Music

Bessie Smith's blues are current

If you’re looking for a "straight" biography of Bessie Smith, then Jackie Kay's Bessie Smith, published by Faber, is not for you. Although Jackie Kay (Scotland’s maker, or poet laureate) has clearly done her research into Bessie Smith’s extraordinary life and gives credit to Chris Albertson’s definitive 1971 Bessie for much of the factual information she uses, this is not a conventional account of a life, but a semi-poetic description of the author’s identification and imagined relationship, with her subject. Kay writes: “I don’t know what gave me the idea … to write about my life and write...

What we owe to Chris Barber

The term “end of an era” is an over-used cliché, but with the death of Chris Barber on 2 March, it is fully justified. Trombonist Barber was the last surviving bandleader of the “trad jazz” movement that for a period in the late 1950s and into the 60s was immensely popular and competed with rock’n’roll for the allegiance of Britain’s music-loving youth. But Barber was more than a “traddie” (as they were known): over the years his highly-polished bands, made up of top-quality musicians, embraced R&B, skiffle, Ellingtonia and more modern styles of jazz. Perhaps most importantly, Barber always...

Kino Eye: Woody Guthrie on-screen

At the Biden inauguration, bejewelled Jennifer Lopez’s warbling and truncated rendering of the Woody Guthrie classic This Land is Your Land was a travesty of the real thing. Fortunately, you can go online and hear the original. There is also the semi-fictionalised film of Guthrie’s life, Bound for Glory (Hal Ashby, 1976), which covers the time from when he leaves his home in the Oklahoma Dustbowl and heads for California. Angered by what he sees in the migrant camps and the brutal treatment of migrant workers, he dedicates himself, through his songs, to fight their cause. It is rumoured that...

Marcus Garvey, model capitalist?

While I was writing my Solidarity pieces on Marcus Garvey, I heard of a short Radio 4 programme Black Star Line: The Story of Marcus Garvey. Produced in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the programme, narrated by 1Xtra DJ Seani B, sought in less than 30 minutes to tell us about Garvey and examine the influence Garvey and Garveyism has had today. Even as a potted history it has some holes. We are told that Garvey faced opposition from other black leaders in the US like Du Bois and A Philip Randolph, but never why. It suggests Garvey was an ambitious entrepreneur who believed in...

Letters: Right to stick in Labour; Langston Hughes set to music

Eric Lee (Solidarity 570) reports that he quit the Labour Party when he saw antisemitism there in recent years, and has only now rejoined. He identifies the argument against Jewish members quitting Labour as one that, despite mistakes, Labour “has consistently fought against all forms of racism” and for “genuine equality and respect”. That argument would make it naive to join Labour in the first place. In the very first years of the Labour Party, high-profile Labour figures, including on the left, denounced the Boer war as generated by “Jewish financiers”. They supported the anti-Jewish...

Let Music Live!

On 6 October the Musicians’ Union organised a 400-strong protest in Parliament Square about musicians’ jobs. The union is calling for the government to expand the self-employed “furlough” scheme so that more musicians can qualify. At present 38% of musicians are ineligible. It wants the Arts Council to be able to distribute money to help individual musicians in England, as is being done in Wales and Scotland. And it wants the government to fund local government to make municipal venues available for live performances with suitable covid-distancing. Another measure that could make a difference...

Black culture and resistance: the Harlem Renaissance

One hundred years ago, an arts movement was forming in a mainly-black district of New York City. Later known as the Harlem Renaissance, it was primarily cultural but also inescapably political. Literature, poetry, jazz, theatre, sculpture and more articulated the lives and demands of African-Americans no longer willing to be grateful that they were no longer enslaved. O black and unknown bards of long ago. How came your lips to touch the sacred fire? How, in your darkness, did you come to know The power and beauty of the minstrel’s lyre? Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes? Who...

"Active class struggle is central to anti-racist struggle"

The Repeat Beat Poet is a hip hop and spoken word artist, broadcaster and activist. He talked with Janine Booth from Solidarity; the whole conversation is online here. On recent events in the USA: There are shamefully still regularly extrajudicial killings of Black people in the US and across the world, but because of lockdown, the killing [of George Floyd] is a moment of vindication for a lot of activists. The protests are vital in achieving concessions from the oppressive system we’re living in, and show mobilised oppressed peoples how they can bring themselves together and collectivise...

An all-round troublemaker and a musician

Rhoda Dakar talked with Janine Booth, about Two-Tone, policing, the centrality of class and much much more! Rhoda Dakar was in The Bodysnatchers and The Special AKA, and performed in "Free Nelson Mandela". See the interview as a video, an audio recording, and a trasncript below respectively. A shorter version was printed in Solidarity 555.

McCoy Tyner, 1938-2020

The jazz pianist, composer and bandleader McCoy Tyner has died aged 81. Best known as a member of the “classic” John Coltrane Quartet between 1960 and 1965, in a career of over 50 years Tyner developed one of the most influential styles of modern jazz piano and produced a wide range of varied yet distinctive music. Tyner grew up in Philadelphia where there was a thriving jazz scene in the 50s. He started learning piano when he was 13 and had some classical training. He first met Coltrane in 1957 and they developed a friendship and musical understanding despite more than ten years age...

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.