Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eduardo Galeano on Brecht

From Century of the Wind, the third volume of a three volume tome of the history of the Americas, called Memory of Fire.

1942: Hollywood


Hollywood manufactures films to turn the frightful vigil of humanity, to the point of annihilation, into sweet dreams. Bertolt Brecht, exiled from Hitler's Germany, is employed in this sleeping-pill industry. Founder of a theater that sought to open eyes wide, he earns his living at the United Artists studios, just one more writer who works office hours for Hollywood, competing to produce the biggest daily ration of idiocies.

On one of these days, Brecht buys a little God of Lucky for forty cents in a Chinese store and puts it on his desk. Brecht has been told that the God of Luck licks his lips each time they make him take poison.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Walls Around the World

On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, BBC Mundo looks at barriers, which are still standing -- or have gone up since -- around the world.

From Northern Ireland to South Korea to Cyprus -- walls once embedded take on a life of their own -- dividing countries, social economic classes, and in some cases, family members.

Since the beginning of the year, Rio de Janeiro has been building walls around its favelas -- shanty towns on the hills around the city -- which will eventually be surrounded by concrete with a total length of 8.6 miles.

At the end of the 20th Century, Spain began constructing barriers in Ceuta and Melilla, to prevent illegal immigration from Africa. The people of Ceuta and Melilla have paid the price of living in a fortified city.

Designed as a temporary measure to keep fighting Protestant and Catholic communities apart, many "peace walls" are stills standing. The most recent wall was built as last year at a primary school north of Belfast.

The border between Mexico and the United States is 1,988 miles long. The US government has built a metal wall along a third of it, at an estimated cost so far of $2.5 billion to prevent the arrival of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Checkpoint 303 Beats Drum for Resistance

Checkpoint 303 composes activist breakbeats and middle-eastern electronica to promote peace, human rights and justice in the middle-east.

Their music is available for free download at http://www.checkpoint303.com or Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/checkpoint303.

Here's a piece the band recently wrote for Common Ground News Service (CGNews) available at: www.commongroundnews.org

Tear down the wall and dance!
06 March 2008

EAST JERUSALEM and LYON, FRANCE — We had nearly finished getting our gear off the stage when someone from the audience came up to congratulate us on our show. After telling us how much he enjoyed the music and video projection, he added, with a slightly troubled look on his face: “…but I have a problem. Isn’t it somehow wrong to dance to music that deals with the Palestinian cause?” He explained that while he found himself dancing to some of the more up-beat songs, he could not help asking himself whether it was okay to dance to the message our music embodies.

We were pleased to hear about his ‘dilemma’. This is precisely what our band, Checkpoint 303, is all about. Instead of telling the audience what to think about the issue of Palestine, which would be a ridiculously naïve attitude, we try to trigger a reflective process in our listeners.

This same question is put to us every now and again. Obviously there’s no universal answer. Every individual has to discover what they consider to be right, that’s the point; it’s ultimately all about the process of figuring it out. But for those who feel guilty grooving to the sound of a serious humanitarian issue, we have one consolation: silly I-love-you-baby lyrics need not be the unique criterion for danceable music.

This said, Checkpoint 303 is not a dance music band. The songs we consider successful are ones that involve the listener in the artistic process, songs in which the listener participates in creating the statement, as opposed to passively consuming a message. This can only be achieved by avoiding music with a ready-to-go, prêt-à-porter, take-away message.

How can this be achieved from a practical point of view? By contrast to other forms of musical activism, we do not rely on lyrics to convey our message. Checkpoint 303’s music is primarily based on field we record throughout the Middle East, and Palestine in particular—covering a large spectrum of predominantly urban sounds: people talking in the old city of Jerusalem, a traffic jam in Ramallah, excerpts of a local Bethlehem radio station, the sound of an identity control at an Israeli checkpoint, the chanting of a demonstration in the west bank, etc. We then transform the audio material into loops, onto which we add electronic beats, riffs and melodies played on oud (oriental lute), keyboard or guitar.

When our ‘sound catchers’, SC Yosh or Cheikh Julio, are on the street with their recording gear, they are not looking for a specific sound to convey a pre-defined impression or statement. The essence of our music is to capture, fragment, and reconstruct the soundtrack of daily life in the occupied Palestinian territories. Yet we don’t restrict our music to only portraying the suffering and hardship of life under occupation. The media is doing a fantastically wrong and biased job of exclusively depicting the negative aspects of life in this tormented region of the world. By contrast, our music includes rhythms of “normal” life, the supposedly insignificant things that never make headlines, but help make possible the very idea of “hope” in Palestine.

Many Palestinian families heroically try, against all odds, to get along with their lives, educate their children, and dream of a better future—one worth living for. There are positive stories to report from Palestine. Our attempt to make music based on objective field recordings in the Middle East is in itself a challenging intellectual exercise. But, at the end of the day, that is precisely what yields the necessary degree of realism and humanity that is the backbone of our music.
Our aim, then, is to blend the aesthetics of electronic music composition with the social, economical, and humanitarian dimensions of reality in Palestine in a way that actively involves the listener in shaping the message. But does this make our work political? Although it may be perceived as such, our creative intentions are not political per se. They are driven by fundamental humanitarian values. It seems to us that the universality of human rights should in theory be both the common ground and the starting point to achieve peace. Additionally, when it comes to the question of whether our art is politically correct or not, the answer is simple: we do not care as long as it is humanly correct. We are artists, not politicians; this allows us the luxury of being able to tell the truth from a humanitarian point of view with no fear of electoral consequences!

Electronic music and audiovisual experimentation are the tools Checkpoint 303 uses to react to both the virtual and physical walls the occupation has created. These walls are also being hacked by the flourishing Palestinian hip-hop and trip-hop scene (e.g. DAM, Ramallah Underground, G-Town, Arapeyat, etc.) but also international artists such as the British graffiti artist Banksy or the American indie songwriter and political activist David Rovics to name but a few.


This article is part of a special series on Art and Conflict, which surveys the work of art in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and examines the political dimensions of art in general.

Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Checkpoint 303 collaborates with film-makers, musicians, and visual artists from around the globe. Its free tunes from occupied territories are an act of resistance and a celebration of hope.

Checkpoint 303 was invited by Massive Attack to be a support band for three shows in the UK in 2007 and in France in 2008. We are also very much into performing in alternative venues and spaces where the aesthetics and meaning of sound/noise and its link to social activism can be reconsidered and explored...

Over the last two years, the band has performed electronic and live sets in several countries (USA, Australia, Canada, France, Palestine, Tunisia, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Japan, etc.) spreading the word for peace and human rights through a blend of twisted electronica, downtempo, break-beats, oriental riffs and field recordings...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Empty Slate

I recently found myself between stories. I had written some long overdue work that now finished left me without any new big ideas. Several days had gone by without an epiphany. Sure, I had some revisions to finish for submissions, but there was nothing new percolating in the pot. It was a strange feeling. Usually my mind is cluttered with unwritten (and unwritable) story lines, but this week I was an empty slate.

There must have been more creative space alloted to those old projects than I realized. I'm glad I got them out, although success was mixed. Some were not all as interesting once written as I hoped. However, the last chapter I think has not been written.

The question now is: What’s next? Where do other writers turn for inspiration: newspapers, cocktail parties, the box of old journals in the garage? Should I play mechanic and weld together spare out-takes? Or should I just relax and let the ideas start trickling back on their own accord.

I've a number of Fiction International volumes whose edgy nature quicken the blood and strike the imagination. I also carry a skinny reporter’s notebook in my back pocket for unexpected thoughts and observations. That eases the burden from the mind to both create and remember.

So my net is cast. The store is open for business. Bring me your tired and your hungry, your ironic, your iconic, bring me complexities, allegories, and metaphors, bring me time travel, self discovery, sex and contempt, bring me redemption, bring me tragedy. Keep it messy, imperfect, and real. Bring me these discordant, beautiful misanthropes with whom I can play life and make music. Just be sure to jostle me if I'm lost in a daydream.