Folk singer Julie Felix, RIP

Julie Felix. Photo: AnnFran Morris/Creative Commons

By Steve Johnson in Britain:

Saturday, April 4, 2020

OBITUARY: Julie Felix: Singer and peace campaigner

AT THE height of her fame in the 1960s Julie Felix, who died on March 22 at the age of 81, was often referred to as “Britain’s First Lady of Folk”. despite coming from California.

It was in Britain, however, where her musical career developed. After travelling through Europe, with the help of communist folk artist Bruce Dunnett, she initially started performing in folk clubs in Britain.

Landing a record contract with Decca, her debut album in 1964 consisted largely of cover versions of songs by artists like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton.

Bangladeshi folk singers persecuted

This 6 February 2020 music video from Bangladesh is by singer Rita Dewan.

By Wimal Perera:

Folk singers charged for violating Bangladesh’s draconian Digital Security Act

12 February 2020

Two Bangladeshi Baul (folk) singers—Rita Dewan and Shariat Sarker—face prosecution, under the Awami League-led government’s repressive Digital Security Act (DSA), for allegedly making “derogatory comments” against religion and “hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims”.

Baul singing, which incorporates elements of Tantra, Sufism, Vaishnavism and Buddhism, originated in the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent, including Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam.

Rita Dewan faces two accusations: one filed with the so-called Cyber Tribunal by Imrul Hasan, a member of the Dhaka Lawyers’ Association, on February 2, and another in a Dhaka court on February 3, by filmmaker Rasel Mia. The judges have directed the police to investigate these complaints.

This 2019 music video from Bangladesh is by singer Shariat Sarker.

Shariat Sarker was arrested in Mirzapur on January 11, following a protest by more than 1,000 Islamic fundamentalists and a complaint to the police by a local Muslim cleric. Sarker was denied bail, at the first hearing of his case, at the Tangail District court on January 29.

Prime Minister Sheik Hasina’s government passed its repressive DSA law in September 2018, in defiance of widespread national and international criticism. The measure is in line with its moves towards autocratic rule, in response to rising working-class opposition and slowing economic growth.

The DSA replaced the so-called Information Communication and Technology Act (ICT) and associated Cyber Tribunal, a legal body to try those accused.

Under section 57 of the ICT, police could arrest anyone accused of causing a “deterioration in law and order”, prejudicing the image of the state, or a person, or causing “any hurt to religious belief.” These offences were non-bailable and anyone found guilty could be jailed for up to 14 years.

Section 57 has been reworded and incorporated in the DSA, with the charges kept deliberately vague so they can be used against any dissenting voices, and made more punitive.

For example, anyone found guilty for “campaigning against the liberation war of the nation” or discrediting the national anthem or the national flag, can be jailed for life. Those accused of gathering information inside a state institution can be charged with “espionage”.

Dewan is alleged to have made derogatory comments against Allah during a musical competition performance with another singer. After a video recording of the song went viral on the internet, she apologized, in an interview with YouTube channel Gaan Rupali HD, on February 1.

Sarker’s alleged crime was to criticise fundamentalist Muslim clerics who oppose singing. The Baul singer, who has millions of fans, is reported to have said that the “Quran does not prohibit the practice of music.” He is also accused of declaring, during a December concert, that he opposed religion being used as a political tool.

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Mymensingh and Mirzapur after the news broke of Sarker’s arrest. The popular singer could face a ten-year prison term if found guilty.

Nikhil Das, president of the Charan Cultural Centre, a platform for folk singers, immediately demanded Sarker’s unconditional release. Sultana Kamal, a Supreme Court lawyer and rights activist, denounced the arrest as another attack on the “right to free speech” and said the government was appeasing Islamic radical elements.

The allegations against Dewan and Sarker are part of a much larger crackdown. According to Odhikar, a Bangladesh human rights group, at least 29 people were arrested for violating the DSA, including journalists and individuals who posted comments on Facebook, or even “liking” certain comments.

Internationally-acclaimed photojournalist, Shahidul Alam was arrested in August 2018 and detained for 100 days, under Section 57 of the ICT, for allegedly making “provocative” statements about student demonstrations during in an interview with Al Jazeera and Facebook. The students were demanding that the government improve road safety, after two youth were run down and killed by a bus.

Alam had told Al Jazeera that the real reasons behind the popular anger was the government’s gagging of the media and widespread “extrajudicial killings, disappearing, bribery and corruption.”

Poet Henry Sawpon was arrested last May, following claims by a Catholic priest that the writer had offended “religious sentiments”, because he criticised an Easter Sunday cultural event in a local Catholic Church. The priest opposed Sawpon’s comments, because many Catholics had been killed in the terrorist bombing attacks that day in Sri Lanka.

A prominent writer-lawyer, Imtiaz Mahmud, was also arrested in May on charges that police had filed in July 2017, under the ICT Act. Mahmud had posted a Facebook comment opposing military violence against indigenous residents in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Human Rights Watch observed, in its 2020 World Report, that journalists in Bangladesh “face pressure to self-censor or risk arrest”. which effectively prohibited investigative journalism in the country. In 2017 alone, at least 25 journalists, several hundred bloggers and Facebook users were prosecuted.

With 28 million Facebook users in Bangladesh, the Awami League-led regime is using the DSA to censor social media, in an attempt to stop workers and youth throughout the country, like their international counterparts, using social media to organise and fight government attacks on social conditions and democratic rights.

In order to justify this surveillance, in October 2018, the government established a nine-member monitoring cell to “detect rumours” on social media.

While the Hasina government claims to stand for “secularism”, the persecution of Rita and Sarker further demonstrates how the regime rests upon and uses Islamic fundamentalist and other ultra-right groups to advance its repressive agenda.

In 2013, when four bloggers were accused of atheism and arrested, Prime Minister Hasina’s son, Sajeeb Wajed Joy and so-called ICT adviser, declared, “We don’t want to be seen as atheists.”

In 2014, a group known as “defenders of Islam” published a death list of 84 critics of Islam. Several of those named were attacked and killed. The government said nothing about the assassinations.

When Rajshahi University professor, Rezaul Karim Siddique, was killed in April 2016—one of four academics killed at the institution—Prime Minister Hasina declared that no one had the “right to write or speak against any religion.”

The state persecution of artists, intellectuals and journalists, via bogus claims of offending “religious sentiment,” is not limited to Bangladesh; it is increasing throughout South Asia.

In June 2016, famous Pakistani musician Amjad Sabri was killed by the Taliban, and last April, award-winning Sri Lankan author Shakthika Sathkumara was arrested and held in remand for four months, following bogus complaints by Buddhist extremists that he had defamed Buddhism.

The author also recommends:

Persecuted Sri Lankan writer released on bail
[13 August 2019]

Deepa Mehta calls off production of her film Water
[10 April 2001]

Sectarian attempted murder of Irish folk musicians

This 11 June 2020 video about Ireland is called The Wolfe Tones’ rebel song Come Out Ye Black And Tans hits number one on UK iTunes charts.

This 2017 folk music video is called The Wolfe Tones – Come Out Ye Black And Tans.

This blog has noted before that German secret police targets punk rock music. And that British police targets punk rock music. And that British police bans rock band Babyshambles because some parts of their songs are slow and others are fast. And that British police ban Jamaican music.

However, ‘targeting’ sometimes goes further than spying or banning. Sometimes, it is targeting for murder.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Irish rebel musicians Wolfe Tones targeted by loyalist paramilitaries linked to British intelligence

IRISH rebel musicians the Wolfe Tones have said that they escaped a planned attack by a notorious loyalist paramilitary group backed by British intelligence services in the 1970s.

Singer Brian Warfield explained that before playing a gig in 1975 the band were told their lives were at risk from the Glenanne Gang — a group of police officers, serving British soldiers and members of the Ulster Volunteer Force responsible for about 120 deaths between 1972 and 1980.

The concert was at a Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club outside Kileel in County Down. The band were told by the GAA committee not to go for a pre-concert drink in the pub as “the RUC and the UDR were drinking in the front bar.”

“After the gig I came out and the organisers said to me: ‘You can’t go home [by] the main road,’ Mr Warfield said on the Blindboy podcast.

“I said: ‘Why is that?’ and he said: ‘Because there is a blockade waiting for you down there’.”

The concert organisers instead took the band over the mountains of Mourne, whence they made their way back to Dublin.

“The day we got back to Dublin the [police’s] special branch said that the Wolfe Tones were not to go north again, that our lives were in danger.

“I believe that the Glenanne Gang were drinking in that front bar … getting locked out of their mind, ready to pick up the Wolfe Tones on the way home.”

In July 1975 members of the Miami Showband — one of Ireland’s biggest bands — were gunned down after a bomb attack at a bogus roadblock went wrong.

Lead singer Fran O’Toole, guitarist Tony Geraghty and trumpeter Brian McCoy were killed, along with two members of the Glenanne Gang: Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville, who died when their bomb exploded prematurely.

MIAMI SHOWBAND bassist Stephen Travers has vowed to continue the fight for justice after British intelligence papers finally confirmed the involvement of Captain Robert Nairac in the murder of three band members in 1975: here.

Chileans sing against violent government

This 13 December 2019 live music video by Chilean folk music group Inti-Illimani says about itself, translated:

El pueblo unido jamas será vencido (The united people will never be defeated), by Sergio Ortega.

We sing … [contrary to the right-wing government] we don’t make anyone blind, we don’t rape anyone, we don’t hit or torture anyone …

We sang … and with us tens of thousands … it was very beautiful and hopeful.

In the enormous crowd, flags of Chile, of the Chilean Mapuche indigenous people, and portraits of President Allende, murdered by the 1973 CIA-Pinochet coup.

Chilean government kills people, musical commemoration

This music video from Chile says about itself, translated from Spanish:

Musicians and choirs perform El Pueblo Unido, in Sacramentinos square in the requiem event for those who are gone. The people killed during the protests of October 2019. Sunday, October 27, 2019. Santiago, Chile.

Chilean soprano singer sings against martial law

This 27 October 2019 video from Chile says about itself:

Chile: The heart-stopping moment a soprano breaks the martial law (Wait for the end)

This is the chilling moment soprano Ayleen Jovita Romero defies the silence curfew, imposed under martial law by the government of Sebastián Piñera in Chile and sings the song “El derecho de vivir en paz”, (The right to live in peace) by Victor Jara.

Such is the silence because of the martial law, that her voice echoes through the buildings, while people from their windows and balconies are “holding their breath” to the words of her song, until the moment she hits the final note and a wave of applause by dozens of people fills the night and space of a neighborhood under police siege.

The video consists of two scenes of the moment from different angles, one of them being the point of view next to the singer’s window.

The soprano is singing a song from a guitar artist called Victor Jara, he was killed by the Pinochet dictatorship (imposed by the CIA back coup). Jara was taken prisoner along with thousands of others in the Chile Stadium, where guards tortured him, smashing his hands and fingers and then told to try playing his guitar. He was then shot over 40 times and killed. The song is called “The right to live in peace”.

The first video is from “El Canto Nuevo de Chile” Facebook page and the other from the soprano’s Instagram account (@ayleenjovita.soprano).

A Chilean Opera Singer Sang In Peaceful Protest During A Curfew For Thousands Of Her Neighbors. Soprano Ayleen Romero performed the Chilean protest anthem “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz,” or “The Right to Live in Peace”: here.

Chilean musical protest against governmental bloodshed, austerity

This video from Chile says about itself (translated from Spanish):

On October 25, 2019, THE PEOPLE of Chile expresses its dissatisfaction and desire for a dignified and peaceful life, demanding respect for human rights and the departure of the heads of government through music, the sound of their instruments and their voices singing the song of Victor Jara, who was murdered horribly by the Pinochet dictatorship, “THE RIGHT TO LIVE IN PEACE”.

Video by Eugenia Carvajal.

This video says about itself:

Victor Jara – Derecho de vivir en paz (1973)

Original videotape footage from Chilean TV in August 1973, shortly before Jara was tortured and killed by the Pinochet thugs. Here Jara performs ‘El derecho de vivir en paz’ —The Right To Live In Peace— a song with lyrics of great hope. [It was later convincingly covered by jazz-rockers Congreso]. I’ve added subtitles in Spanish for the lyrics and in English as translation of Víctor’s preamble and of the Spanish lyrics. I’ve also supplied the video with lead sheet chord shorthand (it IS a good song!) and with references to other recordings of this and other Jara songs.

Today, Dutch NOS TV reports that the Chilean right-wing government has cancelled the United Nations COP25 climate change conference, planned for the Chilean capital Santiago on 2-13 December.

From the Diálogo Chino site in Chile:

The group Civil Society for Climate Action (SCAC, in the Spanish acronym), which includes several Chilean NGOs, said the current situation made dialogue on climate impossible.

“It is not viable to discuss the future of the planet, climate justice and each country’s commitments (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDC’s), as long as Chile has broken with the rule of law and sent soldiers to contain protests over social discontent, generating panic, murders, and cases of torture”, it wrote in a press release issued Friday.

Maybe, right-wing Chilean President Piñera was scared that a million Chileans would gather outside the COP25 conference hall, singing not that flattering songs about his lack of real anti-climate change policies. The Atlantic Council, the fan club of the NATO military alliance, has awarded Piñera a prize for his environmental policies. But militarists are hardly the best judges on environmental policies. Greenpeace and other environmental organisations have denounced giving Piñera an undeserved award for environmentalism.

Maybe, Piñera was also was scared that Chileans and other demonstrators might sing less than complimentary songs on his COP25 guests, like representatives of the climate change denying governments of Trump in the USA, Bolsonaro in Brazil and Australia.

Piñera has cancelled the APEC trade summit in Chile planned in November as well. Eg, United States President Donald Trump was expected to attend.

Maybe, right-wing Chilean President Piñera was scared that a million Chileans would gather outside the APEC conference hall, singings songs not very flattering about Donald Trump and austerity.

United States folk singer Ani DiFranco interviewed

This 20 July 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Ani DiFranco on Trump, Her New Memoir, Defying Music Moguls & Working with Pete Seeger and Prince

Legendary Grammy-award winning songwriter, guitarist and activist Ani DiFranco has published a new memoir, No Walls and the Recurring Dream, and joins us for an extended conversation about refusing to bow to the power of record companies, and founding her own music label at age 19 in 1990, called Righteous Babe.

She has gone on to release 20 studio albums, and sell over 5 million records. Over the years her music has woven together styles ranging from folk to funk, soul to jazz to R and B. She sings of the personal and political, of love, sexuality and loneliness, of sexual abuse and police brutality, and about the perversion of democracy in America.

One of the many musicians she worked with, Pete Seeger, once described DiFranco as “the torch bearer for the next generation.” She also discusses Trump, abortion rights and reads a poem she wrote after 9/11.

Joan Baez, United States singer, interviewed

This music video from the USA about the Vietnam war is called Joan Baez – Where Are You Now, My Son?

On 5 February 2019, Dutch daily Trouw published an interview by Saskia Bosch with United States singer Joan Baez. The interview was by telephone from Ms Baez’ home.

Parts of it (translated):

Joan Baez says goodbye: ‘I was at my most powerful when I could combine singing with activism’

On Friday Joan Baez (78) will sing her very last concert in the Netherlands. The US American singer will stop touring. “My voice is deteriorating. I hear it and I feel it.”…

The American singer-songwriter will be in the business for exactly sixty years in 2019. She broke through in the nineteen sixties with engaged folk pop songs like ‘Farewell, Angelina’, ‘Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word’ and ‘We Shall Overcome‘ and together with Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan was one of the most important representatives of the protest generation. Her activism was always just as important as her music. Last year she released the new album ‘Whistle Down the Wind’, but also announced her last tour.

The reason: the decline of her vocals. … Baez … announced last year that her ‘Fare Thee Well Tour’ would be her farewell tour. …

How does that feel, such a farewell tour? Baez laughs: “Nice, because a lot of people come to the shows, because they know it’s the last time they can see me live. We play for sold-out halls and even did twenty shows in the Parisian Olympia. That would not have been possible if we would not have announced the farewell.”

This music video is called Joan Baez – Fare Thee Well Tour – Live @ Paris Olympia 13 June 2018 (COMPLETE HD CONCERT).

There has not been time for melancholy or sadness. “The reaction will only come later, I suspect. Maybe I will feel relieved, maybe in mourning, maybe both. To be honest, I do not know.”


The emotions which she has so far put into her live performances, Baez expects to put partly into her other passion: painting. Full of enthusiasm she talks about the portrait she made of Emma Gonzalez, the student who survived the shooting at her school in Florida and last year held such an impressive speech during the March for Our Lives. “Give me your e-mail address, then I will send you a photo of the painting.” A little later the painting of a serious-looking Gonzalez in red and green tones appears in the mailbox. …

The activist

The singer is just as well-known for her music as for her activism that runs like a thread through her life and music. In this way she opposed the war in Vietnam and supported the US American civil rights movement. “The highlights of my life coincided with the times when I had both hats on: activism and music. Then I was at my most powerful and most useful.”

As an example, she mentions how in 1966, when segregated schools had just been abolished, in Grenada, Mississippi, she was accompanying black pupils who were attending a white school for the first time. “Martin Luther King Jr. had asked me to walk with them until he could come. I walked there with little black children, who were pelted with rocks. My presence made it harder for white adults to throw the rocks at the children. I was proud and strong. I told a big policeman: “We are bringing these children to school.” He answered in that southern accent: ‘You cannot go any further’. Maybe I was stupid and my heart was pounding, but it was a challenge I liked.”

Now Baez is still committed to matters that concern her. … Baez refers to climate change.

United States folk musician Leyla McCalla

This October 2019 music video from the USA is called Leyla McCalla – ‘The Capitalist Blues’ (Lyrics Video).

By Matthew Brennan in the USA:

Leyla McCalla’s Capitalist Blues: Keeping one’s eyes open

2 February 2019

Musician-songwriter Leyla McCalla’s newest album Capitalist Blues, released January 25, is an intriguing effort. In the course of 11 songs she works through situations, sentiments and moods that are hovering in the air today, but often disconnected from their broader context in popular music. To her credit, the singer-songwriter tries to make this connection, with some success, and the album is the better for it.

Trained as a classical cellist, McCalla’s eventual decision to pursue folk-based music and song-writing led her to the rich New Orleans music environment where she has been a fixture for much of the past decade. Already relatively well-established through her contributions to the folk-music collective Carolina Chocolate Drops (led by the talented Rhiannon Giddens and Don Flemons), her solo efforts to date have demonstrated a good deal of talent and thoughtfulness, as well as a consistent interest in historical themes and music history.

Her first two self-produced albums—Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes and A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey—were more stripped-down explorations of historical periods and figures (such as the poet Hughes), as well as life in regions like the American south.

She has paid particular attention to the Haitian-American diaspora. McCalla is the grand-daughter of Ben Dupuy, who was the longtime editor of the … left-nationalist publication, Haïti Progrès, and ambassador at large under the shortlived first government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide (overthrown by a military coup) in 1991.

McCalla has repeatedly pursued the deeply intertwined and often brutal connection between the US and Haiti as a theme of her songwriting.

Capitalist Blues represents, particularly in musical form, a notable expansion of her previous efforts. Her notion that capitalism is the general source of the “blues” is also an unusually direct statement, as far as popular music goes. One suspects it is an indication of larger stirrings among serious artists today.

“The album is me thinking about the psychological and emotional effects of living in a capitalist society,” McCalla states in an album “teaser” video. Her efforts to convey these sentiments musically are largely rewarding.

This October 2018 video is called Leyla McCalla – ‘The Capitalist Blues’ (Album Teaser).

Featuring New Orleans jazz, Cajun, Creole, American R&B, Haitian Rara, Caribbean folk and other music styles, the album is mostly a lively and engaging collection. Around a third of the songs are sung in Haitian Creole, which McCalla refers to as a “language of protest” in interviews. The language is also a consistent presence throughout much of her body of work.

The album, produced by guitarist-singer Jimmy Horn, features a wide range of talented Louisiana musicians—including pianist Corey Ledet, trumpet player Ben Polcer, drummers Shannon Powell and Chris Dave, singer Topsy Chapman and others—in addition to her regular trio players, Daniel Tremblay (guitarist) and Free Feral (viola).

Leyla McCalla (Credit:

The title track, “Capitalist Blues”, is a New Orleans traditional jazz song, slow and deliberate but with a punchy horn-driven undercurrent. It sets the tone for the album. “You keep telling me to go a little higher/Try to take a different view/But you can see, I’m not inspired/I’ve got the Capitalist Blues/And if I give everything/I won’t have much more to lose,” she sings.

Multiple songs are movingly constructed to either skewer or lament the difficulties facing wide layers of the population. Some of the songs are built around contrasts—for instance, sunny or energetic songs belied by dark sentiments or conditions, such as the title song.

Or, to take another example, “Money Is King,” a cover song originally written by Trinidadian folk musician Neville Mercano (also known as Growling Tiger), McCalla sings of the revolting hypocrisy where being rich removes all limits to social needs, and the poor are often attacked and treated “worse than dogs” for making the slightest demands. The calypso-based song, with rhythmic jazz elements, encourages a defiant stance, daring one to move and dance in response to the absurdity of it all.

Other songs are quite intentionally somber and angry. The R&B dirge “Heavy As Lead” is a song about economic instability and the general anxiety many live with on a day to day basis (“This old house might swallow us whole/Begins with our family/And soon it comes for our soul”).

McCalla states in the album’s liner notes that the song’s title is a direct reference to lead poisoning, spurred on after discovering her own daughter had tested positive for elevated blood-lead levels. “I sing these words thinking of all the families from New Orleans, LA to Flint, Michigan grappling with a system that takes no responsibility for solving this environmental health crisis.”

Other songs express similar somber, and yet quietly defiant sentiments, such as the steel-guitar driven, paradoxically breezy “Mize Pa Dous” (‘Poverty Isn’t Sweet’), the propulsive and yet somber Haitian folk chant of “Lavi Vye Neg” (roughly ‘Old Man’s Life’), and the banjo-based ballad about perseverance in the face of bleakness, “Ain’t No Use.”

She also connects the general atmosphere to the ravages of war, on the discordant “Aleppo” and the Portuguese cover song “Penha” (Peace). The former song, written after watching Facebook videos of Syrians describing life in a war zone, is, to her credit, mainly a denunciation of all wars, and not a concession to US “humanitarian” wars of imperialism. (“Bombs are falling in the name of peace…So much violence in the name of love…Who knows? Where will we go?”). Abrasive and sonically jarring guitar-chords carry the song out to its dark ending.

McCalla also makes sure to capture something about love and companionship in hard times as well. Some of the best musical songs on the album are up-tempo love songs, such as the piano boogie “Me And My Baby” and the Cajun zydeco rocker “Oh My Love.” The former, for instance, celebrates the joy of losing all pretense and anxiety because of how excited someone makes the singer feel.

But the album’s final song “Settle Down,” which is a collaboration with the intriguing Haitian musical collective Lakou Mizik, captures something of the overall strength of the album: that while focusing on the problems, McCalla doesn’t wallow in them as seemingly insurmountable. Written in response to anti-protest laws passed in New Orleans, the song, with a heavy influence of Afro-Caribbean folk musical instrumentation, is a propulsive chant to do the opposite of “settling down.”

All told, Capitalist Blues is effective as a kind of “protest” album largely because McCalla doesn’t try to convey this sentiment in mechanical fashion, or simply speak about capitalism in the manner one would write an essay. Rather she tries, with a good deal of success, to demonstrate what capitalism is through the lives and sentiments of people living under it—anxious, confusing, complex in its contradictions, oppressive and often desperate. It is a largely humane album.

Not everything is worked out of course. There is an abstract quality to some of the song-writing that perhaps takes the edge off some of the overall critique. And, while McCalla and her players are clearly talented and confident musicians, at times it feels like she is still trying to find her musical voice, which can fall behind the playing at times. And taken as whole, the album has the feel of an artist just beginning to really grapple with large “systemic” questions. She is giving the source of the “blues” a name—capitalism, but she has not yet worked through its development, nor the historic alternative to it.

Nonetheless, it is much to McCalla’s credit that she doesn’t take a narrow approach to such difficult matters. This is the attempt of an artist working through the current situation with her eyes open, so to speak. The album is a welcome sign, and it will be interesting to see where she takes it from here.