Tag Archives: activism

Lee Brickley (interview)

Last August, a debut album was released called Songs For Rojava. The songs are all dedicated to “freedom fighters around the world” and a special focus is directed towards the Rojava revolution. The musician and activist behind the album is a self taught singer-songwriter, writer, activist and, more specifically, an anarcho-communist. All this led me to believe he’d be a perfect fit for a Shouts interview. Hit the play button above for a protest music soundtrack to the interview!

 

Who is Lee Brickley?

“I’ve been a freelance writer for the last five years, but my real passion has always been songwriting. After teaching myself to play the guitar at age 12, I started writing my own music almost immediately. Since that time I’ve written thousands of songs on many different subjects, but in recent years my music has taken a political slant, and that has thankfully put me in a position where I now have somewhat of a fan-base and am able to release my music publicly.

If you’re asking about my political views, I’d call myself an anarcho-communist, in that I believe it is possible for society to organise in variations of a commune-like structure without an authoritarian state at the helm. This is why I find Democratic Confederalism (the system currently in full swing in Rojava) to be of particular interest, and thus, why I chose to release my latest album that attempts to educate listeners on the Kurdish struggle and the Rojava feminist revolution.”

 

When did realise that you wanted to send out a message through music?

“I think I realised it was important to write songs aimed at educating, amusing, and encouraging social change when I was very young. Even as a 12 year old with my first £50 guitar in hand, I attempted to replicate the greats like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. I might not have quite understood the significance of their lyrics back then, but their songs spoke to me more than any others.

It has only been during the last couple of years that my songs have begun to get attention, and I believe that is because conditions have deteriorated across the world, and the international working class is closer to revolution than at any point during my lifetime. I write songs about worker’s revolts, I write anti-monarchist music, and I despise the class system. The number of people who agree with me seems to increase every day, and so, as a songwriter, my natural instinct is to create a soundtrack for the revolution.”

Lee Brickley quote photo 2

Has your music always been political? 

“My music hasn’t always been political, and I have hundreds of songs about other subjects. I just think the current political situation globally should encourage all artists to turn their talents towards the issues at hand. We’ve had decades of freedom to dream and create art in all forms on all subjects, but the planet is in a terrible state, psychopaths are in control of nuclear arms, and 99% of people on this Earth are nothing more than slaves. I think it’s time artists and intellectuals did their part, just as the Kurdish, British, and Internationalist volunteers do in Rojava.”

 

What is your connection to Rojava? How did you learn of it? Why is it important to you?

“As I said, for me, the ideology behind the Rojava revolution is highly appealing. It’s not perfect, and it never will be – nothing is. However, it’s an ideology based on real democracy, freedom, and equality between races, religions, sexes, and minorities. Whatever happens in the future in Rojava, the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan and his ‘Manifesto for a Democratic Civilisation’ writings are some of the most rational, compassionate, and empowering I’ve ever come across.

I want to see an international revolution in which the people of the world remove the current banking system completely, redistribute wealth, eliminate the oil and gas industries in favour of renewable energy sources, remove all monarchies, aristocrats, and those born into positions of power. 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.”

 

How is the music scene where you live, in terms of activism and protest? Do you feel alone in using your voice how you do or do you have comrades around you doing similar things?

“There isn’t much of a music scene for political music where I’m based, and so most of my releases etc happen online. However, I am planning a tour for 2019 which will see me play around the UK, Ireland, and Europe. I should be announcing some of the dates for that tour in a few weeks.”

 

How do you feel people are receiving protest music these days?

“Due to the state of the world at the moment, and the fact that politicians are clearly only focused on keeping the peace while dictatorial corporations pillage and rape the planet – I think people are now looking to protest music more than at any point since the 1960s. Which is good news for me because it means more and more folks out there are listening to my songs, but I’d imagine those in positions of power are getting rather concerned. And they should be concerned.”

Lee Brickley quote photo

What’s your take on musicianship vs. journalism? Many protest singers used to write about very current topics, like a journalist, and some do still to this day. Do you think the media is not doing its job today?

“Despite the fact that my song called “Ocalan” repeatedly gets removed from Facebook and YouTube even though the lyrics are historically accurate and simply tell the life story of Abdullah Ocalan up until his imprisonment in 1997, I still think I can get away with saying things in songs journalists wouldn’t dare to write in their propaganda mainstream news articles. But even I appear to be treading a thin line. There are more and more people being arrested in the UK for supporting the Kurdish struggle in one way or another all the time. And there have also been some arrests of songwriters for releasing music on other subjects.

So I don’t necessarily blame the journalists for not having the balls to write articles that go against the official propaganda line of the state. They risk being classed as a terrorist and getting arrested just like me. The only difference is I realise that I have nothing to lose but my chains, and they’re wrapped up in their ever-so-important lives.”

 

What about activism versus art? Should they be mixed? Do you ever get feedback or criticism regarding that?

“There are a lot of people out there who think musicians and songwriters should keep out of politics, but those people shamefully underestimate the power music and lyrics can have over a human being’s perceptions. When the mainstream music industry is filled with songs about sex and getting wasted; what happens? We get a society filled with teenage mothers and drug addicts. People who listened to that music and took inspiration from it long before they were experienced enough to make a rational decision on the matter. Music is incredibly powerful.

If you want to start a revolution, raising an army and asking the IRA for information about their old gun-smuggling routes simply isn’t enough. Not this time anyway. If the people of the UK and other countries around the world are to rid themselves of their authoritarian rulers, they must be united in their efforts. Art and music are essential tools for educating the masses, showing them the reality of their situation, and teaching them how to free themselves.”

Do you partake in activism outside the music?

“Yes. I regularly attend protests for issues I think matter. I also write articles and blog posts, and sometimes I’ve been known to engage in a bit of guerrilla art.”

 

Who are you musical heroes? What about current protest musicians? Anything you are following or can recommend?

“My musical heroes have to be people like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, James Taylor, Neil Young, and Johnny Cash, but there are really too many to mention. As far as current protest singers, I’d like to mention a couple of people that everyone should check out. David Rovics has been writing and releasing protest songs for what seems like forever, and he really is a master in the game. Seriously. There’s also a guy from the UK who’s blowing my mind at the moment called Joe Solo. Check out his song Start a revolution in an empty room.”

 

What is on the horizon for you?

“I am about to record another eight songs that I will release under the title of “The Working Class Revolution EP” ahead of the tour of the same name I am currently in the process of planning in Europe. I still have lots of room available to book extra shows, and the tour will run from April 2019 onwards. If there is anyone out there who would like to arrange a show, please feel free to get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to discuss and send all the information.”

 

Thank you very much for participating and for the music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

“No problem! And yes, there is! I give all my music away for free to anyone who asks for it. It’s possible to buy it online, but I upload it to YouTube, Spotify, and other places so anyone can listen for free. I also happily send out MP3 files of all my music to anyone who sends me an email asking. The reason for this is that I want to make sure as many people as possible hear and enjoy my songs, and I completely understand how tough it is out there at the moment financially. So if anyone wants all my music for free, just email me 🙂

Likewise, anyone who wants to support my music and ensure I can continue to write political songs, record them, and distribute them for free to the masses can make donations however big or small [insert: Lee’s PayPal site].

Thanks for the interview!”

You can also follow Lee’s work through his social media and the event page for the online concert here can be found below:

 


Morgan Hendry (interview)

Mechanical engineering and its effects on music are not a familiar topic to me. I would most likely never have even thought of the connections there between if I had not discovered the work of drummer, field recording artist and engineer Morgan Hendry. Morgan recently released the album ‘Longcove’ which in his own words is “an empathetic call to fight climate change”. The album is composed with sounds Morgan collected through an 8 year period during which time the world climate changed drastically as Morgan told me via email:

“I conceived of Longcove 18 years ago in 2000, while I was still in high school. At that time, it was still very expensive to record remotely, and so the idea sat dormant until I returned to Long Cove in 2010. By then, I was armed with a field recorder and a decade’s worth of experience in writing and performing music. The record was completed in February 2018.

From a climate change perspective, nine out of those 18 years have been the hottest on record since we started tracking our climate. Five of those occurred since 2010 when I began recording the source material for this record.

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Photo from a climatecentral.org article from January 18th, 2018.

For the Earth, this is a change of staggering speed. For human beings, it appears slow, playing out over decades. Our perception of human-scale time (80-100 years) vs. geologic time was one early concept for Longcove, and it’s one of the big reasons why establishing consensus on climate change is so difficult. If something isn’t an immediate problem, we tend to ignore it. The thing is, we are seeing the effects of climate change every day – we just have to recognize them for what they are. From the time Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement to the release of the record, I had to evacuate my family from Hurricane Irma while visiting my mother in Florida and watch my son cough on the acrid smoke that drought-induced wildfires pumped into the skies of Los Angeles. Climate change is very real, and making events like this more and more destructive.

The withdrawal from the Paris Accord shifted the direction of this piece of music from an abstract study of time to a statement on why we need to fight back against this global threat. The other events (Irma, the wildfires) justified my decision to speak out on this through my art.”

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Photo by Robert Hendry

Before delving further into politics I asked Morgan to tell me a bit more about his background in music and, interestingly, in engineering. Since the 4th grade Morgan was introduced to both the drums as well as mechanical engineering and before making activist field recording compositions he toured both the US and internationally with his band.

“I’ve been involved in music since I took up drums and percussion in the fourth grade. I’ve been in a number of projects throughout my music career, most notably the instrumental rock band Beware of Safety, where I played drums and keyboards for over a decade. Our reach far exceeded our humble beginnings, and our music took us all over the US and parts of Europe between 2005 and 2016. During my time with the band, I did a number of smaller projects under my own name and the moniker The Laterite Road.

When Beware of Safety went on hiatus in 2016, I started thinking about what my new musical direction would be. That’s something I’m still working on, but while I’m doing it, I didn’t want to pen myself in with an identity that might not fit my future work. As such, I moved forward performing and releasing music under my own name. It feels honest, transparent, and uncluttered, which is what I think I need at this stage of my musical journey. 

Some recent work includes several live outdoor modular synthesis performances with LA’s Modular on the Spot and my latest release, titled Longcove.”

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Photo by Robert Hendry

“I’ll first say that I receive no compensation or endorsement from my employer for my artistic work, and my opinions are my own. A lot of musicians lament not being able to live off their art, but, honestly, I think you can gain a huge amount of inspiration from non-musical activities. Engineering and music are truly two halves of myself, both of which began in the fourth grade. My grandfather was a drummer in the Navy Band during WWII, student of jazz great Cozy Cole, and my first drum teacher. My father is a mechanical engineer, and his work inspired me to go down a technical path. Both people played heavily into who I became as a person. That said, it took a misguided attempt to “get serious about engineering” and cut music from my life in the sophomore year of college to understand how critical music was to me. 

Engineering affects my art both aesthetically and in how I practice it. Sonically, I’m drawn towards, harsher sounds, polyrhythms, and phasing, which I think comes from my mathematical background and my lifetime exposure to rooms full of machinery operating out of sync. I love to bring these types of influences into my music, either through sampling, composition, or synthesis. I’ve always enjoyed exploring “perfect imperfection” – beautiful sounds out of time, or broken sounds perfectly in time.

Engineering is a way of logically attacking problems, and it has a way of getting into all parts of your life. I was deeply involved in flight projects, spacecraft that had been approved for development and launch, during the time Beware of Safety was actively writing and touring nationally and internationally. The former activity demanded a lot of time, and the latter required me to play drums at my peak. I did a very deep dive into the practice of drumming, and created ways that I could prioritize the maintenance of certain techniques while pushing my drumming vocabulary during the band’s writing process. It was a very focused way to keep music alive in my life during a time that it might have fallen by the wayside.”

Although not all of Morgan’s music has been politically driven from the start, he watched one of his compositions grow more political as the recording location turned to dust in the 2017 wildfires that wrecked parts of California. Now, all that is left besides memories of the cabin where Morgan proposed to his wife and where countless people visited to experience the peaceful nature outside Los Angeles, are Morgan’s recordings from his 2016 album Ojai Drones.

“I worry constantly that Longcove will become something similar – a sonic record of a lost place. Much like photography, I think that field recording can serve as a way to comment on what a place is, was, or will be. I remember one vivid example of this, as told by Douglas Adams. While the story of the recording process is absolutely hilarious, the outcome is tragic: the freshwater dolphins Adams described are now presumed to be functionally extinct, or, at minimum, extremely endangered.”

 

Field recordings and experimental compositions are perhaps not the most commercially viable way of getting one’s message out. Furthermore, it seems that protest music as such is not something all audiences want to hear. What protest music does not have is the numbing factor. Or at least that is what I imagine the reason to be. If music is to obviously political or to ‘radical’ then it seems like the attention fades. Some artists of course manage to grow to such a level that they can at one point make a very popular political song as recently seen in the case of Childish Bambino’s This Is America music video. Morgan is completely aware of these and more barriers he faces with an album such as Longcove.

“The democratization of music technology has enabled anyone to make brilliant art today, but will anyone actually hear it amongst the plethora of music released every day? If heard, will they actually listen to it? Understand it? Act on it? There are huge barriers on all fronts.

Longcove faced an uphill battle from the start. While instrumental music has grown in popularity, it is still nowhere near as recognized as lyrical compositions. Furthermore, someone listening to Longcove without context on its composition or intent would have no idea what it was “about”. That isn’t bad from a pure music standpoint, but from a political one, compositions like Longcove might not be the most effective means to get a specific message across on their own. Finally, when you bill a composition as “political”, you immediately attract those who agree with you and dispel those that don’t. The trick is bringing everyone together in a safe environment to have a productive dialogue. The best art will accomplish that on its own, but I think Longcove fails in that regard.

I know artists and institutions who are merging data with music to get it out to a broader audience. I applaud the effort, but believe that you are, at best, just drawing in the undecideds. Don’t get me wrong – that is both really important and really challenging to do. For Longcove, however, I was more interested in creating something to approach climate change deniers. I am appalled at the anti-fact culture that has taken root in the US, but I also realize that you cannot change the playing field you’re on. As such, I was very clear to keep data out of Longcove (the composition). As an engineer who has worked on Earth Science missions, that was a challenge. My hope is that someone will be drawn in first by the composition and then want to learn more about it. If I did my job right, that curiosity will lead them to the facts about climate change, an understanding of how it plays into their life, and inspire them to take action.

While I avoided data in the composition, the promotional campaign for Longcove didn’t shy away from my stance on the issue. I’m not trying to bait and switch anyone with my approach: my position on climate change is that it is real and that we must act on it. Time will tell if Longcove-like approaches are successful. If not, back to the drawing board.”

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Photo by Skyler King

When I asked Morgan about his activism outside the music he replied that his job as an engineer has always been his way of activism. He has chosen to put his talents towards issues that “better humanity as a whole” rather than going into the defence sector, as so many of his peers. “The aerospace industry is dominated by defense work… I have many friends and colleagues that choose to work on defense projects, and I don’t begrudge them that at all. As long as human nature exists, that work will never disappear entirely. That said, when you choose to engage in creating tools of war, you empower those who look to exploit other people and countries, even if your goal is purely national defense. Technology is neutral, but technology applied is not. As scientists and engineers, we can take that power away, or at least diminish it so that diplomacy reins over force.

This is something that Norbert Wiener talked about in his letter “A Scientist Rebels” (1947), which was extremely inspiring to me as an undergraduate engineer:

“In the past, the comity of scholars has made it a custom to furnish scientific information to any person seriously seeking it. However, we must face these facts: the policy of the government itself during and after the war, say in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has made it clear that to provide scientific information is not a necessarily innocent act, and may entail the gravest consequ­ences. One therefore cannot escape reconsidering the estab­lished custom of the scientist to give information to every person who may enquire of him. The interchange of ideas which is one of the great traditions of science must of course receive certain limitations when the scientist becomes an arbiter of life and death…The experience of the scientists who have worked on the atomic bomb has indicated that in any investigation of this kind the scientist ends by putting unlimited powers in the hands of the people whom he is least inclined to trust with their use…”

-Norbert Wiener

In regards to climate change, I thought that it was enough to work diligently in the background towards a better understanding of our Earth, and to trust that those who dictate policy would do right by our findings. Unfortunately that is no longer enough. Facts and logic are being forcibly suppressed by our government as we talk about climate change. I really struggled to formulate a response to what is happening in the US right now, and Longcove is really my first foray into “active” activism. It’s hard for me to get too deeply involved, however. My institution prides itself on being non-political, and I’m proud of that fact. As scientific observers of the universe, we need to be objective in our quest for truth and understanding. We need to be willing to reevaluate our beliefs based on new facts every day. That objectiveness is used by deniers to suggest that there is no consensus on climate change, which is categorically false: ~97% of scientists believe that it is fact. So, as an individual who has worked very hard to help scientists illuminate truth in the Earth Sciences, I have limits on my ability to stand by while lies and misdirection are used to formulate policy that will affect every person on the planet. 

So what is more important in the long run? Do I keep working in the background to support missions that uncover our place in the universe, our impact on Earth, and increase our ability to survive as a species? Or, should I give up that (very rare) job to advocate directly for an increase in science literacy and for policies that benefit the Earth? I’ll be working that out for the rest of my life, but I’m fortunate to be in a position that is pushing in the right direction regardless of the the specific path I choose.

If one can wander far enough outside the noise of cities and towns then it is possible to hear the wonders that this world holds. It is astonishing. We humans tend to take it for granted though. Journalism has gained a new member of the team in normal citizens who now have a fully equipped journalist tool at hand everywhere they go. The smart phone captures photos, video and sound; one can edit, write and create on the spot and then upload to some of the world’s largest media companies such as Facebook and YouTube. These recordings of the world we live in today are snapshots that years from now will help historians understand the past. Just as the cave paintings of ancients times. Sound has often been forgotten though in safekeeping of places. A photograph speaks louder than a thousand words and even if a sound file can do the same it simply has not been as popular. I imagine it has to do with humans’ attention span. I asked Morgan what the rest of us can do to start protecting the places dear to them, as he has, to save a memory of them for they might all get lost in noise one day.

“I would start by understanding the facts about climate change. Skeptical Science is a great resource for learning and talking about the topic. Next, learn how climate change affects the places that you want to protect. The Weather Channel did a fantastic set of stories called The United States of Climate Change while I was promoting this record. It takes the global issue of climate change and reframes it on a local level for every state in the US. Today, direct connection and relevance is critical for discussing these kinds of complex issues with people. Start small: your family, your friends, your associates, people who trust you. Listen to them above all else and strive for dialogue. Try to understand why they don’t believe what you do, and craft your argument based on that. Don’t just spout facts. When it’s your turn, present your argument calmly. Don’t try to solve it all in one sitting. 

The usual “call your representatives” still applies, but climate change denial is a systemic problem. We have to work from the ground up to build consensus, and then, hopefully, permanent change will come. If our governments fail us in taking action, then we must enact change at the local level.

I thank Morgan for participating and allowing us to spread his message and music. As always I ask if there is anything else he’d like to shout from the rooftops.

“There is a simultaneous and unrelenting attack on the rights of many people around the world. The goal of these attacks is to push us towards chaos, then inaction, then complacency. After weeks like this past one in the US, it’s easy to want to give up. But we can’t. We have to continue to do something. Even if it is as simple as maintaining the lines of communication with people who disagree with your views fights what those in power are currently trying to do.

Halldór, thank you so much for your excellent questions! You are doing a real service by helping artists with a message get their work out to the masses.”

Artists and social activists in India fight a global corporation with music

Kodaikanal is a small city in India that sits 2000 m above sea level in forest hills. In 2001 a Unilever thermometer factory shut down after it became clear they were dumping broken thermometers filled with mercury within Kodaikanal.

After years of struggle between activists and Unilever a young artist by the name of Sofia Ashraf wrote lyrics to a music video that called Unilever out on there lack of actions and furthermore would go on to gather over 4 million views.

Unfortunately, to this day, the factory ground is still contaminated with mercury so activists have gathered to make a new video which states that they still care, they are still there and they still won’t step down until Unilever cleans the the mess they left behind. For this sequel T M Krishna and Amrit Rao joined the production of the highly catchy fusion music video.

The campaign asks you to participate by asking Unilever CEO Paul Polman to commit to a world-class cleanup of Kodaikanal – http://bit.ly/2tEfT51 or give a missed call on +91 7338730702 . In another video Sofia Ashraf explains the case thoroughly and highlights some of the errors Polman has made in defending Unilever’s actions, or rather, inactions.


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