Five years ago, a compilation CD was released in the cause of debt relief for developing nations. Now with the US and other rich nations busy bailing out their own economies, we're not hearing much about this issue. Iraq seems to be recovering financially if not socially, but the story isn't optimistic elsewhere. Since the poor are always harder hit and the need for smart debt relief is not limited to Wall Street -- and because today is Blog Action Day -- I republish below my review of that album.
various artists - Drop the Debt
The problems following the invasion of Iraq seem to have awakened the Bush administration from a slumber on the need for debt relief (We're shocked! Shocked!). But the problem of developing-world debt has long been on the mind of others, including the Jubilee organization. Imagine paying 38% of your income just to service your debt. But don't get me started; we're here to talk about the music of debt.
Yes, the issue now has an all-star soundtrack, thanks to the efforts of new indie label Say It Loud. Featuring a stellar lineup of musicians (most from Africa and Latin America), Drop the Debt is simply great listening. And even if you're an amazing polyglot (songs come from 14 different nationalities), you won't feel like anyone's hitting you over the head with a guilt skillet. The closest thing to an anti-debt anthem is "The Third World Cries Everyday," a richly orchestrated, mostly-English song by Africa South, an amazing constellation of musicians including Oliver Mtukudzi, Louis Mhlanga, Suthukazi Arosi, and Khululiwe Sithole.
The rest of the CD is even better. It kicks off with the deep reggae mood of "Baba" by the combined forces of Tiken Jah Fakoly (Ivory Coast) and Tribo de Jah (Brazil). Brazilian vocalist Chico Cesar shows just how fast and percussive Portuguese can be sung on the folksy "Il faut payer (devo e não nego)," a collaboration with the Fabulous Trobadors of France. Bringing in Latin sounds is "Cosas pa' pensar" by Colombia's Toto La Momposina with a fabulous horn section. Cameroon's Sally Nyolo combines with Shingo2 of Japan for the drum-and-voice tune "Tilma (remix)." Like turntablism? You'll dig French group Massilia Sound System's "Osca Sankara." If funk is your thing, "Argent trop cher (money's too expensive)" by Tarace Boulba of France and Ablaye Mbaye of Senegal will definitely help you get a groove on.
Lyrically, the CD stays on topic, though each song highlights a different aspect of the debt burden. The translations give a sense of the widespread problems. Senegal's El Hadj N'Diaye sings "For 40 years we've been repaying / A debt that endlessly grows / ... We even say we'll never be able to pay it back / That it's planned that way." Zedess (Burkina Faso) sings "Even a democratic president / Who wants to lead his country out of poverty / Comes up against the policies of the technocrats / Who decide the priorities." Massilia Sound System's "Osca Sankara" includes samples of a speech given on debt relief by Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara, shortly before his assassination in a coup. Other songs take a more personal look. Tiken Jah Fakoly and Tribo de Jah's "Baba" laments a farmer who works hard but realizes no profit when the harvest is in. Congolese artists Faya Tess & Lokua Kanza look to the future in "Bana": "This land belongs to our children / It's in their name that we demand the debt be canceled / and the accounts revised...."
This is a great CD that just happens to champion a great cause as well. All the tracks are exclusive to this release, and with a variety of styles and consistently high energy it's bound to have wide musical appeal. Get it as a wide-ranging survey of contemporary world music or as a political statement. But get it.
Okay, just one last word on selective debt relief. Read this statement from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and ask yourself why they and "President" Bush aren't including Senegal, Burkina Faso, Columbia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, and other poor countries in their push for debt relief. Just substitute one of those countries for "Iraq" and see if it fits as well:
"If Iraq's debts are not forgiven, the Iraqi people will be financially crippled for a generation, or even generations, eliminating any prospect of a growing and prosperous Iraq. If European and Arab leaders truly want to help the people of Iraq, the best way to demonstrate this would be by easing the debt burden."