Citizen Action Monitor

Music and poetry for dissidents: Ravel, Dharker, and McLachlan

No 183 Posted by fw, May 31, 2011

Those who choose to take an active stand against a regime they regard as immoral in some way or another, to be active dissidents, have to be prepared to face the consequences. They may be nothing more than ostracism. But they can be as dire as execution.”  Mark Tully, British Broadcaster and writer, and host of the BBC program, Something Understood.

The above quote is taken from Sunday’s, May 29, 2011 BBC broadcast of Something Understood, a weekly, 30-minute program of “ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life, taking a spiritual theme and exploring it through music, prose and poetry.”

On the Edge, is the title of this week’s Something Understood show. Tully reflects on “those people on the outskirts of society, of the arts or of religion [and dissidents], and ponders what they can offer the rest of us.”

What follows is my selection of the music and poetry of just three of Tully’s several selections beginning with Ravel’s fiendishly difficult Alborada del Gracioso performed by Chinese pianist, Chenyin Li, followed by Imtiaz Dharker’s poem They’ll say “She must be from another country, and concluding with Canadian singer, songwriter Sarah McLachlan’s song of youth’s loss of idealism and dissidence, Wait.

NOTE: This week’s show, On the Edge, will continue to be available for listening here but only until this Saturday, June 4.

Mark Tully: “Being on the edge, or liminal as it’s known from the Latin word meaning threshold, is seen as a very creative position. It’s been said that most spiritual giants live on the edge. Inventors do, and so do dissidents who want to create a new order.”

First up, Maurice Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso (Dawn Song of the Jester) performed by Chinese pianist, Chenyin Li. In introducing the selection, Tully relates that Alborada was one of a collection of piano pieces that Ravel dedicated to the Apaches (hooligans), a group of French musicians, writers and artists which formed around 1900. Ravel, himself, was a member of this group. Watch Li’s performance of this piece, with its sparkling, spikey beginning.

Next, Imtiaz Dharker’s poem, They’ll say “she must be from another country” (In this 3:51-minute YouTube video, Dharker reads two of her poems, Blessing and They’ll say, “She must be from another country”).  

Born in Pakistan, Imtiaz Dharker grew up in Scotland and now divides her time between England and India. She is one of the most important Indian poets currently writing in English. A recurring theme in her poetry is the danger of exclusion, as she noted in a recent interview: “In a world that seems to be splitting itself into narrower national and religious groups, sects, castes, subcastes, we can go on excluding others until we come down to a minority of one.” The title of this poem — They’ll say “she must be from another country”, which is also the refrain — reminds us how quickly we often dismiss those whom we categorize as “other.” The narrator wonders if there is “another country” for such outsiders, though notices that “from where we are it doesn’t look like a country, it’s more like the cracks that grow between borders.” The poem raises questions about the possibilities of transcending our own culture and prejudices.

Here are the final two stanzas of They’ll say “she must be from another country”, which I particularly enjoyed:

Maybe there is a country
where all of us live,
all of us freaks
who aren’t able to give
our loyalty to fat old fools,
the crooks and thugs
who wear the uniform
that gives them the right
to wave a flag,
puff out their chests,
put their feet on our necks,
and break their own rules.

But from where we are
it doesn’t look like a country,
it’s more like the cracks
that grow between borders
behind their backs.
That’s where I live.
And I’ll be happy to say,
‘I never learned your customs.
I don’t remember your language
or know your ways.
I must be
from another country.’

Finally, Canadian singer, songwriter Sarah McLachlan’s song of loss of idealism and dissidence, Wait.

Mark Tully: “Sarah McLachlan is saddened by [youth’s loss of idealism and dissidence]. Describing her song, Wait, she says:

“It’s sort of about loss of innocence and the feeling that for every generation with every generation there’s a group of individuals who will go outside of the norm and outside of society. We’ll be the outcasts and we’ll try to make a difference. But it seems eventually they all get sucked back in, or they lose their minds completely. So, it’s kind of a sad thing for me but I still have that idealism.”

Lyrics to Wait

Under a blackened sky
Far beyond the glaring streetlights
Sleeping on empty dreams
The vultures lie in wait
You lay down beside me then
You were with me every waking hour
So close I could feel your breath

When all we wanted was the dream
To have and to hold that precious little thing
Like every generation yields
The new born hope unjaded by their years

Pressed up against the glass
I found myself wanting sympathy
But to be consumed again
Oh I know would be the death of me
And there is a love that’s inherently given
A kind of blindness offered to appease
And in that light of forbidden joy
Oh I know I won’t receive it

When all we wanted was the dream
To have and to hold that precious little thing
Like every generation yields
The newborn hope unjaded by their years

You know if I leave you now
It doesn’t mean that I love you any less
It’s just the state I’m in
I can’t be good to anyone else like this

When all we wanted was the dream
To have and to hold that precious little thing
Like every generation yields
The new born hope unjaded by their years…

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing

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This entry was posted on May 31, 2011 by in creative protest and tagged .
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