscent of the New Orleans sound where she currently resides. I imagine hearing this song being sung on the streets of NOLA and am envious of anyone who may have had the chance to hear it that way. It is included on her new album A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey which was released on May 20, 2016 to critical praise and intrigue from The Guardian, popmatters, NPR, Vogue, and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. She has been interviewed at length by AFROPUNK and Tavis Smiley, either of which are worth checking out.
This track appeared on the June 2 episode following an interview with a member of Vets Vs. Hate and preceding a segment on the announcement that no charges would be filed against the officers involved in the death of Jamar Clark, a 24 year old black man who was shot in the head after a scuffle with officers. Multiple witnesses claimed Clark was shot while handcuffed, although this is rejected by U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger who cites the lack of bruising on Clark’s wrists, the lack of his DNA on handcuffs, and conflicting testimony as evidence that “Clark was not, in fact, handcuffed when he was shot.”
This one is from a Sahrawi singer and actress, Aziza Brahim, who was born stateless in a Sahrawi refugee camp in the Tindouf region of Algeria during the Western Sahara War. This song appears on the album Soutak.
Lagi appears on the June 2 episode preceding the Democracy Now! report titled Africa’s Last Colony: Western Saharan Independence Movement Mourns Loss of Polisario Front Leader. Mohamed Abdelaziz, the leader and co-founder of the Polisario Front— a Sahrawi independence movement— has died. “Eighty-four countries as well as the African Union recognize Western Sahara as an independent nation,” Democracy Now! reports. The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently referred to Morocco’s rule over the region as an ‘occupation’ while visiting refugee camps in Tindouf. In response, Morocco expelled 84 U.N. staffers in March, increasing the tension that has been subsided for more than two decades by a ceasefire brokered by the U.N. in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
“Canción Mansa Para Un Pueblo Bravo”
Alí Primera was known as The People’s Singer of Venezuela. His music spoke on the suffering of people, poverty, and inequality. I don’t have a lot to say about this. Primera’s life reads almost like a classic bio-pic, in terms of setting, themes, and shaping events. I like the song quite a bit. It’s title translates to “Meek song for a brave people.” Who says the sounds of revolution have to be sad or angry? This song will just want to make you dance in a town square in the midst of a protest. Or maybe that’s just me.
This canción— song— plays on the June 1 episode preceding the segment discussing the Organization of American States’ announcement that it will hold an emergency meeting to discuss whether to suspend Venezuela for OAS charter violations. Venezuela is currently in the midst of economic turmoil.
This track comes from the collaboration between Joe Driscoll— which on his own is not really my thing— and Sékou Kouyaté —a badass kora player. (A kora is a 21-string lute-bridge-harp. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what that was at first either, until I saw him shredding about halfway through this video.)
Ghetto Many plays on the May 31 episode as a segue between coverage of the conviction of Reagan-backed former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré, and an interview with The Intercept’s Lee Fang concerning Hillary Clinton’s ties to Goldman Sachs.
“Pranto de Poeta” (or Poet’s Mourning)
This song dates back to 1973. (or is it 1970...or 1966?) The original track is a samba by the Brazilian composers Nelson Cavaquinho and Guilherme de Brito. There is something inherently Rio de Janeiro about this song. And this remained true when Cartola covered it four years later on the album Verde Que Te Quero Rosa. Cartola’s is my favorite version. It’s absolutely fantastic.
However, it is Teresa Cristina’s adaptation that appears on the June 1 episode. The track leads into a discussion about the state of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic games with Dave Zirin, the sports editor for The Nation magazine, and Jules Boykoff, professor of political scientist at Pacific University of Oregon.
“He Was A Friend Of Mine”
This is Bob Dylan at his finest, playing a sad folk song that’s older than he is, complete with somber harmonica and all. It was originally recorded with the title Shorty George in 1939 by Smith Casey, a black inmate at Clemens State Farm in Texas. It has been recorded by many, including The Grateful Dead and even Cat Power. When the curtains close and a good man’s time is up, this song plays.
This song is in the Memorial Day special broadcast, and plays as a tribute to the passing of two ardent supporters of peace and social justice. One being the legendary anti-war activist Father Daniel Berrigan, and the other, a human rights attorney named Michael Ratner, who challenged the Bush administration’s indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and won.
When the lights go out, and you finally lay down to sleep, put on this song. (As I will after writing this) It is, after all, on a compilation titled Dream Songs Night Songs from Mali to Louisiana. And what a perfectly peaceful song it is to end with.
Thula Thula-- which translates to “hush hush” from Zulu-- plays during a montage from the documentary Talking About Rose, the new film about the life and death of Rose Lokissim, a Chadian rebel soldier who led an extraordinary life. She was eventually caught, jailed, tortured and then executed at the age of 33.
That's it for this week. Check back next week for another installment of The Music Of Democracy Now!
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