Tag Archives: revolution

Catholics, Communists, & Carnivals: 70s Central America Through the Eyes of My Mother

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Every year in La Ceiba there is a carnival dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Isidore the Farmer, who is known for his piety to the poor. My mom tells me the stories of what growing up in La Ceiba, Honduras in the 70s was like. The political strife of a deeply stratified Central America created a tension in which everyone thought Honduras, like Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador, would face revolution. Yet, every year, the carnivals continued.

It’s such a big source of pride for the locals that the most famous Honduran musician of all time, Guillermo Anderson, born and raised in La Ceiba, wrote a song about it that encapsulates the joy that the hurly-burly of floats, school bands, Afro-Indigenous dance troupes, equestrian displays, and musical acts bring. It’s one of the rare moments, where, for a short period of time, despite the ever-worsening conditions of a city once-nicknamed “Honduras’s girlfriend” because of its economic prosperity and beauty, the general population can enjoy themselves. While there’s a big push to clean the city for the event, trash litters the streets at every corner. It’s been like this for years. When a hurricane hits, a torrent of filth ravages people’s homes. They say the stench can persist for months after the last drop of the hurricane dries. You get used to it.

A similar story of deep poverty could be found in Nicaragua, especially after the earthquake of 1972 that left two-thirds of the capital, Managua, displaced; facing food shortages and diseases, humanitarian aid never made it into the hands of the common people affected by the earthquake, most likely because the Somoza regime had stockpiled it. By 1975, the Sandinistas had begun organizing under this pretext. At the forefront of their movement was the concept of liberation theology, or the idea that the Church, in the Global South, was morally obligated to assist the poor—an ideological supposition which came about because of, and in opposition to, the government’s poor response to the disaster.

In 1976, the La Ceiba Carnival had finally expanded from beyond its initial simple scope as a float parade to a fully-fledged Carnival. This was, according to my mother, supposed to be the best one yet! It was where she was first introduced to cotton candy and sugar daddies, treats which were previously unfamiliar to Honduras, and my mother’s palette, entirely. Nearly fifty years later, whenever she gets a chance to try either of them, she sports the sanguine smile of our broken homeland. For a brief moment, she is a young child again. Initially being held in the Barrio Mejía, and despite nationwide political unrest following the ousting of the then-Honduran president, the inaugural carnival would be one to remember.

The year after, a different Mejía, the bard of the Sandinista Revolution, Carlos Mejia Godoy, would compose a song that would eventually win that year’s OTI, an international music festival not unlike Eurovision but for Iberia and Ibero-America, with “Quincho Barrilete,” a song that captured the anti-Somoza fervor brewing in Nicaragua and put it to song, calling for nothing short of a revolution backed by Jesus and being fought for the pueblo. With lyrics cushioned in metaphor and steeped in regionalisms such as “Colochón,” or “The One with the Curly Hair,” a nickname for Jesus Christ, the track was unmistakably Nica. Despite the song’s overt and radical political messaging, it should be noted that Somoza’s regime, at this point, had not yet been overthrown! The opposition to Somoza, and the Somoza family, who had served as puppet leaders after the United States handpicked the family following the short-lived revolution of Augusto Sandino (The namesake of the Sandinistas) in the 20s, in which he overthrew the previous American-picked despot’s administration, had become so widespread that the revolution was literarily being televised! My mom watched this year’s OTI intently. The next year, said revolution began. The next year, the carnival still took place, just as it had the year prior. Every year, the carnivals continued.

Saint Isidore the Farmer, patron saint of La Ceiba, would no doubt be flattered by these carnivals. I just worry what he would think after the carnival ends, and he sees the misery of my people as they normally are. I want him to be proud of us. I know he would be proud of what the Nicaraguan Revolution dogmatically set out to accomplish. But I also don’t think that these two events that my mom lived through and tells me about with a vivid recollection are so dissimilar. A carnival is not unlike a revolution, after all. You have explosions, you have drums, you have marching. Sometimes, you even have guns.

Cover photo by Ramon Cerritos (Creative Commons license).

10 Protest Songs From Belarus

This article was originally published on Beehype in 2018, written by Dmitri Bezkorovainyi and republished here with permission.

Belarus is a European country between Russia (in the East), Ukraine (in the South), Poland and Lithuania (in the West), Latvia (in the North West). Since 1994 – for 26 years already – it’s been run by Alexander Lukashenko, who changed the constitution several times to stay on his position for 5 terms already, at the same time concentrating power in his hands.

This year he went to the elections for the 6th time. He put all respected competitors into prison, calling them villains. All state media praised only him. And he didn’t let independent people into local election commitees and even as observers. After the elections, the Central Election Commitee announced that he won by 80%, but it’s obvious to almost everyone here that he lost.

For the first time under his rule people would come out for a peaceful protest in more than 50 cities and towns of Belarus. They didn’t attack a single building or anything, but would be brutally beaten up, shot by rubber bullets, thrown light and sound grenades at. More than 5,000 people were arrested and put into prison for 10-15 days, where many of them would be kept virtually without food, water and medical help, while at the same time – which is told by many just-released prisoners – beaten up on a daily basis. As of writing this text, the peaceful rallies against the president continue, there are strikes in many plants and factories, even the state-owned ones. But the president doesn’t want to leave or declare new elections.

Belarusian musicians started to release songs and statements in support of free and transparent elections and against police brutality in June – after the first peaceful protests against the unlawful arrests of several candidates and their team members. You should understand that in Belarus musicians can get several years of concert ban (unofficial, but effective) if they say something against the authorities. This happened two times: 2004-2007 and 2011-2017. And concerts, as you know, are the main source of income for the musicians. So they risk their careers (for many of them Belarus is the main market), but still they do this. And there are so many examples, so many songs, that it was really hard to pick just 10.

How can you support Belarus? Tell your friends about this through social networks, tell the media in your countries and of course listen to the protest music from Belarus. Our flag is white-red-white, which was changed by Lukashenko in 1995 in favour of the pro-Soviet red-and-green. Our slogan is: “Zhyve Belarus!” (Long Live Belarus!).

Грязь (Griaz’) – “Перемен” (Peremen)

In Russian

The chorus obviously refers to the 80s song by the cult Soviet band Kino (“Peremen”/”Changes”) – which is one of the main protest songs by itself – but completely different in style, dynamics and atmosphere. Verses are in the form of letters from son to father, who doesn’t sleep at night, while running the country. At first he was a loved father, but then he stopped listening to the nation and started war on his own people. It’s an obvious referral to Lukashenko, who’s often nicknamed “bac’ka” even outside Belarus (the word means “father” in Belarusian, so he’s kind of father of the nation). The chorus says: “Changes! Everybody wants, everybody wants changes”.

Nizkiz – “Правілы” (Pravily/Rules)

In Belarusian

This is not really a political song and there was no direct message from the band. It’s about rules, about things we care about. But with going into streets and someone raising a flag. Which made people think it’s connected with the recent events and the band never said it’s not. And openly confirmed it later. The band gathered 4 thousand people in Minsk at their sold out show this February.

Дай дарогу (Daj darogu, Give way) – “Баю-бай” (Baju-baj /Hushaby)

In Russian

This one is good, because it brilliantly shows the realities we live in – police beating up all who stand against the president – both on the level of the song and the video. It’s sung from the point of view of a police guy, who’s not so clever, but completely into his brutal work. Last night the leader of the band Yuri Stylski was detained, supposedly for headlining a peaceful march in his native Brest.

Vladimir Pugach & Lavon Volski – “Дыхем зноў” (Dykhaem znou/Breathing again)

In Belarusian

Vladimir Pugach is a leader of a pop/rock band J:МОРС (J:MORS), one of the most popular here since the beginning of the 2000s. He has always stayed away from supporting either opposition or president, and the band twice had problems for not performing in support of Lukashenko (2005 and 2010). But this time their singer declared his open position for transparent elections and against police brutality well before the elections. The song says that everything will be good in the end.

Naka & Friends – “Вам” (Vam/To You)

In Russian

This song by a batch of prominent alternative artists was composed to a poem by a prominent poet Vladimir Neklyaev (who was running for presidency in 2010), after the brutal detentions in late June. It appeals to the policemen with questions like: “Where did you learn to be scoundrels? Where did you learn to be villains? How did you become thieves? How did you manage to become asslickers?”

Naviband – “Inshymi” (Different)

In Belarusian

A pop band that was always loved by state media as well as the indie/pro-Belarusian crowd. They represented Belarus at “Eurovision 2017” and played alternative Belarusian festival “Basowiszcza” in Poland. But one month before the elections they released this song and they clearly said they are against police brutality, and later expressed their support for transparent elections. The chorus says: “Smoke in our eyes, we don’t see any dreams / We will wake up different somewhere in the deep”.

Tor Band – “My nie narodiec” (We are not narodiec)

In Russian

Lukashenko quite often says disparaging things about Belarus and its people. He likes to call the country “a tiny scrap of land”, despite the fact it’s twice (even a bit more) bigger than Austria, Hungary, Portugal, Serbia or Czech Republic, and only a third smaller than Poland. He also likes to dismiss Belarusians as “narodec”, which is a diminutive word from “narod” (folk). People don’t like it. So this song is an answer. Before this spring no one knew this band from a small town Rogachev in Gomel region (Eastern Belarus), now they have a few socially charged hits.

Anna Sharkunova – “Pesnya schastlivykh ludey” (Song of the happy people)

In Russian

She was a part of the local (and never contradicting the president) pop stage for quite a long time, but then disappeared. She started her return last year with a more grown-up image with a cover of Lyapis Trubetskoy’s “Voiny sveta” (Warriors Of Lights) – a hymn of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Several days before the elections she released this song, which was considered by many anti-presidential, with many well-known people of different professions in the video. Although the lines are not that political, they are about true friends and all the best things in life. “We are few, but we exist” is the message.

Lavon Volski – “Irzhavaya dziarzhava” (Rusty state)

In Belarusian

The cult figure of Belarusian rock, former leader of Mroya and N.R.M., who wrote and recorded some of the main Belarusian songs/albums of all decades, starting from the 1980s. He has always been openly against Lukashenko and twice suffered unofficial, but effective bans from playing concerts in Belarus: 2004-2007 and 2011-2017. He released several statements and this song before the elections. Iron state became rusty, it has no other way but to fall so that the new country will rise.

IOWA – “Мечта” (Mechta / Dream)

In Russian

IOWA is a pop band, which was formed in Mogilev (Eastern Belarus), but in 2010 they left for Saint Petersburg (Russia), where they became a popular mainstream act. But they still consider themselves Belarusian artists and yesterday they released this song and a statement in support of Belarus from their leader Katya Ivanchikova:

“We can say as often as possible that changes are bad, that they don’t lead to anything good. I’m reading dozens of such comments. But in the end it comes to the fact that unfreedom equals unhappiness. Unhappy people can’t build future, can’t dream, can’t bring up their children in freedom, can’t broaden the boarders of their perception and say: “I know what’s my word worth”. The right to choose is not a privilege, it’s something natural”.

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The History Of Protest Songs In Tunisia And Their Link To Popular Culture

By Alessia Carnevale

Music genres such as rap have become the primary artistic means for expressing the discontent and aspirations of a new generation of activists in Tunisia. But the heritage of protest songs from decades before is still held in the collective memory of young leftists.

From the mid-1970s and throughout the 1980s, during the regime of Habib Bourguiba, the protest song in Tunisia developed as a countercultural music scene. This is a period characterised by economic instability and waves of protest and political contestation.

The protest song was the product of the cultural work of Tunisian leftist parties and organisations, which were particularly active in the student movement and influential among grassroot unionists.

Why was such a popular art form important for the cultural work of the Tunisian left? In my research I argue that leftist activists found in popular culture – and in songs in particular – a powerful tool. It could raise awareness among young people, galvanise activists and spread socialist revolutionary ideas. These songs become a link in the longer chain of resistant cultural practices in the country.

Art and politics

In Tunisia, the protest song is called al-ughniya al-multazima in Arabic, or chanson engagée in French. Both literally mean “committed song” and put an emphasis on the political and social aim of this genre. Art, in this case music and poetry, was a vehicle to convey a message.

In the 1970s and 1980s protest song groups formed and artists were increasingly visible. Among the pioneers of this genre there were the songwriter Hédi Guella and the group Imazighen. They performed on university campuses and at unionist venues, animating political gatherings and events. They exhibited in cultural centres and some participated in important cultural festivals. Their songs were rarely broadcast on TV or radio, but tape recordings circulated widely among activists and students.

The songs were mostly typical of the Arabic musical tradition, created on instruments such as the oud, the nay and the darbuka.

Their political and cultural framework distinguishes these songs from previous popular chants of protest (for example against colonialism) as well as from patriotic songs (praising the nationalist regime).

A new popular culture

The 1970s and 1980s protest songs were expression of a counterculture that was at odds with the ideology propagated by the regime of Bourguiba, who died in 1987.

Bourguiba had come to power in 1956 as the leader of the nationalist movement against French colonialism. Educated, middle-class and rather Western-oriented, he promoted a modernist and reformist ideology. In the last two decades of his regime, he was losing consensus among the population at large and among the new cultural and intellectual elite.

The Tunisian radical left was increasingly influenced by Maoism and Arab Nationalism. They recognised that a connection with the working class would be impossible without an appreciation of the Arab-Muslim identity of the Tunisian people.

The left engaged in cultural work for the creation of a new national-popular culture. This needed to be rooted in the people’s culture but also be an expression of a progressive and socialist ideology. Marxist theorists such as Antonio Gramsci had become influential. His ideas on cultural work, hegemony (the dominance of one group over another) and common sense had penetrated the Arab intellectual world.

Songs were one of the most efficient tools for implementing this project. They were easy to propagate with the new and cheap technology of audio cassette. Concerts were organised on a small budget, attracting hundreds of people.

The oasis and the mine

Among the many interpreters of the protest song in Tunisia, two popular singing groups stand out.

Al-Bahth al-Musiqi (The Musical Research Group) hailed from the southern Mediterranean city of Gabes, which lies beside an oasis and has, since the 1970s, hosted a massive chemical industry complex. Awlad al-Manajim (The Children of the Mines) were from Moulares, a village near Gafsa, situated in a phosphate mining basin.

Both groups, still active in Tunisia today, were born from places where industrialisation and the exploitation of natural resources deeply transformed the once rural environment. This industry would ultimately impoverish and harm the resident population.

The members of al-Bahth al-Musiqi were university students active in the student movement. The members of Awlad al-Manajim were workers who supported the workers’ struggles in their hometown.

Both groups were cherished by leftist activists and unionists for their performances and for the strong revolutionary message of their songs.

Both groups created a popular yet revolutionary cultural product. To do so they drew from modern Arabic poetry, for example singing poems by Mahmoud Darwish supporting the Palestinian people. But in particular they drew on themes and styles typical of Tunisian folklore and vernacular poetry. They responded in an original manner to the need to create a new, popular, socialist culture for the masses.

They took inspiration from other Arab experiences. Composer and singer Marcel Khalife (Lebanon), experimental musical group Nass el-Ghiwane (Morocco) and especially the duo of musician Sheikh Imam and vernacular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm (Egypt). This musical production represented a new, revolutionary and genuinely popular culture.

Hence, al-Bahth al-Musiqi produced songs like Hela Hela Ya Matar (Come Down O Rain), Nekhlat Wad el-Bey (The Palm Tree of Wad El Bey) or Bsisa (a traditional southern dish). These juxtapose rural imagery with national symbolism and revolutionary slogans.

Similarly, Awlad al-Manajim’s repertoire includes local songs about the harshness of life in the mining region, like Ya Damus (The Tunnel), and songs calling for workers’ solidarity and Arab unity against imperialism, like Nashid el-Sha’b (The Hymn of the People).

A heritage of resistance

The popular protest song scene in Tunisia declined with the rise of the Ben Ali dictatorship in the 1990s. But it never disappeared. After the 2011 revolution forced Ben Ali from power, some of the old singing groups reunited and claimed their space in the newly democratised cultural scene.

In Tunisia today, protest music takes many forms, from rap to electro. However, the old protest songs are still chanted at political gatherings, commemorations and festivals.

Despite being scarcely documented and studied, the Tunisian protest song of the 1970s and 1980s is an integral part of a resistant collective memory. It is loaded with emotional and political meaning for a generation of political activists and unionists.

The study of this experience may offer a new perspective on Tunisia’s cultural and political life under authoritarianism. It sheds light on the continuing and constant presence of dissent and revolutionary culture in the country – one that paved the way for the events that, in 2011, eventually overthrew dictatorship.

Alessia Carnevale, PhD candidate, Sapienza University of Rome

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.