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(en) HEALTH, SONG AND ANARCHY!, The Tradition of Libertarian Singers by Rafael Uzcategui

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 24 Feb 2004 21:55:22 +0100 (CET)

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To think of insurgent popular song from Latin America's perspective is to
easily evoke the names of Victor Jara, Ali Primera, Carlos Puebla, Inti-Illimani
or Silvio Rodriguez. But, the importance of this way of struggling using
songs is neither accidental nor unique. There has always been singing linked to
all revolutionary movements in our continent, some times hidden by the events
themselves or by interested reconstructions of the history of our
socio-political struggles. We would like to celebrate here the existence of a tradition of
popular singers, comrades of the idea of social justice with liberty:
anarchism. This exercise in memory, unlike those by the "true dissidents," does not
pretend to be exclusive and, least of all, the whole truth. As any historic
reconstruction -seen from a particular point of view- it contains fragments of
truth. It also pretends to connect old singers with current ones, the
struggles they are part of and to recreate possible links of community solidarity.

Libertarian tango and corrido

Angel Cappelletti -one of the historians of Latin-America's libertarian
ideals- asserts that anarchism has a wide tradition in our continent, rich in
pacifist and violent struggles manifestations of individual and collective heroism,
in feats of organization, in oral, written and practical propaganda, literary
works, stage, pedagogic, cooperative and community experiments. Its
decadence --after the main role libertarians played between 1870 and 1930-- is
attributed to three causes: The series of coup-d'etats occurred around the '30s and
the repression following each of them; the foundation of the Communist parties,
that, thanks to the support of the Soviet Union, received material strength
and a prestige lacking in the libertarian organizations and in third place, the
apparition of national-populist currents, more or less linked to the armed
forces. The anarcho-syndicalist groups developed a vast cultural work directed
to the peasant and labor majorities during the first years of the XX century.
Soon after, the proclamations of newspapers and books were taken to the
stage, to the plastic arts or turned into poems. In Argentina, libertarian
"payadores" were the chroniclers and heralds of the agrarian struggles in the
southern cone. Likewise, composers of tangos and milongas were activists of the
ideal and immortalized the memory of successful labor struggles or of the
consequences of bloody government repressions. In Mexico, corridos Zapatistas and
Magonistas gave popular expression to demands for land, liberty and other demands
of clear anarchist vein. But, it is beyond the Rio Grande river where the
libertarian song finds its highest and best development and popularity, linked
to the agitation instigated by the people's Big Union, The Industrial Workers
of The World, IWW.

Stoking the flames of discontent

Joseph Hillström, 23 years old, filled with memories of his Swedish skies,
arrives to the United States, in October 1902. He makes his home in California
and takes part in strikes and political movements struggling for the rights of
the disposed: masses of immigrants arrived in New York harbor to break their
backs in hard working days. With a new name, Joe Hill, he joins The
Industrial Workers of The World, IWW, in 1910. One year later, in the heat of the
strike in the piers of San Pedro, he wrote his first song. While the Southern
Pacific hired strike breakers, with his songs Joe breathed courage to the
workers on strike. Something magic happened: the workers began to sing his tunes,
together and in solidarity, in their 44 different languages, that way des
troying the attempts of their bosses of dividing and making them fight against each
other--the old imperialist, "divide and conquer" technique. Joe goes from
city to city to join the protests. There have always been songs in the
revolutions, but with Joe Hill, the strikes began to be always carried out singing, as
never before. His popularity with the people, wins the Swede the hate of the
authorities and a bad beating that left all his body terribly wounded in San

Hill's formula was as simple as it was effective: he would take the melodies
of popular songs of the day; and he would ad stanzas that were creative,
combative, witty and catchy. To Joe Hill a book was good, but a song learned and
constantly repeated was the best propaganda. The IWW began to publish working
class songs in pamphlets called, "Red Songbook." In one of them, 13 were
songs the Swede considered his "songs to keep alive the flames of discontent" with
names such as, The Preacher and The Slave," "Casey Jones, The Union Scab"
and "When The Shannon River Runs."

A conspiracy is concocted, in 1914, to silence his voice. Accused of having
killed a policeman and his son in an assault, he was jailed for 22 months.
>From his prison cell, Joe Hill continued writing songs and encouraging his
comrades to tirelessly keep on the strikes. The IWW mobilized all its energies
against the evidently fixed trial, but could not stop the death sentence sought
by the authorities from the first time they pronounced the name Joe Hill. The
Swede, knowing the turmoil his death sentence was creating in the United
States, said farewell to one of the union leaders with these words: "Good bye,
Bill. I die like a true rebel. Do not waste your time mourning. ORGANIZE!" He
was tied to a chair and a heart of white paper was placed on his chest that a
firing squad of five mercenaries hit the right spot. It was November 19,
1915. 30, 000 workers in Chicago bid him the last farewell singing with tears in
their eyes and with their fists raised high.

The Guitar that Killed Fascists

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born three years before Joe Hill was murdered.
Considered the most important Northamerican folk singer of the first half of the
XX century, Guhtrie continued the Swedish martyr and anarcho-syndicalist IWW
singers tradition as part of the, "Almanac Singers" or the "People's Songs,"
unions of progresist singers that supported workers struggles with their songs
and concerts. With influences of Irish music and Black Blues, his repertoire
included more than one thousand songs of protest. His songs related stories
of good, generous bandits and of murdered anarchists; his guitar and his
harmonica also sang about children and old people, about the woods and the
mountains, and the arid plains of the country, creating a style of total support for
the popular struggles of the moment. Guhtrie, traveling the whole country by
freight train, gave concerts with a guitar that had a sticker that read: "This
machine kills fascists."

Woody Guhtrie has left us monothematic records about the conflicts of his
time: songs about the building of the great Bonneville and Grand Coule dams,
(Columbia ballads, 1937), his Sacco and Vanzzetti Ballads, (1946) and, above all,
his "Dust Bowl Ballads," where he talks about the peasant migration soon
after the crisis of 1929, including the extraordinary, "Tom Joad," a seven
minutes ballad that summarizes the 500 pages of John Steinbecks's novel, "The Grapes
of Wrath."

During then '60s, Woody Guhtrie was the most powerful influence in the
so-called "Second Generation of Folk Singers": Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, John Mayall,
Donovan, Grateful Dead, who, with electric instruments, tried to reproduce his
spirit, but very few managed to emulate his persona.

Four decades after, the United States is once again plagued by protests and
police clashes. Diverse groups coincide in their critiques of the consequences
of economic globalization and take their concerns to the streets of Seattle,
Washington, DC, New York, San Francisco and other cities to shout slogans, to
dance in the carnivals of resistance... And to sing. The spirit of Joe Hill
and Woody Guhtrie comes alive again in those demonstrations, in the singing
voices of young performers such as Ethan Miller. Ethan, who lives in Maine, is
involved in movements in his area against capitalism; movements that are also
anti-authoritarian; in fact, he lives and works in the JED Center, a
collective and community place that supports and organizes programs for social change.
Miller has actively participated in events against globalization, sharing the
stage with other musicians such as David Rovics, Jim Page, Charlie King and
Karen Brandow.

They also sing in Europe

It is also undeniable the anti-authoritarian passion on the other side of the
water. During the Spanish Civil War, the feats of the confrontation would
transform popular melodies into anthems of resistance that came to form a legacy
still sang in our days. In France, shelter of exiled libertarian Cenetists,
Georges Brassens (1893-1981) sang in cabarets his songs to prostitutes,
delinquents and other disinherited since 1952, with a mordacity and tenderness that
won him a name in the French bohemia. As an anarchist, he ridiculed every
form of power and was involved in the movement by publishing poems in the
libertarian press. Brassens' recordings secretly went through the boundaries of
fascist Franco's Spain and influenced the style of the young son of an anarchist
--Cenetist to be more precise-- named, Joan Manoel Serrat. The legacy of
singer composer Brassen is of more than 2,000 recorded songs and his spirit is
still alive in singers such as Serge Utge Royo, who, besides his own prolific
career, actively participates in French libertarian circuits.

It is evident that the style popularized by Brassens ' irony and street
themes-- is reflected in the songs of consecrated Spanish singers, such as the named
Serrat, Joaquin Sabina and others. But even more interesting is the rebirth
these days of libertarian gatherings to play the guitar by those who grew up in
the ferocious and indomitable counterculture: punk. By the mid '80s a group
of restless youth tried to develop a space as an alternative to the
traditional musical market. Besides the explosion of the phenomenon known as, "Basque
radical rock" --Kortatu, La Polla Records, Eskorbuto, MCD, Hertzainak, etc--,
punk offered a possibility to express ideas about the Iberian peninsula and to
relate to movements such as anarcho-syndicalism itself, the struggle against
OTAN, insumission and "okupation"; a true multi shaded movement inspired by an
ideology definitely anti-authoritarian. Bands such as Juanito Piquete y Los
Mataesquiroles, Antimanguis, Black Carcomas, Productos Carnicos and Kolumna
Durruti come out of the present breeding ground of libertarian songs, that tone
down their rage with more relaxed rhythms for audiences of every type. As Josu
Arteaga, who writes about the scene for the magazine, Ekintza Zuzena, says,
"desperate to break the noise barrier, Nuts who showed up dressed only with one
guitar, needed exhibitionists, balms for the broken hearts, songwriter singers
ready to give back power to the word." From this libertarian roots are
Juanito Piquete, Moi Rojo, Pito Karkoma, el duo Paso a Paso and Sonoris Kausa,
linked to others of more traditional trajectories such as Lengua de Trapo, Sena
Jaraiz and Pablo Garabato, who, from their first recordings, sing to the
struggle and to life, who have also produced a collection titled, "Without Excuses:
19 Songwriter Singers of the XXI Century," issued cooperatively by 8
independent recording companies.

The lyrics of these new minstrels of utopia move from the unionist topics to
bring to us the thematic of the collectives in which they participate:
struggle against prisons, critique of neoliberalism, feminism... and the
reinvindication of anarchy.

Argentina, Ecuador

Argentina, turned into the land of pickets, popular assemblies and the
struggle for the dissapeared is also Gabriel Sequeira's pampa. He is in his 30s and
close to the libertarian organizations of Buenos Aires, where he began in the
world of rock'n roll. He proudly introduces himself as the "anarchist
trobadour," be it in the Foro Social Mundial de Porto Alegre or in Congress Square
together with Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. With one recording to his
credit--independent, of course--Sequeira performs in any stage of resistance that
asks for his help.

In Ecuador we find Jaime Guevara, a "chamo" --as the people call him with
affection in Quito-- with 29 years of song and activism, a central character in
the fast growing libertarian militancy of the Ecuatorian capital. Maddly
beloved, he has won the affection of the popular sectors, his eternal audience in
his concerts in favor of human rights, antimilitarism, and the struggle for
justice. Jaime had a band until stage precariousness --the streets, the
demonstrations-- forced him to continue alone only with the company of his guitar,
that once went to jail with him and stayed over 28 days more than El Chamo.
"They gave my guitar back to me in pieces." Rejecting the military like ways of
some folkloric groups of protest, Jaime puts laughter, everyday life and humor
in all his songs. With one recording and preparing another, Guevara has no
doubts in "acolitar" --cooperate-- singing some of his 500 themes written for
solidarian gatherings, such as, Jornadas Continentales de Resistencia Contra el
ALCA, of October 2002, in Quito, when "El Chamo" was in the front lines of
the barricades.

Health, song and anarchy

If power is synonym of silence, liberty is also named, Word. Tuneful voices
will not cease to sing with and for the struggle, for and with the feelings
that make us singular as human beings. The modern minstrels in these times of
the internet and nanotechnology, arm themselves with a guitar and a knapsack of
antiauthoritarian values. If we look carefully, perhaps we may see one of
them walking in front of our home. If we listen attentively, we may enjoy
ballads that still stir flames of discontent.


Jaime Guevara <chamoguevara@hotmail.com>
Gabriel Sequeira <gabysequeira@hotmail.com>
Juanito Piquete <juanitopiquete@mixmail.com>
Pito Karcoma <komando_x@latinmail.com>
Sena Jaraiz < senayxenia@hotmail.com>
Sonoris Kausa <amanatura@hotmail.com>
Paso a Paso <bdeanarquia@hotmail.com>
Lengua de Trapo <joxe50@hotmail.com>
Pablo Garabato <pablogarabato@hotmail.com>
Ethan Miller <ethan@jedcenter.org>

By <rafaeluzcategui-A-hotmail.com>

From: Riorefuge-A-aol.com

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