Painter Frida Kahlo and saxophonist Melissa Aldana


This 2017 video is called Frida Kahlo: A collection of 100 paintings (HD).

By Chris Searle in Britain:

Monday, June 24, 2019

Interview: Connecting with Kahlo

Jazz saxophonist MELISSA ALDANA talks to Chris Searle about the influence of the Mexican artist on her new album

BORN in the Chilean capital Santiago in 1988, Melissa Aldana has saxophone music in her blood.

Both her father and grandfather were eminent Chilean saxophonists and Aldana grew up listening to the records of Sonny Rollins,
Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley. She took up the horn aged six and by her early teens was already a working musician as a tenor saxophonist.

By 2009, having moved to the US and graduated from top jazz academy Berklee, she won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Award at the age of just 24.

“I just knew at some point I was ready to leave Chile and come to New York,” she tells me. “If I wanted to be the best as a musician and keep learning, New York is the city that pushes you to do that.

“It’s a hard place to live but it keeps you moving and growing. I have the freedom to be myself and do what I love and, thankfully, I get recognition for that — which doesn’t happen to everyone.”

Her quintet now plays around the world but her new album Visions takes her back to her young days in Chile when she was deeply affected by the communist Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

“Frida to me was an artist who embraced who she was through her art. She talks about beauty, ugliness, being a female, religion, politics, love affairs and sexuality but mostly accepting herself as an individual. This is a big part of how she engendered me to write this music,” she explains.

Her record, she says, reflects Kahlo’s struggles: “The album became a path for my own identity and expression, experimenting both harmonically and rhythmically with moments of frantic movement interspersed with order and structure.

“This is how I conjure the messiness, struggles and heartbreaking contradictions present in those visions of identity and self-worth.”
Her horn sounds create new elements, based on Kahlo’s own visions, which respond to the challenging questions which bubbled up while she was immersed in her paintings. “I felt connected to her personal struggles on an intuitive level — opposing forces in Kahlo’s life that have had a direct impact on my own music, my own self-identity.”

As soon as her album begins, with Sam Harris’s rolling piano, Pablo Menares’s bass, Tommy Crane’s sprinkling drums and Joel Ross’s vibes, you can sense that deep connection with Kahlo in a charged empathy with the Americas.

The track La Madrina is Aldana’s sonic reincarnation of Kahlo’s choice of “either living with inescapable pain due to childhood polio and a horrific bus accident, gangrene and miscarriages or dying and finding peace,” she says.

“To capture the complexity of our life choices, I’ve written layers of tension and resolution into the music. There are tightly arranged sections but also extended improvisation.”

It’s a unique musical excursion into the mind of a sister artist, with Aldana’s beautifully fluid sound sometimes floating, elsewhere delving into the Mexican artist’s consciousness with a keening insight and intimacy.

And it’s an album which shows that Aldana, despite her global achievements, has never artistically left Latin America.

“I usually go back to Chile every year,” she says. “People there are very supportive and proud of me. I have always felt that since day one.”

Visions is released on Motema. Melissa Aldana plays Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on July 9.

This video, recorded in the USA, says about itself:

Visions for Frida Kahlo (2018) Melissa Aldana
orch. Alan Baylock

I. Frida
II. Diego
III. Godmother

Melissa Aldana, saxophone
UNT One O’Clock Lab Band
Recorded live November 20, 2018 Winspear Hall, College of Music University of North Texas

Soloists: Drew Kilpela, Melissa Aldana, Michael Clement Sam Cousineau, Ethan Ditthardt, Michael Clement Gregory Newman, Alex Souris
Guest Instrumentalists: Eugen Kim, violin & Destin Wernicke, vibraphone

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German secret police spying on punk rockers


This live music video, recorded on 28 February 2015 in Hamburg, Germany, shows a concert by punk rock band Dr. Ulrich Undeutsch.

The word ‘Undeutsch’ in the name of the band, meaning ‘un-German’ was what nazis during the Hitler era called opponents of nazism.

By Martin Nowak in Germany:

Punk band files lawsuit against surveillance by German intelligence agency

20 June 2019

Last week, the German punk band Dr. Ulrich Undeutsch filed a lawsuit against the Saxony State Office for the Protection of the Constitution (the German domestic intelligence agency at the state level, LfV). The injunction seeks to ensure that the 2018 intelligence agency report, which lists the band in the category “left-wing extremist music scene”, “can no longer be published in this form.”

The band, based in the eastern German state of Saxony, justified its lawsuit by arguing that it was not clear “how our music infringed on the freedom of art and made us enemies of democracy.” The band also states in its press release: “What is obvious, however, is that this classification criminalises us and will be used by the authorities to make it harder for us to obtain venues, hosts and concert promoters.”

The press release refers to the disproportionate deployment of police at the band’s concerts and the fact that organisers are pressured on a regular basis to cancel concerts by Dr. Ulrich Undeutsch, or concerts are cancelled for no good reason. This took place most recently in Leubsdorf, near where the band is based in Grünhainichen, when the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) mayor canceled an entire Alternative Rock Night concert.

The LfV has included the “left-wing extremist music scene” in its reports since 2015. In the current report, eleven bands are named. Dr. Ulrich Undeutsch was first mentioned in 2017. The LfV in Bavaria also listed the band for the first time in its 2017 report, although it has only played two concerts in the south German state.

The Saxon “constitution protection” report for 2018 had already hit the headlines prior to the punk band’s lawsuit, after it accused the organisers of an anti-Nazi concert, attended by 70,000 people in Chemnitz following riots by far rightists, of giving left-wing “extremists” a platform to spread “their extremist ideology to non-extremists.” The report cited as proof for its claims shouts by the crowd of “Alerta, alerta Antifascista.”

In a similar manner, the report indicts Dr. Ulrich Undeutsch for its anti-fascist stance, its opposition to repression and its alleged “rejection of the democratic constitutional state.” The report offers as evidence lyrics from the song “Punk” from 2017 (no longer on the market) which ended: “I hate the system. I hate this state.”

“Upon closer examination of the individual who is president of the Saxon State Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Mr. Gordian Meyer-Plath”, the band writes, “it quickly becomes clear why above all in Saxony, there is alleged to have been an above-average growth of left-wing extremist music. The former undercover agent in charge of the NSU [neo-fascist National Socialist Underground]
Carsten Szczepanski, alias Piatto, remains up until today one reason why a thorough and proper review of the NSU murder series seems almost impossible.” Between 2000–2007 the National Socialist Underground carried out a series of ten murders and numerous bank robberies under the noses of and possibly in collaboration with German intelligence agencies.

The fact that the LfV president Meyer-Plath is also a member of the Marchia fraternity, which until 2011 was affiliated to the far-right umbrella organisation, German Fraternity, the band points out, demonstrates that he “is not exactly a democratic role model.”

The public prosecutor in Potsdam is currently examining whether to take action against the Saxon LfV president for making false statements. Meyer-Plath, who had previously worked for the Brandenburg state intelligence agency, was interviewed in April 2018 by the NSU investigation committee of the Brandenburg state parliament regarding his role in the case of neo-Nazi and undercover agent Szczepanski.

The Left Party chairman of the investigation committee, Volkmar Schöneburg, accuses Meyer-Plath of having helped the neo-Nazi, who has been convicted of attempted murder, to produce a magazine for the militant Nazi scene while in prison. Meyer-Plath denied the claim that he had exchanged mail with relaxed safety rules with “Piatto”. Schöneburg told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that Meyer-Plath’s version of events had been refuted by documents and statements by prison staff.

Szczepanski, a former functionary of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), also participated in establishing the Ku Klux Klan in Germany. Meyer Plath is alleged to have passed on information to Szczepanski relating to weapons procurement and raids planned by the NSU terror gang. In order to protect his undercover agent, Meyer Plath allegedly did not forward this same information to the police.

The action undertaken by the state office of constitution protection against Dr. Ulrich Undeutsch is an attack on basic democratic rights and, above all, on the freedom of expression and art. The band’s lawsuit should be supported.

The Socialist Equality Party (SGP) is suing the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which illegally classified the party in its 2017 report as “left-wing extremist” and therefore subject to surveillance. The criminalisation of antifascism, criticism of capitalism and state repression, as the SGP writes, is “a component of government policy that is increasingly based on authoritarian forms of rule and the reliance on right-wing extremist forces so as to enforce militarist policies, the strengthening of the repressive state apparatus and attacks on social spending, and to suppress all opposition that emerges.”

Women’s football World Cup, with brass band


This music video shows Dutch brass band ‘t Spul(t) from Zutphen city playing during the 2017 women’s football European championship in the Netherlands, won by the Dutch team. They wear orange shirts, like the national team football players.

The Dutch NOS TV reports today that they will also be present at the women’s football World Cup in France at the Dutch team’s matches. The first one will be this Tuesday afternoon, against New Zealand, in Le Havre.

Among the songs they play are Happy by Pharrell Williams and Sweet Child O’Mine by Guns ‘N Roses.

Brass band 't Spult, photo Eline de Zeeuw/NOS

British Theresa May resigns, musical parody


This 24 May 2019 parody music video from Britain is called Candle in the Windrush (Goodbye Theresa May).

It is a parody of the song Candle in the Wind by Elton John.

It says about itself:

A musical tribute to Theresa May‘s premiership as she announces her resignation.

LYRICS:

Goodbye Theresa May
May you ever dance in our hearts
We’ll try our best to overlook
The lives you tore apart
You sent them off to countries
Where they’d never even been
And you leave us with two million
Disenfranchised Europeans

And it seems to me
You lived your life
Like a candle in the Windrush
Pointing frantically at Amber
When the blame set in
You were ultimately brought down
By your own Withdrawal Bill
Your premiership passed long before
Your deal ever will

Dignity we’ve lost
Grenfell survivors still not housed
Your resignation brought the tears
Child poverty couldn’t arouse
The wretchedness you wrought
You probably should be locked up
But still you might not seem so bad
When Boris Johnson rocks up

And it seems to me
You lived your life
Like a candle in the Windrush
Pointing frantically at Amber
When the blame set in
You were ultimately brought down
By your own Withdrawal Bill
Your premiership passed long before
Your deal ever will

Babi Yar, Shostakovich’s anti-fascist symphony, performed


This video from the USA says about itself:

Preview for Shostakovich‘s Babi Yar Remembering the Holocaust | April 27 & 28, 2019

In a powerful performance not to be missed, MSU [Michigan State University] Symphony Orchestra, Choirs, soloist Mark Rucker, baritone, and a trio of expert scholars present Shostakovich 13, Babi Yar, with selections from Davidson’s I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

By Nancy Hanover in the USA:

Michigan State University performs stirring rendition of Babi Yar, Dmitri Shostakovich’s anti-fascist symphony

1 May 2019

I am
each old man
here shot dead.

I am
every child
here shot dead.

Nothing in me
shall ever forget!

The ‘Internationale’,
let it thunder
when the last anti-Semite on earth
is buried forever.

In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage,
all anti-Semites
must hate me now as a Jew.

For that reason
I am a true Russian!
[From “Babi Yar” by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translation: George Reavey]

After nearly two years of preparation, the Michigan State University (MSU) Orchestra and Choral Ensembles performed Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 in B-flat minor, based on Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar” (1961), last Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan, and Sunday at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. It featured well-known baritone Mark Rucker, who also serves as professor of voice in the MSU College of Music.

Yevtushenko’s “Babi Yar” is a poem that memorializes the Nazi massacre of 34,000 Jews at Babi Yar, just outside Kiev, Ukraine, on September 29-30, 1941, one of the single largest instances of mass murder carried out during the Holocaust. It took place soon after the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The rapidly intensifying political atmosphere today—including the rise of anti-Semitism and authoritarianism nationally and internationally—heightened the emotional and artistic significance for musicians and listeners alike. One of the most enduring and powerful musical protests against fascism and anti-Semitism, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 was performed in Detroit one day after another brutal anti-Semitic murder at Chabad of Poway, just north of San Diego, on the final day of Passover. The killer issued a statement that denounced Jews “for their role in Marxism and communism.”

The contemporary resonance of MSU’s production “Babi Yar, Remembering the Holocaust” was noted by several speakers who introduced Shostakovich’s work. They referenced the fascist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, the terror bombing in Sri Lanka and the slaughter of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October. Concert-goers included more than a dozen Holocaust survivors and a busload of older members of the Jewish Community Center, as well as many young musicians.

Socialist Equality Party campaigners distributed materials on the rise of the fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the fight against the extreme right and were warmly received by many. “It’s not just in Germany, it’s here—it’s here”, one older concert-goer repeated, with unmistakable alarm.

The concert began with Charles Davidson’s “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” (1968), in slightly abbreviated form. The piece is written for orchestra and treble choir and based on poems by Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust. The children were among the 150,000 Jews imprisoned in the Terezin concentration camp (also known as Theresienstadt). After the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the Nazis converted the Czech town of Terezin into a Jewish prison. It was not an extermination camp, but about 33,000 would die of hunger and disease there. The Soviet army liberated the camp in 1945.

The evocative poetic lines of the children were displayed above the orchestra and chorus. “The heaviest wheel rolls across our foreheads, To bury itself deep somewhere in our memories. We’ve suffered here more than enough, Here in this clot of grief and shame” begins the poem “Terezin.”

The piece is alternatively haunting and mournful and lively and hopeful, as the powerful choirs give voice to the children’s contradictory feelings. Davidson, trained as a cantor and with a doctorate in sacred music, has created an ethereal and entrancing melodic sound in this now widely performed piece.

Sophia Franklin

Sophia Franklin, a Music Education and Physics major at MSU, who sang alto in the 100-plus member chorus, later told a reporter from the World Socialist Web Site, “Our piece was about Terezin. It was a concentration camp, but designed by the Nazis to be the public ‘face’ of the camps for visits by the Red Cross. It looked like a nice camp, but really it was just as bad. People were disappearing. They [the Jews] knew there was something very wrong even though the murders weren’t happening there. They were living in constant fear.”

Echoing the thoughts of many of those in the hall, Sophia said, “I have learned about the history of the Holocaust in middle and high school. This has happened before. Can’t we learn from that?”

In one of the concert’s introductory lectures, MSU Assistant Professor Dr. Amy Simon explained that the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, in Operation Barbarossa, beginning a war of annihilation. Recognizing the genocidal implications, Simon said, approximately 100,000 Jews fled Kiev before the fascist occupation. Those who remained were the sick, the elderly and many children. These Jews were forced to walk to a ravine on the outskirts, now called Babi Yar, lined up in groups and systematically machine-gunned to death.

After the wholesale slaughter of the Jews, who constituted the largest proportion of the dead, the killing would continue for months abetted by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Tens of thousands of Communist Party members, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma and other anti-Nazis also perished there. It is estimated that the total number of dead thrown into the pit at Babi Yar would grow to more than 100,000 during the years of German occupation. Of the 6 million Jews who were exterminated by the Nazis, more than 2 million died in the Soviet Union as a result of mass executions similar to that at Babi Yar.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s famous poem “Babi Yar” was written in protest. It begins, “No monument stands over Babi Yar. A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone. I am afraid. Today, I am as old, As the entire Jewish race itself.”

The poem is a brilliant and defiant attack on both anti-Semitism and the Stalinist bureaucracy. The nationalist bureaucracy pandered to anti-Semitism and was hostile to its exposure; it opposed any remembrance of the genocidal treatment of the Jews, insisting there be no special mention of the Nazis’ determination to eradicate Jewry. Yevtushenko’s poem laments, “O, Russia of my heart, I know that you, Are international, by inner nature. But often those whose hands are steeped in filth, Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.” Unsurprisingly, the poem was officially denounced by Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Kevin Bartig, MSU associate professor of music, who also spoke before the production, related the extraordinary first exchange between the poet and composer. Shostakovich, he explained, approached Yevtushenko for permission to set “Babi Yar” to music. The poet immediately agreed, and Shostakovich, relieved, then told him the piece was already composed.

Bartig recounted Yevtushenko’s words when he first heard the composition, “Some of my poems were set before, but the music hardly ever coincided with the melody I heard in my inner ear when writing my poem. I hope it doesn’t sound like conceit, but if I were able to write music, I would have written exactly the way Shostakovich did. By some magic, telepathic insight he seems to have pulled the melody out of me and recorded it in musical notation.”

Wonderful and apt words! Sitting in the audience of this concert, one felt an emotional and seamless unity between the music and words—each heightening the power of the other.

Bartig noted that there were attempts to prevent the premiere of the 13th Symphony in 1962, but “it was a sign of the times, that the idea of censoring a performance—as would certainly have been the case a decade earlier [prior to Stalin’s death]—would have been more of a provocation or scandal than allowing it to go on.” This was during the period of the so-called Thaw in the USSR.

The music scholar noted, “The work is a meditation on repression, from anti-Semitism to the take-down of self-interested bureaucrats in the final movement. It was a risky project in the USSR. Even a few years earlier, Shostakovich might not have risked it. …

“Stylistically, Shostakovich is himself as ever here using a tonal idiom, dressed up with the things that make his voice so distinctive: creating dissonances, exaggerated contrasts, and sarcasm.” He concluded by noting, “The themes we confront in the 13th, which sadly remain relevant in 2019, make the work one of the most unsettling and powerful in the symphonic repertoire.”

Explaining his decision to create the work, Shostakovich said, “I was overjoyed when I read Yevtushenko’s ‘Babi Yar’; the poem astounded me. It astounded thousands of people. Many had heard about Babi Yar, but it took Yevtushenko’s poem to make them aware of it. They tried to destroy the memory of Babi Yar, first the Germans and then the Ukrainian government. But after Yevtushenko’s poem, it became clear that it would never be forgotten. That is the power of art.”

The piece is not easily classified. Requiring a bass soloist, men’s chorus and large orchestra, it has five movements. Babi Yar has been variously described as a choral symphony, a song cycle or a giant cantata. The first section, “Babi Yar”, the Adagio, is a funereal elegy, opening with a solemn chime, dramatically invoking the Dreyfus affair in France (1894-1906), the savage Bialystok pogrom of 1906 and the story of Anne Frank. The emotional music moves from the spiritual to the literal, in the breaking down of Anne Frank’s door. The use of the bass soloist, the impressive Mark Rucker in this case, a male chorus and the frequent effective use of chimes and bells is widely attributed to the influence of 19th century Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky.

The second movement, “Humour”, is a livelier piece, but its message is just as pointed: oppression cannot silence the masses and their mocking of authority. It ends, “three cheers for humour—he’s a brave fellow.” The third (“In the Store”) is an ode to Soviet women, endlessly forced to line up to secure provisions for their families, ending with a quasi-religious motif. The fourth movement (“Fears”) evokes the menacing atmosphere under Stalinism, opening with a highly chromatic tuba solo that anticipates the composer’s later experiments with twelve-tone dissonance. “Career”, the final movement, condemns censorship and the ever-present Stalinist toadies with a lopsided opening waltz and beautiful woodwind solos, ending with a chilling final strike of the chime. It makes a bitter analogy to the Catholic Church’s trial and imprisonment of Galileo.

Attending the Orchestra Hall event, Joseph Jankowski, a student at the Detroit Institute for Musical Education, told us, “I knew this would be powerful. But when the conductor lowered the baton, no one clapped. Then everyone started clapping and didn’t want to stop—that was amazing.

“It was a beautiful portrayal and 100 percent relevant. Humanity-wise we face a serious issue today in this country and around the world. Events like this are extremely important because they should serve as a reminder that not all is as it should be. Large events like the Holocaust—even smaller events like Sandy Hook—we’ve allowed them to happen. We forget.”

“It was amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Edie, another audience member, “A person just feels more emotional about it all [in the setting of] such impressive music.”

International Youth and Students for Socialist Equality (IYSSE) member James said he was deeply moved by both the music and poems: “In Charles Davidson’s piece, the first poem, ‘I’d Like to Go Away Alone’, began with heavenly violin strings that captured the feeling of hope. But when the alto choir sang ‘Somewhere into the far unknown there, where no one kills another’, the vocals were a musical suggestion of such an un-worldly place.”

He continued, “The lyrics captured the feelings of children who had to watch this tragedy as it happened. … The gong and flute were used a lot to symbolize the blows that Nazi soldiers used against the Jewish prisoners of war. The orchestra members walked off in a single file line to symbolize what the Jewish people experienced at that time in these concentration camps.”

James also noted, “The [Shostakovich] music really felt uneasy, as the poem portrays things. The baritone singing, ‘Let the Internationale thunder as the last anti-Semites on earth are buried’ had me in tears. I hope the working class has more access to cultural events like this one in the future. This was a great experience for me.”

“The greatness of Shostakovich,” Fred Mazelis notes in his WSWS article on the composer’s legacy, was “to reflect the great struggles of his time, to find the musical language, in abstract, personal and emotional terms, through which to express not only his personal travail, but that of many millions of others.”

Many of those of us who attended the soul-stirring MSU performance would strongly concur. Indeed, the struggles of his time remain the struggles of our own.

The author also recommends:

The Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933-2017) and the fate of the ‘60s generation
[3 May 2017]

Berlin exhibition—“Mass Shootings: The Holocaust from the Baltic to the Black Sea 1941-1944”
[28 October 2016]

The legacy of Dmitri Shostakovich
[7 April 2000]