January 08, 2010

Music and Political Power

I have had many occasions over the past few months to think about Politics and music- or rather, Political power and music. The relations between the two have often been adversarial. One of my housemates is a PHD candidate in musicology, focusing on historical musicology, and has educated me a bit about religious contrafacta in 18th century France and Germany- a time and place when warring Christian factions and their associated nobles, royals, bands of goons, etc. were basically synonymous with the "political situation". The Religious Contrafacta (essentially, contrafacta as I understand it means setting different words to a tune) of the time were spread in alehouses and so forth, where one of the very few literate people in a town would be charged by whoever wished to influence public opinion/religious-political alleigances etc. with the task of learning a new set of lyrics to set to familiar bawdy pub songs, and then to teach the new lyrics to all present at alehouse antics. At the time this was viewed as the most effective way to influence public opinion, and was one of the primary tools to fuel factionalism used by those who wished to do so.
A couple months back I was reading a book called 'Music is the weapon of the future; fifty years of African popular music' by Frank Tenaille (recommended), and there is constant mention therein of the Political power of music and the ways in which it was suppressed by corrupt governments in various African countries and contexts throughout the 20th century- for instance, about popular music in Zimbabwe in the late 1960's he says "Though banned by Ian Smith's racist regime, the songs were broadcast secretly. Thanks to them, Many youths joined the resistance. they also earned their composer(Thomas Mapfumo) several months of imprisonment - although the authorities were unable to charge him with a tangible crime, since the words of the Chimerunga songs were cloaked in the parables and metaphors so treasured by the national languages of Zimbabwe". In Angola, Liceu Vieira Dias was making music with his band Ngola Ritmos (named for Ngola Kiluanje, leader of the Angolan rebellion against Portuguese colonization in the 16th Century), when he was arrested in 1959, along with fellow musician Amadeu Amorim and sent to the Concentration Camp of Arrafel in Cape Verde. Their fellow musician Jose Maria was arrested in 1961 and forced into the Army (for some reason, this one really gets me). Last but not least, Carnival was banned in Angola from 1961 to 1968, because it was viewed as so potentially dangerous to Marcelo Caetano's ruling Portuguese colonial regime to allow Carnival to be held. The music had to be suppressed, at all costs. Problem is, music can never be suppressed. (Unfortunate sidenote: after Independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola became super-fucked. Civil war, Cold War meddling and all kinds of other shit, but that's another story for another day).
Speaking of Cold War meddling, lets talk a little bit about music and cold war meddling. Today I was transcribing an interview, I won't say why or with whom, but this is a person who spent a couple years in the Philippines in the early 1970's. He tells a story about visiting someone he knew back home in Mississippi on top of a mountain in the North of the Phillipines. The guy he was visiting worked for the U.S Information Agency- in other words, our Overseas Propaganda People. My source on this one describes being taken into this armored compound on top of a mountain, armed guards, barbed wire, intense security checks. The buddy from back home says okay now I'll show you what we do up here and proceeds to let him in on the big U.S propaganda protocol. They had set up giant broadcasting towers and they were broadcasting music into North Korea and China. Rock n' Roll. R+B. Classical. Jazz. Blues. Just think about that. This heavily armored compound on top of a mountain in the Philippines full of U.S Government employees in uniform whose sole purpose in being there is to broadcast The Supremes and Charlie Parker and Debussy into the closed Communist territories of North Korea and China.

in conclusion, I hereby nominate Olaf Mary Mohammed to be Minister of Propaganda for Imaginary America.


S. Sandrigon said...

I'll second that nomination & raise you 1,500 euros.

grainne proinseas said...

Oh snap. Olaf, I think our broke editor may have just offered you a salary of 1,500 Euros to be minister of propaganda for Imaginary America.

Olaf Mary said...