Musician/acivist Bill Bragg has written a timely and incisive article entitled “Why Music Needs To Get Political Again” and I could not agree more. I’ve reprinted a few excerpts below – plus my own comment – but you need to follow the link and read the article in its entirety.
How ironic that The Clash should be on the cover of the NME in the week that London was burning, that their faces should be staring out from the shelves as newsagents were ransacked and robbed by looters intent on anarchy in the UK. Touching too, that the picture should be from very early in their career – Joe with curly blond hair – for The Clash were formed in the wake of a London riot: the disturbances that broke out at the end of the Notting Hill Carnival of 1976.
At the time, the press reported it as the mindless violence of black youth intent on causing trouble; now we look back and recognise that it was the stirrings of what became our multicultural society – the moment when the first generation of black Britons declared that these streets belonged to them too.
The Notting Hill Riots of 35 years ago created a genuine ‘What The Fuck?’ moment – the first in Britain since the violent clashes between mods and rockers in the early 60s. While west London burned, the rest of society recoiled in terror at the anger they saw manifested on the streets of England. In the aftermath, severe jail sentences were handed down and police patrols stepped up in areas where there was a large immigrant population. Sound familiar?
Fast-forward 35 years to the present day. Much has changed, yet we find ourselves in the same quandary. The August riots of 2011 are another WTF? moment, when society recoils in horror and says ‘I don’t understand you’.
But making political pop should not be a matter of setting Karl Marx to music. I’ve heard that stuff and it never sounds right. Pop becomes political when it stops being self-pitying and self-aggrandising and starts to speak truth to power.
Of course it doesn’t have to be a band – technology has put the means of production into the hands of anyone with a computer and some beats. The riots last week were a spark – what is needed now is an alternative commentary. Some of you who are reading this need to produce songs with spirit that tell us something we don’t know about what the fuck happened last week, how we got to such a place and where you think we should be going from here.
Below is my comment at Billy’s Blog:
Very timely, very necessary, very much appreciated. Some of us can and do focus entirely on aspects of our art relating to politics, human rights etc, some of us touch on it occasionally, but all of us must be aware of the vital importance of these intensely substantive issues.
And let us not overlook the fact that it is very possible to write satisfactorily of – for example – love and romance – and still place it all within the larger context of social consciousness.
The only rule on this subject is that there are no rules that must always be followed.
Billy Bragg, thank you for this.
Sing out, speak out, write on.