November 14, 2012

CD Review---Melos/Mediterranean Songs

Globalization has been a disaster but it also presents us with certain challenges and opportunities and the necessity and ability to work with others across national borders for change. We can speak of "globalization from below" in positive terms and use that concept as a countering force to neoliberal globalization from above. It is a matter of mobilizing and protesting and winning economic and political change---fighting imperialism and winning--but it also becomes a matter of creating something new and establishing new international relations on the basis of equality and solidarity. We start at the point of austerity and dehumanization being forced upon us and we move to projecting their opposites. We make that real in the political, social and labor movements and in the victories these movements win.

Much is at stake on the ground. We have the job of creating a new humanism that unites the very theory and practice of living in a world where each person depends upon another. The old is insufficient and untenable because it rests very much upon an artificial separation of thinking and doing, competing and cooperating, producing and consuming, living for oneself and being in association with others, the past and the future. Each "improvement" made in industry or finance or technology puts someone out of work or further strains the environment or reinforces the world divisions created by imperialism. This new humanism emerges then in fits and starts, spontaneously at first and then with a deeper meaning and with politics. It finds its high water mark in revolution. It challenges and overthrows the past but is itself a product of past conditions.

Keyvan Chemirani has put together a marvelous CD of Mediterranean music which seems to instinctively reach for this new humanism. The CD is called Melos and it is a collaborative effort of at least eleven musicians and vocalists. Melos is a Greek word that "evokes both combination and separation," say the liner notes, and this hints at the dialectical process which brought this group of musicians and vocalists together and brought this CD into being.

The performers do not share a common language but the intent here is not to blend cultures or find compromises that everyone will find acceptable. This is not a matter of pouring on some olive oil and calling something Greek or Arab, as the liner notes and the musicians makes clear. Rather, this music is all about the movement of real people towards one another. It unearths the hidden history of how we encounter one another in spaces we do not yet define for ourselves.

We get the traditions of flamenco, Tunisian and Moroccan music, Greek music and the Maghreb here. We also get Turkish, Armenian and Azeri influences. Chemirani grew up with Persian music and he has clearly benefited from the time he spent in France and in the Mediterranean Ensemble. All of the musicians and vocalists in the group stretch as he has, but they stretch to both stay within their traditions and to transcend those traditions at the same time.

I hasten to say that this is not "protest music." There is not an obvious line between this music and the political approach that I have roughly outlined above. This is not The Coup or Manu Chao. I would like to see a dialogue between this music and that, but we have not yet arrived at that time. Both musics require some intellectual work and vision to be appreciated, but this music in particular requires a sense of combination and separation, of loss and gain, of discipline, of emigration that The Coup and Manu Chao do not require.

This music does not provide answers beyond its own methods and its means of being understood. The themes may be combination and separation, journeys across borders, but these are are not posed yet as problems to be solved. There is no formula here beyond what the musicians and vocalists have invented as they work to understand and collaborate with one another and as they work to be understood by the audience as well. This takes discipline on the part of the musicians and vocalists and on the part of the listeners as well. I argue that this required discipline is a path to revolutionary humanism, and is especially so when capitalism's mass entertainment industries isolate people as individual consumers and invest in insuring our laziness. Moreover, this discipline is a needed rejection of nihilism and anarchism to the extent that it forms complex structures and methods of full comprehension and moves beyond spontaneity.

Someone will object that Melos has some pieces which are influenced by religion, and by the Sufis in particular. My response is to note that this is probably a necessary step in building the future out of the past and that the Sufis are generally perceived, rightly or wrongly, as tolerant and as incarnating a variant of humanism. Whatever the case, we can say that mysticism in any form detracts from humanism and the inevitable conflict between the two will push humanism and this music forward.

There are pieces on the CD which seem almost too beautiful to listen to. I thought while I was listening to this CD of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Aram Khachaturian, Georgy Sviridov, Tikhon Khrennikov and Alfred Schnittke and others who gave so much to previous generations of revolutionaries--not of their musics, but of their examples. They were revolutionary artists who also worked with a new humanism and often did so by reaching beyond their national traditions with other artists. Socialist realism can be reinvented, it can incorporate many disparate approaches and it can speak in many different ways. Hanns Eisler, for instance, was known for the complex and subtle orchestration of his symphonic music. At its core, then, socialist realism can take up revolutionary humanism as its theme. If it is to be rebuilt, socialist realism will have to encounter the globalized world and the drama of combination and separation that so many of us experience as we are forced from place to place in search of something better.

Melos is produced by Accords Croises.

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