Although almost everybody probably knows it, I only just discovered this, essentially, animal rights song! A little confusingly, it's also know as 'Donna, Donna' (and originally 'Dana, Dana', it seems). Joan Baez sings the most famous version, but it's a song with quite a history. If you haven't heard 'Dona, Dona', listen, learn and enjoy like me.
Looking up versions of Asikatale because it was one interviewee's favourite song, I found this version by The Spinners from 1988. Hardened by frequent exposure to moving songs, hearing this made me choke up. A combination I think between this being a beautiful song - one of my own favourites to sing, the harmonies and spooky bass, and the total respect The Spinners obviously pay the song with their careful enunciation...
Many street choirs combine singing this song to commemorate the struggle against apartheid and, at one through revised lyrics, to support the ongoing struggle of people in Palestine.
As a p.s. I noticed that The Spinners sing 'It's gonna take some real men' where we now sing ' real strength'. I wonder what we're singing today, with - like The Spinners - all our passion and the best will in the world, that will sound politically incorrect in the future? Which oppressions are we currently unaware of?
Asikatale We are the children of Africa, And it's for freedom that we're fighting now We are the children of Africa, And it's for freedom that we're fighting now (Chorus:) A heavy load, a heavy load, It's gonna take some real strength A heavy load, a heavy load, It's gonna take some real strength We do not care if we go to prison, If it's for freedom then we'll gladly go We do not care if we go to prison, If it's for freedom then we'll gladly go (Chorus)
They took our lands, they took our homes - How much longer will they bleed us? They took our lands, they took our homes - How much longer will they bleed us? (Chorus) In Soweto, they shot us down, But we will stand up united In Soweto, they shot us down, But we will stand up united (Chorus) (Zulu:) Asikatali, nomas'ya bozh, sizimiseli nkululeko Asikatali, nomas'ya bozh, sizimiseli nkululeko
Transcribing all these interviews with street choir members is really hard work... But doing it ourselves, listening again and painstakingly two-finger typing almost every word and be faithful to the meaning of the communication, that's vital, we think. And as you slog away you are constantly rewarded with fascinating insights that rekindle the research flame, making you wan to understand more. For example this morning, I transcribed this: ‘I mean, I had thought about joining - there is a Pride choir, you know, there’s a Rainbow Choir here in Leicester. Although I’m still very pleased to be with Red Leicester, really, because I think, to be honest, I think Red Leicester’s politics are probably more mine… I don’t know the Rainbow Choir very well, but I feel more confident about Red Leicester’s sort of solidarity really, as a left-wing choir. I think probably the Rainbow Choir would be more mixed: I suspect; I might be wrong but… So, for me, politics was always the most important, really.’
I think Leicestershire Rainbow Voices are now defunct, but there a Midlands, Birmingham based Rainbow Voices
Re-Reading David Graeber's 'The Democracy Project' about Occupy Wall Street (OWS), which in such turbulent times now seems a lifetime ago, two quotes stood out for the Campaign Choirs Writing Collective project, the book 'Singing For Our Lives' which will be published next year by wonderfully supportive publisher HammerOn Press:
'OWS, in contrast (to the Global Justice Movement mobilisations 1999 - 2001), is not a party, it's a community. And it's less about fun, or not so much primarily about fun, as it is about caring' (p.240).
‘On the streets, creativity is our greatest tactical advantage. This is why clowns and spiral dance rituals and women in tutus armed with feather dusters were so effective during the Global Justice Movement’ (p.255).
‘I think music goes straight to the soul, and it makes your body literally move, that’s changed, you get goose-bumps, you feel you want to dance, you want to scream: like, music does change people in a very literal way. It makes sense that it can move people to create other kinds of movements.’ Kate Nash on The World This Weekend 28 May 2017 from around 53 mins
After quite a silence in which we've been interviewing street choir members from London to Sheffield, Birmingham to Cardiff, we're almost ready to begin the long but enjoyable process of writing and putting together the book 'Singing for our lives'. Yesterday we were in Cardiff where Cor Cochion were very busy doing their extraordinary stuff, encouraging people to vote and to vote to defend our NHS. They attracted a lot of attention with street theatres and powerful, passionate singing! People loved it when the choir sang in front of Nye Bevan's statue (Nye is currently spattered with seagull poo - a sign of the times! But don't worry, activist plan to give him a wash and brush up this week).
Singing for Our Lives researchers had an amazing time in France singing with - and interviewing - Strawberry Thieves as part of the Recontres de Chorales Revolutionnaires (meeting of the Revolutionary Choirs). And here's some photos to prove it...
What a week we had not lost in France! On Saturday 23 July three of us from Cor Gôbaith met up with Strawberry Thieves at the ‘Rencontres de Chorales Révolutionnaires’ (meeting of revolutionary choirs) near Royère-de-Vassivière. We then spent an amazing week sharing and learning songs, cooking for each other, chatting, eating and drinking immoderately with choirs from Nancy, Marseille, Toulouse, Brest, Lyon and elsewhere in France as well as an Italian choir assembled from Parma, Bologna and Trieste. It was a pleasure to be with Strawberry Thieves and to get to know the people a bit.
At various points during the week we helped cook a full British breakfast, made Bara Brith and served it with afternoon tea (tough to convince other cultures that British tea with milk is tea), participated in a debate on Brexit (which the Thieves were divided on), and performed a skit on Sospan Fach at the cabaret evening that went down very well (apparently the correct pronunciation of ‘llawr’ is hysterical to the artists formerly known as our EU partners).
As our musical offering to the assembly, we sang a great arrangement of Joe Hill and the powerful El Payandé with the Thieves plus members of La Band a Rosa (Amiens) and Lizzie from Raised Voices. At the end of the week the combined choirs performed two concerts, including a performance in the village square of Tarnac, which is the home of the Invisible Committee! (authors of The Coming Insurrection and To Our Friends ). In the midst of all this we also managed to interview some of Strawberry Thieves for this ‘Singing for our Lives’ oral histories project.
Singing out against Bure, a site in France for burying nuclear waste
An article on Campaign Choirs appears in this month's Red Pepper magazine - so rush out and buy a copy! It was originally titled 'Singing for Our Lives' but Red Pepper editors renamed in 'Raised Voices', which might be a bit confusing as Raised Voices is a specific choir! If you can't get Red Pepper and would like to read the articles, contact us :-)