A place called Grândola: Part II

This is the second part of an in-depth history of Portugal’s touchstone protest song, “Grândola, Vila Morena”. (Click here for Part I)

A graffiti portrait of Zeca Afonso, with lyrics from "Grândola".

In the late 1960s, Zeca Afonso began to become more curious about different musical aesthetics. While seeking out the traditional sounds and poetic forms of Portugal, he also approached the music of Africa and the Brazilian wave of protest songs. He believed that Portuguese musicians should be inspired by the examples of Brazilian dissenters like Chico Buarque and Geraldo Vandré.

Indeed Portuguese musicians were becoming more engaged on a global level in the late ’60s and early ’70s. First there was Luís Cília, composing during his exile in France. Talking about the colonial war and the dictatorship, Cília channeled the melancholy strains of his home country’s music in songs such as “O guerrilheiro” (1974), set to a marching tempo. Others appeared on the scene, including José Mário Branco (who would help produce one of Zeca’s albums), Sérgio Godinho, Fausto (Carlos Fausto Bordalo Dias), and even the priest Francisco Fanhais. It was a heterogeneous group of artists, but each had a connection to Portuguese folk music as well as being lyrically nourished by the wave of neo-realist poets that emerged in the 1950s.

In 1971, Zeca recorded the album Cantigas do Maio, one of the most important records of his career, and a great innovation in the musical landscape. On it we don’t hear just a guitar and a singer – there are also elements of percussion, piano, accordion, and flute. It was also on this album that “Grândola, Vila Morena” first appeared, although Zeca had composed the song in 1964.

A year before writing this masterpiece of protest music, Zeca had just finished his thesis on Jean-Paul Sartre. He then traveled to Grândola in the Alentejo region — an area where people suffered greatly during Estado Novo. Working from sunrise to sunset in the fields for a few bucks a month, their situation was reminiscent of the exploitation described in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Here Zeca played at the Sociedade Musical Fraternidade Operária Grandolense. Fraternidade (fraternity) is one of the words that found its way into a poem he wrote during those days in Grândola, a plea for the end of the dictatorship. Continue reading


A place called Grândola: Part I

José "Zeca" Afonso holding a carnation aloft.

April 25, 1974. At 12:20 am, Rádio Clube Português broadcasts the song “Grândola, Vila Morena” – the second secret signal to ignite the Carnation Revolution. Later that day the Portuguese people would celebrate their freedom. A dictatorship that had lasted over 40 years had finally met its end.

March 2, 2013. All over Portugal, people sing “Grândola, Vila Morena”, protesting against government austerity measures and International Monetary Fund impositions. Across the country, in protests that reportedly involved tens of thousands of people, the old and young joined together in a tight-knit choir with one powerful voice.

“Within your walls, oh city / It is the people who lead”, sang musician José “Zeca” Afonso in the song that remains a symbol of the protest music genre that emerged in Portugal in the early 1970s. Zeca’s role as a protest songwriter and singer began back in 1953, but it was towards the end of the ’60s, with the rise of the opposition, that he attracted more attention. People were fed up with the dictatorship, and more and more voices were gathering against “Estado Novo”.

This political regime rose to power in 1933, seven years after a coup d’état by the military forces put an end to the Portuguese First Republic. The architect of “Estado Novo” was António Salazar, the prime minister from 1932 to 1968. His rule, known as “Salazarismo”, was anti-communist, anti-parliamentary, authoritarian, conservative and colonialist. Inspired by fascism and with strong ties to the Catholic power, Estado Novo was defined by “Deus, Pátria e Familia” (God, Fatherland and Family).

In the ’40s and ’50s, the regime held an iron grip over Portugal – at the time a country immersed in poverty, with resources already spread thin by empire-building. Almost half the population was illiterate, children routinely died of starvation, and agriculture was the major occupation. With an active system of censorship enforced by political police, paramilitary forces and youth organizations, it took decades for people to start protesting against Salazar and his regime. When they did, Afonso was at the forefront of the opposition.

The only live-recorded video of Zeca performing is from the Coliseu dos Recreios in Porto, 1983, and also features musicians Francisco Fanhais, Fausto, Janita Salomé and Júlio Pereira, among others.

José Manuel Cerqueira Afonso dos Santos was born in 1929 and lived in the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique as a kid. However it was in the Portuguese village of Belmonte that he had his first brush with Salazarismo when his uncle, the town’s mayor, made him wear the uniform of the Mocidade Portuguesa, a youth organization that supported the regime Continue reading


Stealing the show: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

I saw Macklemore & Ryan Lewis perform for the first time at the end of last May. The day was already shaping up to be one of the most exciting musical encounters of my life — a friend and I had driven some 20 hours from Calgary to Minneapolis to catch the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown and the Wu-Tang duo of Ghostface Killah and Raekwon at Rhymesayer’s annual Soundset Festival.

I’d listened through The VS. EP by the now-famous duo a handful of times before Soundset, and was certainly digging Macklemore’s intelligent rhymes and Lewis’ textured beats. But I was by no means prepared for their phenomenal 30-minute, live-band assisted set, which might have been the top showing of the day (perhaps tied with the magnificent Lamar). The music was outrageously good and we even got a taste of “Thrift Shop” a few months before it took over mainstream radio.

But the most powerful moment was halfway through the show: Macklemore took off his jacket to reveal a T-shirt that read “Legalize Gay Marriage.” I freaked out. The emotion I felt has been matched only when I read Frank Ocean’s beautiful Tumblr-published coming out letter. Both statements represent incredible bravery, considering the tragic levels of homophobia in hip hop and in America.

Most of us know the remainder of the story: The Impressions-esque song “Same Love” dropped in July, with an accompanying video in October. Ellen DeGeneres caught wind of the track and quickly brought Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on to her show to perform it. Then the duo exploded with the exuberant “Thrift Shop”. Now it’s headlining festivals around the North America and Europe, scheduled to play everywhere from Sasquatch to Oshega this summer.

For me, the ascent of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis is one of the more exciting stories in recent years. They make approachable hip hop, weaving together chill Pacific Northwest vibes — think the Blue Scholars or Shad — with the pop influences of Kanye West and Big Boi. They’ve worked for their success too; Macklemore independently released his first, phenomenal, mixtape Open Your Eyes way back in 2000 (under the name Professor Macklemore).

But more importantly than indie production or statement T-shirts, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are writing music that matters. Rap that expresses some form of real dissent doesn’t tend to make it to the top of the charts — the last well-executed protest song I recall getting plenty of airtime was the Jay-Z-assisted remix of Kanye’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” And that was almost eight years ago. Continue reading


The YWCA and “We Shall Not Be Moved”

"We Shall Not Be Moved" — from page 79 of 1951's YWCA Songbook, 'Sing Along the Way'

I came across a little book a couple days ago from the Young Women’s Christian Association, already in its fifth printing… in 1951. Sold under the title Sing Along The Way, the book cost 40 cents and contains music and lyrics to no fewer than 160 tunes. One of the five sections is called “Social Justice,” and after flipping through I noticed a handful of pretty amazing protest songs. So far it’s turned me on to a couple I had never heard, like “Same Boat, Brother” — sung here by Leadbelly — and “Bread and Roses” — a piece associated with the largely women-led 1912 textile workers strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and later made popular by folksingers such as Joan Baez and Judy Collins. The song even inspired Baez’s younger sister, musician and activist Mimi Fariña, to found in 1974 a nonprofit organization of the same name.

The book also included a few traditional labor songs, such as “Joe Hill” by Earl Robinson, “Solidarity Forever” by Ralph Chaplin, and the ever-popular “We Shall Not Be Moved”. This latter tune I had always associated with the US Civil Rights movement, but as I’ve come to learn, was actually first adapted with labor in mind. Claiming roots that stretch perhaps as far back as the dark days of American slavery, the song is an ever-so-slight manipulation of the African American spiritual “I Shall Not Be Moved” — which itself has seen some pretty amazing renditions throughout the years (Charley Patton; Mississippi John Hurt; the so-called Million Dollar Quartet of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins; New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band; the list goes on). The phrase, as I possibly should have intuited, is biblical in origin, appearing at the very least in Psalms 16:8 and 62:6, and quite likely elsewhere as well.

But at some point in the early 1900s people started changing the ‘I’ to ‘We’ and using it as a protest song. Its first documented appearance was during the New York City shirtwaist strike of 1909, where it was sung by the young, mainly immigrant women making up the oppressed workforce of the Lower East Side’s shirtwaist factories. The song was featured in Soundtrack for a Revolution, a documentary film about music during the Civil Rights movement that I profiled in the first piece I wrote for this site back in January 2011. This live version of the song on SoundCloud, from 1980′s Singalong at Sanders Theater, features Pete Seeger, in his inimitable style, with an entire audience in Cambridge, Massachusetts singing verses of social inclusion and against nuclear weapons:

(Chorus), Young and old together, Women and men together, The city and country together, (Chorus), Black and white together, Straight and gay together, (Chorus), No nukes is good nukes, Split wood not atoms, (Chorus 2x)

Continue reading


In anticipation of September 17th

In celebration of the upcoming one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, we wanted to share some of our favorite OWS-inspired protest songs. Over the next month, we’ll be posting a wide range of YouTube videos from both well-known and unknown artists whose pieces have been informed by Occupy protests. We hope that these selections will recreate the diversity and spirit that have been fueling the movement since its inception on September 17, 2011.

So Monday through Friday, from now until 9/17, in conjunction with the closing bell on Wall Street, we’ll be posting these songs to Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #S17music. We’ll also be compiling them here as well, so you can always check back for a full listing, or feel free to visit our Occupy Wall Street playlist at youtube.com/LokashaktiRecords.

OWS-inspired and -informed protest music:

  1. “Distractions” by Talib Kweli, off his upcoming 2012 album Prisoner of Conscious (Posted Thursday August 9, 2012)
  2. “End Of The World” by Lupe Fiasco, off his 2011 mixtape Friend of the People (Posted Friday August 10, 2012)
  3. “We Are The Many” by Makana (Posted Monday August 13, 2012)
  4. “P.T.I. (Pardon The Interruption)” by evitaN, off the album Speed of Life (Posted Wednesday August 15, 2012)
  5. “Finally Here” by The Roaring feat. Ari Herstand (Posted Thursday August 16, 2012)
  6. “I Swear” by Subversive (Posted Monday August 20, 2012)
  7. “Money Money” by Awesomatic (Posted Tuesday August 21, 2012)
  8. “If There Ever Was A Time” by Third Eye Blind (Posted Wednesday August 22, 2012)
  9. “The Bottom 99%” by Rhiannon Giddens (Posted Tuesday August 28, 2012)
  10. “Occupation Freedom” by Ground Zero and the Global Block Collective (Posted Friday August 31, 2012)
  11. “Blood Money” by Brandon Carter (Posted Wednesday September 5, 2012)
  12. “The Bus” by Scott Ernster (Posted Thursday September 6, 2012)

A fracking mess in New York state

John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono and their son Sean appeared on the July 13 episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to promote their campaign against hydraulic fracturing. According to protestors and those unfortunate enough to have had first-hand experience, fracking — a drilling technique utilized to extract natural gas — can contaminate nearby water supplies, endangering the well-being of people and the environment.

Controversy has recently sparked over the possibility of allowing fracking in New York state, as Governor Andrew Cuomo considers lifting the current moratorium on the drilling practice. Sean Lennon explains, “When the companies showed up in upstate New York, it sort of like propelled us; it was like a fire under the tush, and we suddenly felt we had to do something.” Along with Jimmy Fallon, the two performed a comical critique of fracking practices, singing a tune called “Don’t Frack My Mother.”

Though the song is light-hearted, the issue is starkly serious. Lennon and Ono recently put together the website ArtistsAgainstFracking.com, which features a myriad of celebrities and artists that have offered their support, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Lady Gaga.

Skepticism of the safety and ethics of hydraulic fracturing long precedes the campaign of Ono and Lennon. Directing widespread attention to the controversial drilling technique, the 2010 documentary Gasland, written and directed by Josh Fox, explores the hazards that accompany the practice of fracking. Nominated for an Academy Award in 2011 for Best Feature Documentary, Gasland has ignited an upswell in anti-fracking activism.

Various anti-fracking concerts — such as those recently organized in Albany and Binghamton (“Frackstock”) – have been featured across the state of New York, hoping to unite activists and raise support. Hosted by actor and outspoken anti-fracking activist Mark Ruffalo and actress Melissa Leo, the May 15 benefit concert in Albany featured Medeski, Martin & Wood, Natalie Merchant, Citizen Cope, The Felice Brothers, Joan Osborne, Tracy Bonham, Toshi Reagon, Dan Zanes, Ida, The Horse Flies, and The Ahkwesasne Women Singers. Proceeds went to New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of diverse organizations supporting a fracking ban in New York.

Hoping to highlight the dangers of the technique, Studio 20 NYU and ProPublica.org collaborated to produce a music video entitled “My Water’s On Fire Tonight” — coming in at number two on TIME Magazine’s list of Top 10 Creative Videos for 2011.

In addition, Josh Fox’s recent short film entitled “The Sky is Pink” – featured on ArtistsAgainstFracking.com — targets Governor Cuomo who faces a “decision that can fundamentally change [the state].” Fox poses a grave question to the governor, “What color will the sky be over New York?”


Coup d’état in the Maldives

Earlier this year, on 7 February, the democratically elected president of the Maldives (a small island chain in the Indian Ocean) was forced to step down.  Acting presumably under the influence of the country’s former dictator, members of the main opposition party succeeded in convincing elements of the armed forces to oust President Mohamed Nasheed.  Rather than taking a heavy-handed approach, President Nasheed opted for the path of nonviolence, and unlike former leaders, chose to resign instead of going out guns blazing.  To dramatize the political situation there, countering the perception that what happened in February was at all legitimate, the Maldivian metal band Traphic Jam has written a scathing protest song called “Bagaavai” — or “coup d’état” in Dhivehi.

All talk of the coup aside, President Nasheed is actually a rather interesting figure — almost without equal among heads of state.  In 2008 he led a nonviolent movement for democracy in the Maldives, culminating in free elections in which the dictator Maumoon Gayoom, at that point in power a full 30 years, was finally removed from power.

He’s also been a very active voice in raising international awareness about climate change, given the fact that no point in the Maldives sits over six feet above sea level.  As part of his efforts to save the country from a projected rise in tides that could see it underwater by the end of the century, Nasheed pledged to make the Maldives the first carbon-neutral country in modern history by 2020, in hopes that other nations would follow suit.

Underwater cabinet meeting in the Maldives, 2009

In 2009 he held an underwater cabinet meeting to dramatize the plight of his country, providing one of the most remarkably effective visuals in modern memory to educate about climate change. Nasheed and his struggle are the subjects of a brand new documentary called The Island President, for which Radiohead — in a political move in and of itself — agreed to compose the soundtrack.

If you’re interested in learning more, Waging Nonviolence recently conducted an interview with the island president where he speaks about this and all manner of things in a very candid look.

As to the current political situation in the Maldives, Nasheed is currently touring countries around the world, raising awareness about the need for early elections, which he hopes will give him a chance to prove that the weight of civil society is still behind him.  If you’d like to follow what’s happening there, check out: www.democracymaldives.com.


The legacy of musician, filmmaker, and activist Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch

Young Burmese punks

Adam Yauch and his daughter Tenzin Losel (Photo courtesy of Polaris)

Adam Yauch, founding member of legendary rap group the Beastie Boys, passed away today at the age of 47. In 2009, Yauch was diagnosed with cancerous tumors in one of his sailvary glands and one of his lymph nodes. Yauch and those close to him expressed optimism for a full recovery throughout his three-year battle with cancer. The shocking news of Yauch’s passing was reported by TMZ and confirmed with a statement on the Beastie Boys’ official website. He is survived by his daughter Tenzin Losel and wife Dechen Wangdu. Yauch and Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horowitz announced the original diagnosis and the need to postpone tour dates in 2009.

One of the dates the group was forced to cancel was a headlining gig at New Jersey’s All Points West festival. Last-minute replacement headliner Jay-Z dedicated his performance to Yauch, and kicked off his set with Beastie Boys classic “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.”

Yauch’s legacy is one of irreverence, artistic merit, personal growth, and social consciousness.  The Beastie Boys catalogue speaks for itself; their first four albums, Licensed to Ill, Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, and Ill Communication, are considered hip hop classics. The Beasties’ melding of rap, off-the-wall samples, and punk rock created an entirely new sound that influenced countless subsequent artists.

Continue reading


Anti-Flag’s Latest Strike

The General Strike

Anti-Flag's new album, The General Strike

The General Strike, the new album from Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag, sees the veteran punks continue their loud (and fast) brand of dissent, this time with an Occupy Wall Street-inspired message. Released on March 20, The General Strike is the band’s ninth studio album, and its first since 2009′s People or the Gun.

Before releasing the album, the band stopped by the Manhattan encampment to entertain, and show solidarity with, the occupiers. The impromptu performance — the band was in town for dates at NYC’s Irving Plaza — featured a handful of Anti-Flag songs as well as this cover of the Clash’s classic “Shoud I Stay or Should I Go.” More performances can be found over at Punknews.org.

The new album is so informed by the Occupy Movement — from track titles like “The Ranks of the Masses Rising” to the album title and cover art — that it is easy to imagine someone unfamiliar with Anti-Flag’s history viewing the album as an opportunistic misappropriation of the Occupy ethos. Putting a price tag on anything Occupy-related seems completely at odds with the movement’s message and goals.

Continue reading


Burma’s Clandestine Punk Scene

Burmese punk band Rebel Riot

Burmese punk band Rebel Riot (Photo courtesy of Alexander Dluzak)

Burma’s gradual move away from authoritarian military rule and toward a more democratic society is inspiring hope that an end is coming to decades of oppression, including the deadly crackdown on 2007′s nonviolent Saffron Revolution.  Humanitarian improvements like the release of noted dissident and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi — who now holds a seat in Parliament — led the United States to begin normalizing relations with the government currently known as Myanmar.

A burgeoning punk scene, unfolding in secret, highlights the fact that though things are improving, people living in Burma believe there is still a long way to go.  Germany’s Spiegel Online profiled members of Burma’s punk counterculture, and found that bands like Rebel Riot don’t just write songs about dissent, they rebel every day simply by practicing a condemned lifestyle.

“We young people in Burma have become punks to protest against the political and economic situation in our country,” Rebel Riot lead singer Kyaw Kyaw says.  Small government concessions, like releasing a fraction of detained political prisoners, might satisfy foreign states, but the people on the ground are left continuing to fight against repression.

Continue reading