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Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism

Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 10 Nov 09 - 11:39 AM
WalkaboutsVerse 10 Nov 09 - 12:43 PM
Jack Blandiver 10 Nov 09 - 01:16 PM
WalkaboutsVerse 10 Nov 09 - 01:31 PM
s&r 10 Nov 09 - 01:37 PM
Bonzo3legs 10 Nov 09 - 01:37 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 10 Nov 09 - 01:40 PM
WalkaboutsVerse 10 Nov 09 - 01:44 PM
Jack Blandiver 10 Nov 09 - 02:36 PM
katlaughing 10 Nov 09 - 04:40 PM
WalkaboutsVerse 10 Nov 09 - 04:42 PM
VirginiaTam 10 Nov 09 - 04:57 PM
sing4peace 10 Nov 09 - 07:12 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 Nov 09 - 04:33 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 Nov 09 - 04:41 AM
theleveller 11 Nov 09 - 06:28 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 Nov 09 - 07:41 AM
theleveller 11 Nov 09 - 08:41 AM
Folkiedave 11 Nov 09 - 09:06 AM
sing4peace 11 Nov 09 - 05:54 PM
Folkiedave 11 Nov 09 - 06:23 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 12 Nov 09 - 12:58 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Nov 09 - 03:45 PM
brezhnev 12 Nov 09 - 09:56 PM
Jim Carroll 13 Nov 09 - 01:17 PM
brezhnev 13 Nov 09 - 06:19 PM
Charley Noble 13 Nov 09 - 09:03 PM
Marje 14 Nov 09 - 07:32 AM
sing4peace 14 Nov 09 - 04:14 PM
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Subject: Folk Song and Singing Activism?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 11:39 AM

After recently seeing Sing4Peace comment on her caroling experience on another thread, both singing for and being sung to by women inmates of a prison, I was deeply struck by both the moving humanity and simplicity of her story.

I'm wondering how many people have used and still use 'folk song' (and I use 'folk' in the broadest "common people" sense, rather than the stricter 1954 sense) as a form of social activism?

I only have a smattering of awareness as to how "the people" have used song and singing together as a means of protest, or an expression of solidarity, or a means of affecting political change, so I'd like to throw open a broad discussion of the history of 'folk song, past and present, as social activism' to help enlighten me :-)

On a slightly bum secondary note, I also wonder what implications recent legislation in the UK, might have on the the singing human voice as a symbol of free expression in times of oppression?


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Subject: RE: Singing Activism!?
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 12:43 PM

Christmas Sung Simply, e.g.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 01:16 PM

WAV - that has to be the subversively extreme piece of music I've ever heard. I'm genuinely shocked by its abrasive sonority and darkly disturbed by its satanic overtones perverting the ostensible Christian message into something quite utterly demonic.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 01:31 PM

...I was responding, S., to all the materialism of the modern Chistmas season; but, yes, perhaps my timbre in it is a tad "abrasive," and in want of a Fisherman's Friend, or a Tic-Tac or two.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: s&r
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 01:37 PM

WAV I know you alternate between two singing voices. Which one was that?

Stu


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 01:37 PM

Social activism - well I would like to see anti working class rent a mob, can't speak properly and general nuisance songs. I would like to see anti middle class people who insist that they are working class songs, I would like to see anti idiots who would rather rent a home rather than buy it!


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 01:40 PM

"WAV I know you alternate between two singing voices. Which one was that?"

Tsk Stu! Quite clearly (from the context) that was WaV's err Folk Activism 'voice' - and as we are on the subject... >coughs politely<


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 01:44 PM

Well, it's a folk-carol, S&R, so I applied my earthy folk/pub timbre, rather than my sweetish church/hymn timbre.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 02:36 PM

In the Roman de Fauvel (and elsewhere in medieval art) we see depicted the music of the devil - see HERE - which these days we might think of as Folk Music in its purest form, which is to say music most certainly NOT of the church - a dichotomy which WAV describes as his earthy folk/pub timbre which exists quite contrary to his sweetish church/hymn timbre. In this dualistic approach to music I think WAV has truly created the music of Satan, complete with more Devilish Intervals than one might swipe a rommelpot at let alone explain by means of any earthly musicology. And yet WAV tells us he mirrors the melody between keybord and voice and abhors polyphony! This recording gives the lie to that notion as he creates a veritable organum of chords and intervals the like of which threaten the very stability of the known universe.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: katlaughing
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 04:40 PM

CS, I just refreshed THIS THREAD that you might find of interest.:-)


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 04:42 PM

After much thought, I'm quite sure now of a further "dualistic approach to music", S. - i.e., singing unknown author/E. trads unaccompanied, and known-author pieces (hymns, my Chants, etc.) accompanied: attempting to double the melody with keyboards, as you say; and all with an English flute intro.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 04:57 PM

Am I revealing a closet feminist when I sing Advice To The Ladies and Not The Way To Get Laid? Is the humour laced with anger / disappointment? Possibly. Is that a social statement? No idea. Are the songs considered folk? What's folk?

Some verses of The Minstrel are about the minstrel's experiences of singing activism. So when I sing this song, is it activism? No. Only a derivative, maybe a celebration of the subject of the song's activism.

I have sung English Diggers in sessions, but does that count as activism? I think no. No matter how heartfelt my rendering, I am not of the Diggers who suffered the injustice that inspired the song.

I think you might do well to research union songs and women's sufferage songs.

also found this of interest


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: sing4peace
Date: 10 Nov 09 - 07:12 PM

Dear Crow Sister -

I am glad that you were touched by the example of the power of song to reach through barriers to unite people. I'm glad it prompted you to want to ask a broader question about the power of music in the overall struggle of humans seeking a better way to live together.

Music has always been a part of my life as I am at least a fourth generation musician. My father (Jody Gibson) showed me how powerful and controversial music could be. In the late 1950's Jody put together a racially integrated band known as the Muleskinners. They were a genre bending bunch of U.S. Air Force guys who played rock-a-billy, skiffle and other stuff that simply defied categorization. When he was stationed in England, the fact that the band members were black and white together caused a bit of a stir. All through my Dad's career, he would end his sets with Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land". It made an impression on me.

I took my cue from Dad. Pick good tunes. Pick your battles. Sometimes they merge.

I learned the power of one song one day as I sat in my Dad's car waiting for him to come out of some store. It was when he was in the military and I was thinking alot about conformity and non-comformity. I heard Malvina Reynolds singing "Little Boxes". I never forgot how I felt hearing that song as it reached into my nine year old heart and let me know I wasn't alone. (There's plenty of discussion about the merits/demerits of that song on other threads - no need to waste more space here.)

As I built my own repertoire as a musician, I never felt a need to break things down into "protest songs" and "regular songs". In the political vs personal discussion among singers and writers, Dick Gaughin says it beautifully in "A Different Type of Love Song", they are all love songs...their love is a different kind.

I am an activist who sings. I am a singer who puts herself on the line. I have seen how a song can transform a group of people from disconnected individuals into a united chorus with vigorous energy to face the challenge before them.

I have been to concerts where the performer might add one or two songs into their set that are of a topical sort. I've seen how those whispers can really move an audience to feel or think something they hadn't expected. That is just as powerful as leading a picket line with "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around". It's all in the intent of the singer and the openness of the receiver.

I have had the honor of meeting and singing with some of the singers who were deep in the thick of the struggle for voting rights during the time of racial apartheid here in the U.S. where so-called Jim Crow laws were used to oppress people of color. The Freedom Singers weren't just there for entertainment - they were organizers and they knew the value of a singing movement. To them, the song "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize" was the most important song of the movement because it exhorted people to be strong when they had been beaten and were being hauled off to prison.

When one sees documentaries from that era - you almost always hear someone singing in the background - We Shall Overcome - We Shall Not Be Moved - Wade in the Water -   those were not parlor songs - they were calls to courage, they were anthems of hope, they were medicine and balm to the wounded.

The first time my mother saw me on television, I was singing for a group of United Farm Workers who were boycotting grapes and lettuce. I was a teenager and I was singing "This Land is Your Land". My mother was very upset and reminded me that singers careers can be broken if they mix music and message. I told her that I never wanted to be the kind of musician or human who would be afraid to take a stand and I wouldn't want a career that required me to be silent.

Over the forty plus years that I have been a professional singer, I have plenty of opportunity to sing love songs, funny songs, blues and country tunes, novelty songs and a few I wrote myself. The songs that I most cherish are the songs I have sung with people as we sang truth to power.

I just want to share one story here: In January of 1983, I was part of a group of religious and lay women who staged an occupation of the U.S. Federal Building in downtown Providence, Rhode Island (USA). We called ourselves "Women of Faith". The press kept referring to us as "seven nuns and two women". We were protesting United States aid to El Salvador at a time when we were financing and training death squads that were killing priests and nuns and students and peasants.

At the appointed moment, we moved into a circle together, held hands and stood together refusing to leave the building. Most of the women had never been arrested before and they were absolutely terrified. Both of my hands were being squeezed in fear as the police approached us demanding that we leave. I started to sing "They Say That Freedom Is A Constant Struggle" and my sisters sang with me. The energy in the room changed in an instant and those women were not afraid anymore. We were breathing together - the true meaning of the word conspiracy. I learned an important lesson about the power of music and my role as an activist that day.

Perhaps we need to ask how we have allowed our lives to be so compartmentalized that we have to label ourselves and others as "activists" whenever they question the status quo. Too many pigeonholes. In my humble opinion - they are for the birds.

Thanks again Crow Sister for starting this thread. I hope there are lots of others here who have stories about how they sang a song that made a difference - or how a song made a difference in their lives and made them want to make a difference in the lives of others.

Your sister in hope and song,
Joyce Katzberg
(of whom it has been said that the best place to hear sing is from from the back of a police wagon. ;-) )


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 Nov 09 - 04:33 AM

Wonderful stories Joyce, really affecting.

I loved the Nun's squeezing your hands so tightly - and I never knew that the original root of 'conspire', means to breath as one.

Regards Tam's points.
Yes, if I sing the Diggers song at a session, while I might personally do so in solidarity to their historical cause (or indeed not at all), it remains but a faint echo of what it was, and what it once meant to those who sang it before.

However, were I to sing it *purposefully* in an appropriate context: say a protest of some kind in keeping with the Digger's own cause, then I'd say it serves both as a bridge of solidarity between people through history, and a form of activism in the present.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 Nov 09 - 04:41 AM

"I hope there are lots of others here who have stories about how they sang a song that made a difference - or how a song made a difference in their lives and made them want to make a difference in the lives of others."

Me too JK :)


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: theleveller
Date: 11 Nov 09 - 06:28 AM

The biennial Raise Your Banners Festival, which took place in Bradford last weekend, is a good indication that the left-wing propaganda song is alive and well. There is even a Political Songwriting Competition. Unfortunately I couldn't go but there are other mudcatters who were actively involved.

The No Masters Co-operative was formed to further political activism through music:

"No Masters, the northern-based song-writing co-operative, was formed by John Tams and Jim Boyes in 1990. It sought out writers, performers and musicians who were, in their various ways, seeking to celebrate and extend those bits of the people's tradition invariably described as 'radical' or 'political'.

Since then, its membership has expanded to include outstanding writers and performers such as Mike Waterson, Jo Freya, Lester Simpson, Barry Coope, Fi Fraser, Ray Hearne, Chumbawamba, and the late Lal Waterson.

No Masters celebrates songwriting that addresses issues: that is rooted in its time and its communities: that is engaged with the struggles confronting and reshaping those communities: that pays homage to its traditions by reworking them; and that is unafraid to take sides whilst eschewing propaganda. It is a unique force in folk music."

No Masters


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 Nov 09 - 07:41 AM

Thanks for 'No Masters' Leveller - looks most interesting.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: theleveller
Date: 11 Nov 09 - 08:41 AM

Yeah - good stuff. Check out Ray Hearne's new CD 'The Wrong Sunshine', it's excellent (and I'm not just saying that because he's mrsleveller's line manager at the WEA!) - lots of social activism in his songs.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Folkiedave
Date: 11 Nov 09 - 09:06 AM

Ray is not my line manager - though he was kind enough to appear on my radio show and talk about his new record - it is great.

I know there are others like this too - but I came into folk song through political activism. I was on CND marches and went to a folk club to hear those type of songs. Then by mistake I went into a club where they were singing this "other stuff". And I was hooked.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: sing4peace
Date: 11 Nov 09 - 05:54 PM

There are no mistakes Folkie Dave.

It's like finding whole grain bread
when you've only had the white stuff.

Stirs the soul.

Hard to forget a soul stirring.


JK


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Folkiedave
Date: 11 Nov 09 - 06:23 PM

Thanks for that. It was indeed the best "mistake" I ever made.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 12 Nov 09 - 12:58 PM

I don't have a lot to offer, other than equesting other peoples personal stories, anecdotes or knowledge of the area..

Anyone fancy submitting some songs they used to sing, or songs that were meaningful in the context of their own efforts?


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Nov 09 - 03:45 PM

Songs were always a part of political and social change, as I found out a few years ago when I agreed (reluctantly) to speak to our local history society on song and history, something I knew little about.
These are some of the things I unearthed:

The earliest collection of songs were political ones, dating from 1199 in French, Latin, Provencal, English and Anglo-Norman.

This, from Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun 1655-1716.
"If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation"

Around this time the song Lilibulero was said to have ""rhymed James II out of three kingdoms".

This, on the Jacobite rising of 1690.
"The ballad of 'The Haughs of Cromdale' was originally produced to describe the battle of Cromdale, which in fact was a chaotic defeat for the Jacobites in 1690, when the leaders of the encamped army neglected to post sentries and were routed by the English troops.
The ballad maker decide that this was too ignominious a defeat to record so he interwove a description of the action with a somewhat high-flown description of Montrose's victory at Auldearn over the Covenanter army in 1645. Thus the two battles, forty-five years and a considerable number of miles apart, were unceremoniously joined together. The gallant Montrose, who had been dead for over forty years, was brought to life in verse to win another battle. The result is a horribly muddled ballad, but one which has been immensely popular.
The Jacobites, with the help of the ballad, lived to fight another day and rose again some fifty years later to be finally defeated at Culloden. To the strains of the pipes playing this tune the Highlanders have charged and won battles all round the world."


The forcible seizure of land by the landed gentry (the enclosures) gave rise to many of our transportation songs.

Alan Lomax once claimed (I'd love to know if it is accurate) that the Tralaleri singing he recorded from the Genoan dockworkers was used by the Garibaldi revolutionaries when the singing of political songs were banned by the authorities. The insugents sat outside the bars la-la'ing the tunes of all the revolutionary songs (all well known to the general populace) at the passing police and soldiers.

I am not sure how effective singing is as a form of social and political expression nowadays (chanting seems to be the main voice of demonstations today), but I can't imagine any of the Peace marches I took part in (Aldermaston, Faslane, Pembroke) without the songs. If nothing else, they made you feel that you were part of something and not on your own.
It's also hard to separate the U.S. Civil Rights movement from its songs - which, I believe, were vital to what went on and what was achieved.
Many American folk singers went south to give their support, though (not to introduce a controversial note - what, moi!) Bob Dylan apparently refused, claiming he couldn't afford the fare. He was finall ashamed into doing so by actor-folksinger Theodor Bikel, who bought him a ticket.

So the next time club organisers tell you they don't like political songs at their club, tell them.....

Sorry if all of this is a bit messy; I've been wanting to take part in this thread but - funny week, one way and another.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: brezhnev
Date: 12 Nov 09 - 09:56 PM

I don't know about in centuries past, but try as I might, I can't think of a single British "social activism song" post Second World War that has had the same function or mass appeal as We shall overcome, Where have all the flowers gone, This land is your land, or, a bit later, I ain't a marchin' any more or Feel like I'm fixing to die.

Why is that?

Most obviously we didn't have a civil rights movement (apart from in Northern Ireland where We shall overcome was adopted), and the war in Vietnam wasn't ours (though it may have felt like it)...Is that all, though?

What did they sing during the General Strike in 1926?

Still, there are loads of great British songs that have been (and continue to be) good at making us feel, as Jim says, 'part of something and not on our own'. Whatever that something may be.

The Diggers one, Martin Carthy singing the Springhill mining disaster(oops! American), Shipbuilding, The Watersons singing Thirty-foot Trailer...are the ones that spring immediately to mind for me.

Did they turn me into a social activist? No. Did they have as much of an impact on me as Hollis Brown, Hattie Carroll, God on Our Side or a dozen others? No, but I was younger and more impressionable when I heard them first.

Crow Sister
Presume you've come across Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's 1968 round-up of the history of protest songs (The Angry Muse)? If not.... I think it's a pretty baffling selection, but there are some interesting songs in there.

Jim,
when do you reckon chanting became the main voice in street protests in the UK? sometime before 1968? Why do you think that was? And it's folk, isn't it?

Talking of chanting and protest, here's Allen Ginsberg and friends being "part of something" ahead of Mayor Daley's mayhem during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Nov 09 - 01:17 PM

Breznev
Briefly - have to take advantage of the weather here in the West of Ireland - garden all day - hence the delay.
By the time of the Viet Nam protests the songmaking (on demonstrations) had been replaced by chanting (though I did hear a crowd of young women in Grosvenor Square infuriate one of the boys in blue by singing "I want to be a bobbie's girl" (pop song of the time)).
There were some tredmendous songs written (more later), but not sung on the marches.
Don't know why the chanting took over, but the three day duration of Aldermaston probably had something to do with the number of songs that came out of that campaign.
The Angry Muse
It was an interesting album, but I do know that Ewan and Peggy had to be somewhat diplomatic with Argo Records and put together a historical survey rather than a propaganda album. I think it would have been very different if it had been issued by their own company, Blackthorn, where they had total editorial control.
There is talk of issuing a selection of all of their contemporary songs as one collection - I hope!!!
More later.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: brezhnev
Date: 13 Nov 09 - 06:19 PM

Look forward to more. You've got me wondering what an Angry Muse where MacColl and Seeger had total editorial control would have sounded like.


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Charley Noble
Date: 13 Nov 09 - 09:03 PM

One of my favorite duos has to be Magpie for continuing to sing issue-oriented songs well. Fred Small was another favorite but he's transformed himself into a father and Unitarian minister and is no longer available on the concert circuit. And I haven't heard from Charlie King in years but I understand he is still singing.

I seldom sing political songs myself anymore. It's puzzling why I do not. There certainly is a whole range of problems that our society continues to deal with badly. I suppose it's partly a function of not being capable of being shocked by what is happening right now as I was when I was much younger.

Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: Marje
Date: 14 Nov 09 - 07:32 AM

There's something a bit tricky about political songs. It's easy for them to come across as finger-wagging and moralising, in a way that can easily put people's backs up.

A song about a single issue or event may outlive its purpose. And yet, if it's a good song, it ought to have a life beyond the particular event. The US examples are good ones, and it's true that there are few UK songs that have spread as widely and lasted as well.

As to whether singing is still part of political protest: I know that the women who protested at Greenham Common used to sing, but a whole generation has passed since that was at its peak. The fact that it was an all-female protest is significant - I suspect that a similar group of men at that time (1981-2000) would not have used song so much.

I doubt whether there are many recent political or protest songs that are ever heard outside folk clubs/festivals in the UK. Perhaps the fact that the public don't use singing as part of their protest has weakened political song; an alternative explanation is that the songs available are too feeble or just not suitable for mass singing.

I realise that this posting is full of guesses and assumptions, but it's an interesting thread, and I'd be interested to read further responses.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Folk Song Past & Present as Social Activism
From: sing4peace
Date: 14 Nov 09 - 04:14 PM

A couple of things came to my mind on this:

An example of using music as a form of activism - Malvina Reynolds' song "The Judge Said". It was a reaction to a comment made by a judge in a sexual assault case. He said "boys will be boys" and a few other cliches and was lenient with the attacker. Malvina wrote this song, it was made into a 45 record (remember those?) and packaged with a petition to recall the judge. It worked.

At the risk of controversy here, I am of the opinion that the younger generation's culture of rap, hip-hop, etc. IS a genre of folk music. A lot of younger activists - esp. those involved in the anti-globalization protests - do sing, they do rap, they dance in the streets and create off the top of their heads. Lots of them are men and they are doing this sometimes under extremely hostile conditions.

For the most part, I do not care to listen to this style of music or poetry - it has an angry, techno edge that hurts my spirit. Isn't it often the case that the older generation doesn't think the younger generations' tunes are music? I know it was certainly true of Bob Dylan.

I may not like rap but I do have a respect for it and I do recognize the authentic voice of our younger brothers and sisters who are bringing their truth to power - even if it is in a different time signature than I'm used to. Props are due.

There are a lot of musicians/actors/artists of many stripes who are risking their "commercial" interests by taking a stand on the important matters of the day. We just have to look outside of the expected places for them.

Charlie King, Fred Small, Magpie and so many others are still out there using their music to break down walls and build bridges. We are often referred to as "throwbacks to the sixties". Charlie has written some very funny songs about that.

My response to folks who say I remind them of the "sixties" was to put together a program called "A Century In Song". I use songs from the 1860's through the 1960's to illustrate the continuity of social struggle and the songs that came with them. Just the melody to "John Brown's Body" can take us through the Civil War and Abolition into the women's suffrage movement where the song becomes "Woman In Her Sphere". The women's movement helped to birth the labor movement and the song became "Solidarity Forever"...

I know this - songs are powerful. They engage us through our hearts and minds and can cause us to unite for just a moment in a group experience. We can educate through songs, we can liberate through songs.

I think the song "Kumbaya" or "Come By Here" must be a particularly powerful liberation song because it inspires so much ridicule. Maybe we should start a Kumbaya fight back movement. ;-)

OKee. Gotta go now. Nice gabbing with y'all.
Gotta go foment some Evolution...
Joyce


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