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Opinion and Analysis: Culture

Dontcha Know, We’re Singing a Revolution

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Pido que nadie se asombre

Si le digo camarada

Cuando le encuentre llorando

De rabia ante la injusticia

 

Cuando lo escuche cantando

Al amor y a la alegría

Cuando lo sienta soldado

Del combate por la vida

-Ali Primera: Camarada

I ask that no one is amazed

If I call them comrade

When I find them crying

From rage in the face of injustice

 

When I hear him singing

To love and to happiness

When I feel him a soldier

Of the combat for life

-Comrade

Gustavo Marcos Bazan, an Argentinean born Venezuelan, and member of the Latin American music for change movement Cantores de los Sueños del Alba (singers of the dreams of dawn) argues that political music is the “honest” music that helps us to keep fighting for a better world.

VA: Was it revolutionary politics that brought you to music, or the other way around? How have politics and music been linked in your life?

Bazan: I first came to Venezuela in 1985, and in the lead up to that I had been meeting with Venezuelans and Latin Americans who were studying in Argentina while there was still a military dictatorship. I think it was a Venezuelan who had been in Cuba who talked to me about the ideological concept of a better human being. At this time of dictatorship and censorship, he talked to me about the advances in education that there were in Cuba, and I realised that we were dominated by constant anti-communist propaganda and a single vision of nationalist patriotism. We didn’t see beyond that, we didn’t know about the disappearances and torture. But I went to a clandestine meeting- at this time a meeting of more than five people was considered subversive. It was a cultural meeting, about Argentine folklore and customs. I met my Venezuelan friend there, and he had a beard, but at that time you couldn’t have long hair and a beard in Argentina, you could be detained for being a suspicious person. I felt like I was sitting next to a Fidel Castro, because of that beard, and because people from the Caribbean sound similar to us.

Talking with him I realised I had been brainwashed, manipulated by a system. Until then I hadn’t been very interested in politics and the world situation, but I had been singing things that were prohibited... Mercedes Sosa , Victor Jara... and it bothered me that they [the dictatorship] were interfering with my musical preferences. From there, I started to grow intellectually, and I woke up to the need to struggle to improve our ideals, and I committed myself to reading to understand what was happening in Argentina.

I attended more clandestine meetings, organised by my father, and we organised community parties, youth dances, and amongst them our group continued to converse, to talk about the political situation in the country, and a group of intellectuals was formed that when the dictatorship fell would eventually be part of the basis of new political parties, or the renewing of parties that had been prohibited.

But, to go back a bit, to 1975 or 76, before I became political, I had been singing at night in different places, and one day, very early in the morning when I was walking just near my house, a car stopped and three men got out, and they grabbed me by my hands and threw me to the floor. They put a gun to my head and asked me what I was doing at that time of night, because then there was a curfew. I was scared, I couldn’t talk, but I eventually said that I was drunk. Then they asked for documents, and I realised they weren’t robbers -they were dressed in civilian clothing, so they must have been paramilitaries.  They started to accuse me of things, they kicked me, and I cried because I thought they were going to kill me. But they said they would pardon me this time and they told me to go home. I walked past my house in case they were following me and because I had told them I lived somewhere else. I stayed at a friend’s house.

This event, I wanted to forget it, and I did, for a long time. I didn’t understand what had happened, but later on, I did, and I started to feel very angry, and I became committed to songs with reason, songs that denounce [injustice], the committed song (la cancion comprometida) that in Venezuela is the movement that Ali Primera founded.

Es una noche de guitarras,

Alegre y romántica, y el sabor…

De la libertad

Es una noche de guitarras,

Bohemia y nostálgica.., y el sabor,

De la libertad.

-Gustavo M Bazan: La Patana

It’s a night of guitars

Happy, and romantic, and the flavour..

Of freedom

It’s a night of guitars

Bohemian and nostalgic... and the flavour

Of freedom

 

 In the 1980s I participated in a revolutionary party, I studied music and politics at university, and I met people, including a Venezuelan woman whom I married. I thought that with democracy we would be better off in Argentina, but the rightwing became involved in leftwing parties, and those parties changed, moved towards neoliberalism, and there was the crisis in Argentina, and I couldn’t stand the situation anymore and moved to Venezuela.

Here in Venezuela, capitalism was even more savage than in Argentina, but I thought that I would just close my eyes and work. Then there was the Caracazo [1989 uprising] and later in 1992 [Chavez’s failed coup attempt] I understood that there was an awakening taking place, and it could eventually become a people’s movement. I recognised that Chavez wasn’t just another military man, he wasn’t oppressive like the ones in Argentina, but he was a fighter and a Latin-American-ist. When in 2002 he declared his anti-imperialism, I really started to support the Bolivarian movement and Chavez. I recognised him as a leader of new times and of all that I had lost in Argentina. 

Todos podemos luchar

Igual que Simon Bolivar

Y asi el futuro ganar

Curando tantas heridas

...Venezuela...

No has dejado de ser mia

Y la vida vuelvo a dar

Yo soy: Hugo Chavez Frias

-Gustavo M Bazan (2002): Identidad

We can all fight

Like Simon Bolivar

And like that win the future

Curing so many wounds

...Venezuela...

You haven’t stopped being mine

And life I give again

I am: Hugo Chavez Frias

-Identity

 VA: Are more people participating in music, particularly meaningful or rebellious music, because of the Bolivarian revolution?

Bazan: Yes, I think so. A lot of very important youth movements have emerged over the last decade, such as Sur Conciente, La Cantera... in Barquisimeto there are various groups, even rock groups. Now there are a large number of youth collectives and movements that are composing songs and rescuing ancestral knowledge, and also promoting social consciousness in their music.

Unfortunately, the commercial apparatus, led by the capitalist market, continues to play superfluous music without any reflective content, and the public continues to consume this. Its only aim is entertainment and you could say, an easy life, and the content coincides with their expectations of life, they don’t understand the commitment to service that each person has towards the growth of humanity. The rightwing continues to dominate in the broadcasting and spreading of music. 

Fucking Reggaeton

Conciencia mi gente..

Si tu quieres regueton, quieres escremento...

Insultan a mi mama

Insultan a mis mujeres

Insulta a mis panas

...Dime lo que escuchas y te dire quien eres 

-Dame pa’ matala: Fucking Reggaeton

Fucking Reggaeton

Consciousness, my people...

If you want Reggaeton, you want excrement...

You insult my mother

You insult my women

You insult my mates

... Tell me what you listen to  and I’ll tell you who you are

There’s also the youth orchestra, Venezuela is being recognised for that, and I think it’s very beautiful even though the music played is mostly by European composers. I don’t mind that we [Trova musicians etc] receive less financial support, but it’s important to promote something that is specifically Venezuelan. We need to strengthen our movement.

But things aren’t like the 1980s when there was a boom [in radical music and trova]. That is what sold then, maybe because of the defeat of the war in Vietnam, at that time to be revolutionary was to be original or different, and many people took a [leftwing] position in order to call attention to themselves, or even to make money. The current situation on the other hand is more authentic, no one here joins the movement for necessary songs (la cancion necesaria) for commercial reasons, but rather they are deeply convinced of the importance of expressing ideas and fighting to change the world towards socialism.

VA: Does political music only radicalise through its words, or does it go beyond that?

Bazan: The words as well as the music itself are revolutionary. Songs aren’t simple in their tonal conception; they have complex elements with poetic and psychological aspects. If we listen to the songs of Silvio Rodriguez, we can see that the melody and harmony are complex. The idea is to elevate the concept of song. I recognise that there are many people who know Trova songs but they don’t understand the exact meaning of the profound words, however Trova has managed to capture a large audience through its aesthetic conception.  So we have a diffusion mechanism that is self sustaining through its quality. It’s quality and its beauty has attracted an audience. Before, that was only achieved through massive commercialisation, but its here that I think that us, the singer-songer writers, are revolutionaries managing cohesion between two things; it’s not just about producing something beautiful, but it’s also a manifesto of sublime creation, of expression. 

Levanta en tus manos la bandera

de la Revolución

América Latina obrera

y grita con fuerza

yankee go home!

-Ali Primera: America Latina Obrera

Raise in your hands the flag

Of the revolution

Latin America working class

And shout loudly

Yankee go home!

 VA: At a public meeting recently, someone said, “The struggle is a long one and poetry helps us to keep going, when we’re battle weary, there’s music”. How does music do that?

Bazan: Music helps human beings in general, because it’s a liberating of feelings, but songs can help people to tremble, if they can make someone recognise their experiences in the composition, the song has already transcended individuality and is directed at society in general. We can all appreciate the melodies of Antonio Lauro, of Bach...because they have touched a universal soul. 

Entonces vamos hombre

Sosten con tu palabra

El corazón del pueblo

Para que no se caiga

 

Porque la lucha es larga

Para que no se caiga

Que la vereda es larga

Para que no se caiga

-Ali Primera: Tu palabra

So let’s go man

Sustain with your word

The heart of the people

So that it doesn’t fall

 

Because the struggle is long

So that it doesn’t fall

Because the path is long

So that it doesn’t fall

-Your word

VA: ...Because to talk about humanity and society is already radical...

Bazan: One writes for the sensation of venting, to broadcast the spirit, and depending on conceptual variables, will, over time, sing to a larger audience, but one who has begun this journey can’t really stop its explosion. We’re not in the times of the patrons who financed their exclusive artists, now it’s the market that imposes products and can create or destroy according to its economic convenience. The authentic singer though, will be recognised by the people because they share deep feelings.

VA: They say this revolution is a happy one, one of celebration, despite all the internal and external corruption, why is that?

Bazan:  We’re on a path full of difficulties, but it coincides with the route we were looking for, so we feel happy walking side by side with those who share our struggle, and we recognise ourselves in faces, in laughter, in the hope for better times.

Venezuela, like all of Latin America, has lived through times of repression, exploitation, and intellectual barbarism, where they didn’t allow us to think or say or do. When we feel that we are the owners of our destiny, as we do now, that we can build a better future, and we recognise that we have started on some profound change, with solidarity, with facts, we’re not so worried that there people infiltrating our ranks to try and stop our journey.

Those infiltrators need to be indentified and punished and definitely removed, but we’re happy because we’re together and we’re equal, and this equality isn’t towards anyone, towards so called inferiors or poor people or marginal people, but rather its towards being happy and living better, and aware that wellbeing should be for everyone. 

El jardin de Cesar;

(Coro) Cesar sembrador

Es un sueño hermoso

Que nos despertó;

Había... un mundo muerto...

Y el lo recicló

-Gustavo M Bazan: El Jardin de Cesar

 

The garden of Cesar

Cesar the planter

It’s a beautiful dream

That woke us up

There was... a dead world

And he recycled it

*About the poet Cesar Abornoz who built a park in Merida out of recycled materials

VA: Constructive criticism within the revolution is essential, and your music and the music of others in the Trova movement contains a lot of useful criticism, is that one of music’s important roles?

Bazan: We have to clean the weeds off the path that we are on. A cultured and honest man doesn’t just want to satisfy his personal needs. Maybe it’s hard to understand that if my neighbour is ok, I’m also going to be ok, and even further, I’m going to be better.

If we improve, we have to do it in a general sense, go towards beauty, and so that it is accessible for all. That’s why individualism, the lack of understanding of a fellow being, is the worst characteristic that man has. We believe that it’s not necessary to make others suffer in order to be happy, and that going out and sharing out hope to the four winds is a way of multiplying it. The other day Maduro said “bread and fish”, and it’s about that, when we understand that we’re in the same boat, including nature... we will be united in a permanent wellbeing. And we do all this through music and songs. Songs are our essential instrument, and others will criticise through other means, through the arts, through their participation. 

Campesino, por tu propia tierra

Obrero, por tu propia fabrica

Estudiante, por tu propia idea

Busquemos lo que ha de enmancipar

...busquemos con alborozo

El sol maravilloso de la Revolución.

-Ali Primera: Basta de hipocresia

Farmer, for your own land

Worker, for your own factory

Student, for your own ideas

Let’s look for what needs to be emancipated

... Let’s look with joy

For the marvellous sun of the revolution

-Enough of hypocrisy