Tag Archives: revolutionary music

Pushing against hateful narrative with art: an interview with Bristol musician Krantz

Take discovering acid jazz at the age of 12, then studying classical music and throw some beatboxing into the mix, and you’ll have some of the pieces visible that make up Bristol musician and activist, Krantz.

After discovering his music on X (formerly known as Twitter) I contacted Krantz to learn more about his work. It was clear that the man uses all his talents very specifically, and directly, to tackle certain political issues that belong to his proximate surroundings as well as around the globe. One of his latest tracks is a piece of emotional, moving electronica, that is created around a speech from US Senator Nina Turner, which Krantz sampled and puzzled in with the music – as if the powerful words were performed to the music.

During recent Covid lockdowns, Krantz used all of his musical talents, every Sunday, to entertain his fellow neighbors by performing music from his garden patio. Later on, other neighbors and musicians started participating, sending tones across rooftops and lifting people’s spirits.

Krantz took a moment to answer a few questions to further explain his background, music, and future projects. Read his message to the world below and check out his webpage and socials to follow his music.

Halldór Kristínarson: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions! First of all, who is Krantz and how did you first get into making music?

Krantz: I’m a pianist, producer, composer, songwriter and beatboxer from Bristol who has a passion for politics and wants to help those speaking truth to power by sampling their spoken dialogue from Youtube videos to create impactful and memorable songs. I want to help them reach as far and wide as possible to show that people are leading the fight against those who continue to want to divide us.

I’m a classically trained pianist and after discovering Acid Jazz at the age of 12 and teaching myself to play Jazz and Funk, I also found a love for emotive classical music after hearing Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’. When I began composing on the piano I started beatboxing to give each piece it’s character/ genre and this ability to beatbox and play piano at the same time has led to me supporting the likes of the Dub Pistols, Kosheen and performing at the world-renowned Boom Town Festival on multiple occasions.

My passion for many musical genres is displayed in my huge catalogue of tracks which include Classical, Post Classical, Orchestral Dubstep, Electronica, Hip Hop, Jazz, Beatbox, Funk, DnB, House, Trip Hop and World Fusion and I look forward to continue sharing as much music of varying genres as possible in the future.

HK: Did you decide from the beginning of your career to use your music and your voice for good? Or did politics and protest come into your craft at a later stage?

K: Politics and protest definitely came the more I emotionally matured and realised the good fortune and privilege I’ve had by having opportunities and choices. Before deciding to use the dialogue of truth teller’s dialogue in my tracks, my own lyrics were always very zeitgeist and addressed social, political and environmental issues so it was a natural progression and perhaps was destined to happen.

HK: Why do you think music is such an effective vessel for protest and activism?

K: Most people won’t spend the time watching a debate, an interview or even reading full articles and mostly make decisions on very little information e.g. ‘get Brexit done’. To be able to deliver the truth and the words of truth-tellers to the general public we have to be creative and find vessels that push against the [mainstream media] narrative that are entertaining, memorable through repetition and help induce introspection- you can take a horse to water but can’t make it drink. People need to be in a neutral space away from bias or influence to truly reflect and this is where art and specifically music can be most powerful. I’m creating alternative versions and remixes of multiple dance genres for every song so that the dialogue has a chance to reach as far and wide as possible and for the tracks to be used in DJ mixes online, in bars, festivals, radio and in clubs. The hope is people really enjoy the music, find the dialogue intriguing, want to find out who’s delivering the lyrics and then hopefully start following that person.

HK: You mentioned via our chat, on the medium formerly known as Twitter, that Facebook and Instagram had suppressed your posts after sharing a certain song. Can you tell me more about that?

K: I produced a song and lyric video featuring the dialogue of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) called “The Insurrection” and when trying to boost a post containing the video, Facebook responded by saying it was inappropriate and was not following the rules and regulations. Ever since that point my exposure has been incredibly small and is proving to be a massive obstacle in sharing content with people even within my own social circles let alone the wider public. Twitter is the only platform that really offers me the opportunity to share content to a wide audience and therefore the potential for increased awareness and followers.

Krantz working on ‘We Must Stand Up and Speak the Truth ft. Nina Turner’. Photo retrieved from the official Krantz Facebook page.

HK: How is the scenery around you, music and activism-wise? Where you live and work, do you feel artists are using their voices to create change?

K: I very much keep myself to myself in regards to music creation however I don’t feel enough people are using their privilege and platform for positive means. I’m incredibly lucky to be in a position where I can make a difference in people’s lives and I feel it’s now my duty to make this happen. Fear and hate are constantly being fed to the public and we need to fight against this with an abundance of art filled with messages of optimism, truth and unity.

HK: Who are some of the artists or people that have inspired you?

K: Herbie Hancock, Samuel Barber, Hybrid, Outside, James Brown, Tower Of Power, Pink Floyd, Jazzanova

HK: What do you hope to achieve with your music?

K: I hope to help inspire other artists to produce their own political/protest art, for people to listen to the songs and be inclined to find out more about the featured speaker and to help sow some seeds that lead to introspection. Even if someone initially only engages with the composition hopefully through repetition, the lyrical content will start to penetrate their thoughts.

HK: What is on the horizon for you?

K: I’m continuing to produce a vast amount of songs with alternative versions and remixes which I’ll be releasing over the coming months. The next release is a track featuring James O’Brien (LBC) called “Twaddle Is Still The Order Of The Day” which is about the collusion between politicians and the right-wing newspapers. I’m looking to release it before the end of the year. I’ll then be releasing 3 different versions of a narrative I’ve created using Nina Turner- the song is called “Many Hands Make For Light Work”. The genres are classical, Jazz and Dub.

HK: Thank you again for participating. Anything else you‘d like to shout from the rooftops?

K: Want to say a massive thanks to yourself for putting the time and effort into trying to help make a difference. It’s not easy, you have to have self-belief, believe that hope can materialize and the aptitude to be able to keep on pushing. Keep up the good work as it will pay off and we will help to implement change.

Bella Ciao: A travelling anthem of resistance

This article was originally written by Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya and published by The New Arab.

Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya explains why the revolutionary protest song, ‘Bella Ciao’ continues to play a role in global struggles today, and how it has served anti-government Gota Go Gama protests in Sri Lanka which forced the president to resign.

Earlier this summer, a video from the Sri Lankan ‘Gota Go Gama’ protests circulated online: the president Gotabaya Rajapaksa had finally resigned, and protestors were singing a Singhala version of ‘Bella Ciao’, the popular Italian song which was used in the Partisan anti-fascist resistance movement of the 1930s and 1940s. While the military violence and attacks on protestors in Sri Lanka continue, this was a clear moment of victorious celebration in the ongoing movement against the authoritarian regime.

The song – which details the singer’s awareness of their imminent death at the hands of the ‘invader’ and desire to die as a ‘partisan’ or freedom fighter – has been adapted by various anti-fascist movements globally prior to its use in the Gota Go Gama protests. In fact, the protests are part of a wider trend of anti-authoritarian resistance movements across South Asia in recent years, several of which have been characterised by new versions of ‘Bella Ciao’ in different languages.

”This cyclical, continual reproduction of ‘Bella Ciao’ across starkly contrasting yet uncannily similar contexts of protest is ultimately testament to the unifying power of protest music, as reproduced across time and space, in illuminating connections between struggles across decades, centuries and continents against a backdrop of evolving forms of capitalism.”

Symbolic image of the people’s revolution based on the series “La casa de papel”. Image by AbarcaVasti, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Anthem of struggle

Certain features of the song have held throughout its reproduction across different contexts: its undeniable catchiness, and its clear theme of political resistance, despite drastic shifts in its lyrics. The song has even found its way beyond the realm of resistance movements into mainstream television, famously featuring in the hit Spanish crime drama Money Heist.

A Hindi adaptation of the song was released around the time of the mass protests against the fascistic Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, introduced in India in 2019. Broadly, the CAA aims to deny Indian citizenship to (Indian) Muslims; it is widely perceived as a step towards ethnic cleansing, indicating the current escalation of Modi’s Hindu supremacist regime into full-blown fascism.

Following the popularity of ‘Wapas Jao’, the songwriter, Poojan Sahil, subsequently penned a Punjabi version retaining the same melody with new lyrics, also entitled ‘Wapas Jao’ (‘Go Back’), for the large-scale Indian farmers’ movement protesting new anti-farmer legislation introduced by Modi’s government in 2020. These farm laws, which received global coverage and were largely retracted in Autumn 2021 following the year-long mass protests, were set to adversely affect poor farmers, and are widely seen to represent the ongoing corporate takeover of agriculture in India.

Both versions of ‘Wapas Jao’ have a similar theme lyrically to ‘Bella Ciao’ – although, as Sahil clarified, the songs are not translations. The Hindi version alludes to the fascism of the Indian government through the repeated line ‘go away, o you tyrant’, explicitly locating the singer within the resistance movement, and the song as an unmistakably anti-fascist anthem.

‘Wapas Jao’ (across both versions) also moves away from the somewhat personal lyrics of ‘Bella Ciao’, which uses the singular pronoun ‘I’ throughout (in contrast to ‘we’ in ‘Wapas Jao’) and captures the fear invoked by the rise of fascism through the line ‘I feel death approaching’. By contrast, the lyrics of the Punjabi ‘Wapas Jao’ discuss the movement against the Indian government and the major companies which are profiting from the farm laws. Both versions of ‘Wapas Jao’ are thus references to the context of the original song which take its anti-fascist commentary a step further, situating themselves within a specific anti-fascist protest movement.

By pairing the original melody with a sparse acoustic guitar, these versions both highlight the timeless catchiness of ‘Bella Ciao’ as well as showing its versatility in lending itself to diverse musical styles – and languages – of different eras and locations. The case of ‘Bella Ciao’/ ‘Wapas Jao’ illustrates Walter Benjamin’s suggestion that reproduction allows the work of art ‘to come closer to whatever situation the person apprehending it is in’, and thereby ‘actualises what is reproduced’.

Interestingly, the anti-fascist or partisan ‘Bella Ciao’ is not, in fact, the original version -despite being the best-known – but is adapted from the ‘mondine’ version, which originated as a folk song sung by mainly women paddy workers (mondine) in Northern Italy in the late 19th century in protest against harsh working conditions. This agrarian context is evoked – intentionally on Sahil’s part – by the Punjabi version of ‘Wapas Jao’ centred on the farmers’ movement, which includes the lyrics ‘each grain of soil sings in chorus’.

Taking on the tyrant

Whilst the anti-fascist version of ‘Bella Ciao’ focused on resistance against ‘the invader’ as opposed to ‘the boss’ of the original version, the Punjabi ‘Wapas Jao’ evokes a new kind of invader – or ‘tyrant’ – the Indian government and the companies taking over Indian agriculture, which are being urged to ‘go back’ by agricultural workers. This version recalls the voice and perspective of the original song, in a new political, geographical, and temporal context.

Indeed, this evoking of the original version also underlines the concentration of agricultural workers in the Global South and their relative decline in the Global North during the 20th century.

Having originally been centred on workers’ experiences, and subsequently been reproduced and adapted in various contexts of anti-fascism, ‘Bella Ciao’ is once again being used to shed light on (agricultural) workers’ struggles through the Punjabi ‘Wapas Jao’.

Through both versions, meanwhile, Sahil arguably utilises the fame of ‘Bella Ciao’ as an anthem of resistance against the widely-known rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, referencing the song through reproduction as a way to emphasise the gravity of the current situation in India through implicit comparison.

This cyclical, continual reproduction of ‘Bella Ciao’ across starkly contrasting yet uncannily similar contexts of protest is ultimately testament to the unifying power of protest music, as reproduced across time and space, in illuminating connections between struggles across decades, centuries and continents against a backdrop of evolving forms of capitalism.

The Gota Go Gama protestors singing ‘Bella Ciao’ sends an affirmingly hopeful message – that the movement recognises itself as situated within a history of people’s struggles all sharing the same determination for change, from the anti-fascists in Italy to the farmers in India and everything in between and beyond.

Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya is a writer, activist and co-editor of Red Pepper magazine, interested in arts and culture and social movements.

Follow her on Twitter: @AnanyaWilson

Cover photo by AntanO. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Music Teacher Receives Award After Creating A Protest Music Lesson Plan

In Lake View, Chicago, one music teacher recently got a wonderful recognition of her work. Puja Ramaswamy was in the middle of giving class when two men arrived, along with members of the press, to present to her the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Ramaswamy has always encouraged her students to connect their own experiences to their music studies. In 2020, when upset and saddened citizens were protesting the murder of George Floyd, she came up with a lesson plan involving around the history of protest music.

“There was this intense issue happening in society that just wasn’t being talked about in classes, so I wanted to find a way to address this with music”

– Puja Ramaswamy

She directed her students to think about the value of protest music, to think about issues they felt strongly about and to find music that related to those issues. Students came back with music about Black Lives Matter, immigration, refugees, gender equality and more.

“When you know someone is aware of what they’re doing and passionate about it, you feel that energy. That’s what you get from Ms. Ramaswamy” one of the students said about their teacher.