Socialist Worker

They stifled the scream

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1804

IF YOU were told that either Primal Scream or Mary J Blige would bring out a record condemning the US's bombing of Afghanistan, who would you put your money on? Before you decide, let's look at the odds.

Primal Scream have created music which is a brash fusion of rock, funk and electro. They are also a band who have not been afraid to wear their political convictions on their sleeves. Their 1999 single 'Swastika Eyes' was a barbed attack on the then US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. They also put a picture of Black Panther Party members on one of their records, and have played an important role in the campaign to get Satpal Ram released from prison.

Mary J Blige, on the other hand, is one of the biggest selling artists in the US. She revitalised soul music in 1992 by incorporating it with hip-hop beats. Throughout the 1990s she had a series of well-publicised relationships with bullying and domineering men that all ended in her being abused. To my knowledge she has never made a political record. With these facts in mind, I'm sure you would have bet on Primal Scream. Up until last week your money would have been safe.

Later next month Primal Scream are going to release their new album, which they were going to call Evil Heat-as a reference to US imperialism. One of the tracks, which was recorded before 11 September, was titled 'Bomb the Pentagon'. But last week the band announced that they were dropping the album title, and 'Bomb the Pentagon' had been re-recorded with new lyrics and is now titled 'Rise'.

In an interview in the NME the band's bassist, Mani, said, 'We've moved away from politics-we got that out in our last album.' The band were scared of being dropped by their record label. Sadly Primal Scream fell at the last hurdle-self censorship. This is the record corporations' most powerful weapon.

Bush and the global corporations don't just want to win the political and economic war-they want to win the one for cultural domination as well. But things aren't going all their way. Towards the end of last year Mary J Blige released her wonderful album No More Drama. There is nothing on the album that remotely resembles a political song. She started making statements claiming she was not going to take any more sexist crap. She even threatened to leave her label if they tried to portray her as a sex object.

This was followed by the release of her single 'No More Drama', a heartfelt ballad about refusing to be abused any more. Performed live it is as great as anything Aretha Franklin has sung. At the end of the video images of US bombing missions flash on the screen, and the words 'No more war' appear. Mary J Blige has even changed the refrain of the song, and sings, 'No more war.' When asked to comment on the song on MTV she said, 'I think revenge is wrong.' She added, 'I don't need to say much more-I'd like to think my music speaks for itself.'

Will the music world stay silent, or will a growing band of artists speak out against the barbarism carried out by Bush and Blair in our name? I think the different responses of Mary J Blige and Primal Scream indicate that it could go either way. But when one of the US's biggest selling artists speaks out you know things aren't all quiet on the home front.


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Sat 15 Jun 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1804
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