All posts by Halldór H Bjarnason

Halldór is the managing editor of Shouts - Music from the Rooftops!, an investigative journalist, audio engineer and an animal rights activist on a nomad journey through Europe - still without a definite destination.

‘Behind These Prison Walls’: David Rovics Records New Music Video Outside The Prison Where Assange Is Being Kept

Julian Assange founded Wikileaks in 2006 as an highly innovative journalism project that stays truer than most to the un-biased, watchdog rules of journalism ethics – no matter how much so many poser journalists disagree.

In 2010 Wikileaks published several leaks revealing the war crimes and horrible international offenses made by the United States army and government starting with the Collateral Murder video.

After these revelations the hard oppression began against Assange and Wikileaks and from 2012 and for roughly seven years Assange remained in political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Today Julian Assange is being kept in the HM Prison Belmarsh in London. The United States government is fiercely trying to extradite him to the U.S. where he would most likely be imprisoned for the rest of his life. For his journalist work.

Veteran protest music singer David Rovics tried to visit Assange on while on tour in England recently but as he told me the Belmarsh makes that harder than other prisons in the country: “You need a visitor order to visit prisoners at Belmarsh, unlike other prisons in England, where you just need to show up during visiting hours.”

When I asked David what message he has for the UK and US governments he said: “I’m not sure what message I have for these governments, because they are not interested in anything people like me have to say.

They know what they’re doing. They’re trying to hide the truth, that these governments are run by war criminals, imperialists, bankers stealing our collective wealth and leaving most of us in poverty. It’s completely intentional.

My message is for those who might actually be listening, among the populations of the US, the UK, and elsewhere. It is up to us, the task of changing our corrupt systems. And we do have the power, if we organize collectively on a massive scale and exercise it. If we don’t, no one else will.”

For six consecutive years Wikileaks has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and won a great deal of awards for its journalist work.

It is the responsibility of the journalist to let citizens know if the people in power are misusing their powers. No one can argue against that. That, and only that, is what Julian Assange and Wikileaks have consistently done.

If Assange gets extradited to and imprisoned in the U.S. precedent will have been set and every single honest journalist on this planet will be in danger.

A Protest Music Interview: Saffron A

There are different ways to both react and deal with trauma. Saffron A is a young musician from Brantford, Ontario, who chooses to put her experiences into song. Sad songs are as common part of popular culture as anything, but there are deeper levels of personal experiences that are getting their taboo sticker torn off by a new and brave generation.

As Saffron explained to me via email it felt natural for her and impossible not to create songs about some of the traumatic events in her life. In addition to her ‘normal’ touring and connecting with her audience she participates with organisations, such as Take Back The Night, giving talks and singing her songs at various empowerment events.

Check out her latest EP’s, both out this year, on her Bandcamp page.

First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Saffron A?

I am a feminist solo artist, and I play the tenor guitar and octave mandolin. My music sits where emotion and intellect intersect, focusing on themes of sexual assault, mental health, trauma and empowerment!

Has your music always been political or made in protest?

My music hasn’t always had this focus, but it has developed through lived experience. My earlier work was more experimental and explores the facets of human relationships. I would argue that I still do those things in my current writing, but with more precision and social awareness.

“At the time it was an easier way to say that something upsetting has happened to me, without having to explain my experience 50+ times. I felt compelled to write these songs as an act of survival, there was little choice on my part. “

Your recently released an EP, titled Resistance, which is a follow up to another EP, released earlier this year, called Resilience. You describe the first EP as “a collection of songs which focus on the initial response to experiencing sexual violence.” What made you decide to put these intimate feelings into song and how do you describe the process of both writing and then performing such songs?

It all started with the song Resilience. I wrote it after my assault as a way to process my experience, and released a demo of it to share with my friends and family. At the time it was an easier way to say that something upsetting has happened to me, without having to explain my experience 50+ times. I felt compelled to write these songs as an act of survival, there was little choice on my part. Writing has always helped me understand myself more and process my life and feelings, so it was only natural to process this trauma through song. When I started performing Resilience, the response I received during the song and after the show was profound. I knew that there was more I had to say in connection to this piece, and I had to form a full picture of my experience. That’s when a lot of the writing for this project began.

What’s interesting is a number of songs on the Resilience EP were written previously, but they fit with the narrative so well. With the Resistance EP, I wrote all of those songs from a place of frustration and unrest. At the time of writing Resistance I was finishing my Justice Studies degree. Having personal experiences with facets of the Canadian justice system (the police, court) and being further traumatized when seeking help motivated me to dig in and write Loud and Clear, as well as Priceless Advice. Break and Enter, as well as Flashes speak more to my internal response to external trauma. The title track Resistance is my battle cry to keep fighting and continue to live despite the injustice. Performing these songs is unique every night and they feel like they have a life of their own.

How have people been receiving your music, especially when you play live?

I’ve been cutting my teeth touring this summer, and these shows have shown me how important my music is right now. A blanket statement is that people are challenged and moved by my work on a personal level, but it goes deeper than that. My shows have felt like a collective energy exchange of emotion, and afterwards folks thank me and share their own stories with me privately. I am honoured to be apart of these dialogues and inspire people to think critically about our society and how desperately things need to change.

Recently you both performed and gave a talk at two Take Back The Night events. How did that go and what other activist activities or events do you participate in?

It was amazing to get to speak and sing at the Take Back The Night rallies in Halton and Humber College. It is an honour to be a part of the community in this way and to connect with different populations in public spaces. I also have been a guest speaker at the Transforming Trauma Into Triumph conference by The Gatehouse, which took place at the Toronto Police College. That was an important accomplishment for me, and a great event to be a part of.

Can you tell us about your instruments of choice, the octave mandolin and tenor guitar, and how it came to be that you use them for writing your songs?

I started playing the mandolin, and I’ve stayed within the bounds of instruments that are tuned in fifths! My dad custom built me an electric tenor guitar which changed my whole sound, and then he crafted an electric octave mandolin which was another game changer. They are my signature pieces that set me apart.

You got a new single out, Priceless Advice, which readers can hear above. What can you tell us about it?

Priceless Advice is featured on the Resistance EP, and it deconstructs the messages people socialized as young women are given to keep themselves safe. These “helpful suggestions” come from parents, the police, friends, the media. Society puts the responsibility on women not to be violated instead of teaching men not to violate others.

Where you are from, do you feel there is a strong scene of artists like you that use their voice to spread either political, intimate or protest messages?

I’m from Brantford, Ontario, and there is a small but mighty activist scene. The music scene itself is not welcoming to bold women, but groups like Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent are cool to collaborate with. Another barrier is that there are few spaces for people to have concerts, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting anyone to see me play in those venues because I can’t ensure their safety. Brantford needs safe accessible art spaces, but there is a gap.

What are some of your musical inspirations? Do you follow other contemporary artists that also use their voice responsibly?

For me personally, Janis Ian is my favourite songwriter of all time. Her brutal honesty and vulnerability in her work is inspirational. I’m also influenced by the versatility of Jack White. More politically minded bands like The Clash, Hole, Nirvana and Bikini Kill push me to be blunt in some of my writing. 

Riot grrrl bands have been having a resurgence, so The Shiverettes and Peach Club are so needed. They’re bringing important messages to the forefront!  In the world of popular music, Lizzo is a gem, and her messages of self love and empowerment bring me to my feet.

Some of my friends in the Canadian music scene like The Lifers, Annie Sumi, Missy Bauman, Scott Cook and Piper & Carson are also important voices. They make noise and speak their minds, but also leave people feeling safe and cared for at the end of their sets. They share their own social commentary in a way that people listen and don’t feel alienated.

What is on the horizon for you?

In short, more music, more touring, more adventures! I’m excited to share what I’ve been writing and I look forward to bringing my songs to new places and spaces.

Lastly, thank you very much for participating and for your music. Is there anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Thank you for giving me a platform to share. Consent is everything! Support your local music scene and empower marginalized voices! If you like any of my songs, please share them with a friend and follow my journey on social media!

Check out more about Saffron A’s work on her Webpage ı Spotify ı Facebook ı YouTube ı Instagram

No Friends But The Mountains: 5 Albums That Support Rojava And The Kurdish People

The following text was written by Lee Brickley and published here with his permission.

“For anyone with no understanding of what’s happening to Kurds right now, here’s a little (simplified) history lesson for you….

Kurds have been living on the land they call home now for thousands of years. After WW1 and the fall off the Ottoman Empire, the British and French promised Kurds they could continue to reside in those areas peacefully because they intended to create a country called Kurdistan. They went back on that promise and carved up the Kurdish homeland with the creation of some new countries, meaning that the Kurdistan was split between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.

All four of those countries have persecuted their Kurdish populations ever since. Turkey has committed the worst atrocities during that time, and up until recently, the Kurdish language, Kurdish names, and more were all banned. Turkey even refuses to call the people Kurds, and refers to them as “Mountain Turks” – a slur designed to brand Kurdish people as barbaric and uneducated.

Thousands of Kurds lost their lives during the 80s and 90s fighting against their Turkish oppressions, and yet the situation barely improved.

During the first Gulf War, the US encouraged Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussein, but then failed to protect them when they did, resulting in thousands being murdered with chemical weapons.

Cue the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

When the US, UK and other Western countries invaded Iraq, Kurds fought alongside the allies, and against Saddam’s army. They managed to create an autonomous region in Iraq because of it. When ISIS began grabbing mass amounts of land in Iraq, the Kurds fought back with allied assistance and stamped them out.

When ISIS started taking land and murdering thousands in Syria, the Syrian President Assad ordered his army to leave the region and he left millions of Kurds there to die. They would have done too if it weren’t for the assistance of coalition air strikes and weapons that allowed them to push ISIS back and carve out another autonomous region in their homeland.

That region is Rojava. The people there live under a system called Democratic Confederalism which is based on workers’ rights, equality, feminism, and ecology. In principal, this version of democracy is far more democratic than any system used in a Western country today.

The Kurds didn’t want to team up with the US in Syria, they just didn’t want to die, and they were left with no option after being abandoned by Assad.

Now the US has abandoned the Kurds and left them to die too. They’re no longer “useful” and heaven forbid America is seen to be assisting a people who don’t bow to the international banking cartel, and are determined to live in a real democracy.

The US said it wanted to bring “democracy” to the Middle East, but not THAT sort of democracy.

Assad and Russia refuse to back Kurds now because they worked with the US instead of being murdered. And Turkey (the biggest oppressor of the Kurdish people, and the country that literally funded ISIS) has invaded their land with one of the largest armies in NATO with the intention of ethnic cleansing, genocide and freeing ISIS prisoners.

The Kurdish people just can’t win. Every major global power uses them when it suits their agenda, and then they feed them to the wolves.

The US won’t stand up for the Kurds. The Syrian Government won’t stand up for them, and neither will Iran or Russia. That is why every single person with a heart reading this must raise their voice now!

There’s an old Kurdish saying that goes:

“NO FRIENDS BUT THE MOUNTAINS”

Please show our Kurdish brothers and sisters that isn’t true. Do everything you can. I beg you.

#RiseUp4Rojava

Music, Awareness and Solidarity w/ Rojava Revolution by female:pressure

Compilation album by female:pressure, a German based record label with an international network of female artists within electronic music. All proceeds of the album “go DIRECTLY to the women of Rojava to build a women’s village on location called The Village Project: weqfajinaazad.org/en/index.php/news/954-a-village-for-women

Songs for Rojava by Lee Brickley

We interviewed Lee Brickley back in 2018 about this album and his work as a protest musician: “I want to see a bottom-up structure of organising society where people make the decisions that directly affect themselves, and upper-structures are only there to implement the will of the people. I see this happening in Rojava, and so it’s something I must support. And I encourage all others to do the same.” – Lee Brickley

Kalochori by Amar Zeno, Rody Zeno, Ronav Zeno

Kalochori is a refugee camp in Greece and where this album of Kurdish folk songs was recorded in July of 2016. All proceeds from the album go to the musicians themselves for they are Kurdish refugees who after a treacherous journey have today finally reached a safe place and gotten a refugee status.

Call of the Mountains by Shahriyar Jamshidi & Mohsen Badri

“Shahriyar Jamshidi Kurdish-Iranian-Canadian Kamanche (four-stringed-spiked -fiddle) player, composer, vocalist, founder of the Dilan Chamber Ensemble and co-performer at Kamancello. A graduate of Tehran University of Art and a former artist-in-residence at Banff Centre, Shahriyar has devoted his artistic career to the preservation and transmission of the Kurdish musical heritage.” – from the artist’s Bandcamp page.

Resistance // مقاومة // Berxwedan by Muudri

This deep dub electronic album has Middle Eastern music influences woven into it. The artists, known as Muudra, collected sounds on his journey through the Middle East and created the following blend of music and field recordings.


Cover photo credits