from Falmouth

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on the internet. After the commitment to blogging I tried to have during my ‘Oh My God – I’m Scottish too!!’ project over here (which is now kind of dormant, but certainly not finished, probably will never be finished however long it continues: I like that) I’ve kept quiet on the internet front, partly because it is actually quite a lot of work trying to write something that people might-or-might-not want to read, and partly because I’ve been busy with other things, which is a good thing.

About a month ago my Ibrox Braveheart video was posted on a Rangers fan forum along with my corresponding blog post, which prompted a lot of quite violent rhetoric, but essentially a bunch of very interesting conversations which I am still having. You can read the comments (at your own discretion) here. I could say much more, but perhaps it is good to make up one’s own mind.

I’m very excited to be performing a new performance lecture which has come out of both the ‘OMG - I’m Scottish too!!’ project, and also born from these forum comments, at the new Buzzcut Festival in Glasgow on the 17th of March. The performance is called ‘How to achieve redemption as a Scot through the medium of Braveheart’.

A brand new performance lecture about this land, its people, its customs, and how in the end, it all boils down to the badly accented, historically inaccurate film we all love to hate: Braveheart. Expect rousing speeches, face paint, bicycles dressed as horses, woman dressed as Mel Gibson and your very own Scottish enlightenment

So all of that’s on the cards. But, what’s going on right now? Well, I’m writing. In Falmouth, which is where I now live, for a bit, which is a really very nice place to live, actually, thankyouverymuch.


Writing about:

Nationalism
Social engagement & art
The role of the artist
Larissa Sansour
Guillermo Gomez-Pena
Oreet Ashery
M.I.A.
The Republicof Benny André Lund
My own work
Protest
Politics
Question prompting
The National theatre of Scotland

These are good things to be writing about. Today and yesterday I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about M.I.A, the Sri Lankan Tamil avant-garde-rapper/musician/artist, and the implications of viewing her work as a form of political protest and as socialy engagement (not a term usually bandied around regarding rap music, which is generally considered a disengaged media) rather than a glossy product of pop culture. A bit of a ramble:


“[I]f there is an art form that truly speaks for the present crisis of our communities, this form is rap” (Gómez-Peña 1995: 110)

As Guillermo Gómez-Peña argues in his essay ‘From Art-Mageddon to Gringostroika: A Manifesto against Censorship’, art has a commitment to popularise politics and create engagement amongst the populace (Gómez-Peña 1995: 104). To me, it is clear that M.I.A. is doing just this. Despite being a hugely successful pop artist, she has refused to tone down her politics and the messages in her music for the commercial market. At times her work has been underplayed or banned by various bodies of perhaps over-sensitive music industry because of this. Her fleeting use of a reference to the P.L.O. (Palestine Liberation Organisation) in Sunshowers – “You wanna win a war?/Like P.L.O. I don’t surrendo” – resulted in the video for the song needing a disclaimer on MTV. However, the biggest stir to date has undoubtedly centred around French filmmaker Romain Gavras’, controversial video for Born Free. And for this, I will insert my own disclaimer, that this may be unsuitable for children.



This video was banned from YouTube on its day of release in 2010, purportedly for the realistic violent images it shows. And it does show violent images. But are they more violent than loads of the stuff on youtube, or on TV, or films? No. Many would speculate that this was an outright act of censorship, an unwillingness to mix politics with a commercial music ‘product’. (the video has now been replaced on youtube with an over-18 disclaimer)

Originally based on mobile phone footage of the extra-judicial killing of Tamil Tiger militants in Sri Lanka in 2009, the video – which is shot with hand help cameras - depicts a genocide of red-haired men by an American SWAT team. Using signifiers of civil wars and militant organisations, including a mural showing red haired men with the IRA slogan ‘Our Day Will Come’ and the wearing of the keffiyeh scarves as in the Palestinian confict.

So why choose red heads, rather than an ethnic minority group? João Pedro da Costa in his textual analysis of the video explains it well:

‘[C]hasing redheads demonstrates the absurdity of any ethnic, religious, or political persecution. […I]f something as arbitrary as one’s hair colour can be used as an argument for genocide, then there are no guarantees that in the future a person may not be persecuted for being tall, short, fat, skinny or even for being a fan of music videos’ (da Costa 2011: 12)

We are shocked because it is people like us.

M.I.A. is harsh, she isn’t out there consulting with the community, not letting children paint her album covers or designing education programmes to go with her music; so how can we argue that she is more socially engaged than any other rapper, or self-indulged musician?

Today, that extra day 29th February, the video has almost 1million views on youtube and a staggering 3.8million on vimeo. But here we have it: this video is nine minutes long, violent and very challenging to watch. By right of being both extremely popular and controversial, M.I.A. has found a way to spread her message far wider than most socially engaged artists could ever dream of. Responses to the video have been wide and varied, engaging vast swathes of music fans to talk politics and debate meaning on forums, video comments and news websites. The comments under an article on the Guardian website (Pickard 2010) are particularly interesting in their range. Many, such as this reader who says ‘Based on that this video can only be an attempt to sell a product, i.e. a song. It can have no higher claim than that.’ (@PureedGerbil in Pickard 2010) express the sentiment that music/film/art and politics should not mix, and that this video is simply shocking for the sake of selling records. Others, like myself read it as an apt and vital expression of injustice and an engagement with politics. (And stupid people think it is about gingers).

So what does M.I.A. think? I think this gives us an idea… I love this quote.

‘[M]usic now should be like a sonic massage. You want to really feel it, internally. The police use sound cannons at public protests that explode people’s inside with a single note - human beings have to come up with the opposite of that.’ (Arulpragasam 2010)*

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Apologies for the rambling nature of that. I’m trying to find different strategies for getting words out, disseration writing, notebook writing, blogging… I don’t know what the best way is to put my ideas together.

There are other exciting things that are happening. I have some amazing friends who make me very excited about the world right now. Some Pillows of Strength:

Billie, my long time collaborator, housemate, and pal is working near Falmouth with a sailor in the complete regeneration of a mainly derelict and defunct boatyard called Sailor’s Creek. Their objectives are:

1.     Establish a fixed heritage site for traditional sailing working vessels

2.     Restore or build vessels for sustainable fishing or otherwise working under sail

3.     Support and train young people in traditional skills such as seamanship, fishing, sailmaking, boatbuilding etc

4.     Socialise and support members in the activities outlined above

Philip and I went down there to paint some signs last week; Billie and Lee the sailor are looking for all the help they can get for building, shifting, boat-mending, sign painting… the list goes on. It’s a volunteer-led project and a great way to gain new skills. Their website is http://www.revivalofworkingsail.com/default.html

My other housemate from Totnes, the amazing Liz Lawrence is, well, amazing. The only person I’ve ever met who introduced themselves as ‘I’m [Liz], I’m going to be a popstar’, and is doing it, for real. Also, I’ve just come off the phone with her and its made me feel all warm inside. Bedroom Hero is out on the 9th of March in the Republic of Ireland and her debut album will fallow on the 30th March. Here is her new video, enjoy.


That’s all for now folks. x

(*Bibliography for M.I.A. writing)

Arulpragasam, Maya (2010) Interviewed in NME, 7 April 2010 [online] Available at: http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/45685085.html (last accessed 29 February 2012)

Pickard, Anna (2010) ‘Does MIA's Born Free video overstep the mark?’ The Guardian Online, 28 April 2010 [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/apr/28/mia-born-free (last accessed 29 February 2012)

Gavras, Romain (2010) M.I.A, Born Free [online] Available at: https://vimeo.com/11219730 (last accessed 29 February 2012)

Gómez-Peña, Guillermo (1995) ‘From Art-Mageddon to Gringostroika: A Manifesto Against Censorship’ in Suzanne Lacy (ed). Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art. Seattle: Bay Press

Touchriver, Rajesh (2008) M.I.A. – ‘Sunshowers’ [online] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPd_eFNgzMA&ob=av2e (last accessed 28 February 2012)

da Costa, João Pedro (2011) The Digital Meta-dissemination of Fear in Music Videos. A transdisciplinary textual analysis of two case studies: Esben and the Witch’s Marching Song and M.I.A.’s Born Free. [online] Thesis. Institute for Comparative Literature, Margarida Losa Faculty of Letters of Porto University. Available at: mvflux.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/fear-mv-jpc.pdf (last accessed 29 February 2012)