19 October 2009

Monday's mp3: The Sound of Civilization Clashing

A fascinating multicultural project, Clash of Civilizations not only puts musical traditions in a blender, but also sprinkles in those often taboo subjects, religion and politics. Boston-based composers Milan Kovacek (aka Hip Son) and Nikola Radan both hail from Serbia, a land that has suffered more than its share of clashes. They explain:

For centuries, a harmful myth has been perpetuated that we live in a divided world, that there are fundamental differences between races, cultures, and civilizations, and that this divide can only be bridged by military, economic, or cultural domination. The Clash of Civilizations collective represents one effort to challenge this myth by illustrating the common musical bonds found within all cultures.


Their album Counter Propaganda opens with "Declaration of Independence," blending beats with a recitation of portions of the historic American document and the powerful refrain of the traditional Black gospel song "Job:" "God giveth / God taketh / Blessed be the name of the Lord." Clash of Civilizations are willing to take on controversy and injustice wherever they see it. "Les Cities" is about the housing projects in Paris that house many Arabs and Muslims from former French colonies in North Africa. "Hiroshima" includes selectinos from President Truman's radio address following the bombing of the Japanese city along with traditional Japanese Imperial Palace music recorded during World War Two. And the title track lays the blame for cultural clashes squarely on the shoulders of our rulers:


Yet still, we are divided,
it's the clash of civilizations
controlled (of course) by governments' operations.

Leaders of this world defuse your speech,
listen to the song of the crowd
singing Love out loud.


Clash of Civilizations don't tar all leaders with this brush; they gained recognition in 2008 for recording a song called "Change in America" and subsequently donating it to the Obama campaign.

One of my early favorites is the song "Hagia Sophia," with lyrics that include the Trisagion ("Thrice Holy") considered one of the oldest prayers in Christianity and audio samples of an imam chanting from a mosque in Istanbul/Constantinople, a place Christians and Muslims worshiped and fought over. The song is embellished by elements of both Byzantine chanting and Middle Eastern instruments.

[mp3] Clash of Civilizations: Hagia Sophia
from the album Counter Propaganda

Though their loud, electronic-infused, often-brash music is pretty far removed from the rootsy songs we general prefer, Clash of Civilizations' social and political mission, and their clarity about where their songs come from make this a fascinating album full of searing hope and fierce optimism.

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