The past few years have witnessed a flourishing of artistic and cultural forms that are inspired by the worldwide movements against war and globalisation. The band Slovo, with its latest album Todo Cambia, stands unashamedly in that category.
I asked Slovo’s Dave Randall how he chose the name of the album, which means “everything changes” in Spanish.
“I first heard the phrase used on the streets of the Venezuelan capital Caracas when I went out there to attend the World Social Forum in 2006,” he said.
“It was used there as a declaration of optimism and confidence by some of the previously more marginalised members of Venezuelan society – those that feel that they’re making progress at the moment.”
Todo Cambia traverses the world from the victories of movements in Latin America to the daily atrocities carried out in Palestine. In the process it documents the alienations and elations that are part-and-parcel of being human the world over.
But it would be a mistake to think that the album’s politics are only expressed in the topics it covers.
“One of the things I’ve attempted to do with Slovo is to take some musical genres which aren’t immediately associated with politics or social commentary and use them in a political or politicised way,” says Dave.
“So we’re not using folk, which is traditionally associated with protest singers, nor punk, which is associated with rebels.
“Instead we’re using a whole group of other musical influences in order to raise a set of questions and to engage in a narrative about the world.”
Slovo’s first album, Nommo, was released in 2002. It included artists from North and West Africa and elsewhere and consequently was often labelled as “world music”.
While Todo Cambia still draws on a wide range of musical influences, it has a different feel to Nommo.
“During the time I was writing Todo Cambia, I’ve been in London much more and absorbing the sounds of my native Brixton and of London in general,” says Dave.
“So the album’s got a slightly tougher, more urban feel to it. It’s also hooky and accessible – I hope!”
Like Nommo, Todo Cambia hosts a selection of varied and interesting voices, including those of Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy, Venezuela’s radical president Hugo Chavez and the Black Panthers’ George Jackson. It also features work by a Palestinian hip-hop MC – Boikutt of the Ramallah Underground.
I asked Dave whether he felt there was a cultural movement that has arisen out of popular politicisation over the questions of war and the anti-capitalist movement – and whether he thought these movements opened up a space for artists to be more political.
“We are a political group, but there are many others coming from many different genres,” he replied.
“I don’t think they can be put together as a cohesive ‘anti-capitalist scene’. It’s bigger than that and it’s good that it’s bigger than that – it’s something to be celebrated.
“I was very excited on this album to work with Bobby Whiskers, a young MC from east London who’s coming out of a wonderfully politicised UK hip-hop scene.
“There are many other British MCs – Skinnyman, Braintax, Lowkey – who are brilliant artists, most of them young and all of them really political, on point and exciting. There’s all sorts of exciting political music about at the moment.
“Almost all art inevitably and intrinsically has political ramifications in one way or another. The question really is – how do we engage the potential offered to us by art to improve the lot of humankind?”
Slovo’s Todo Cambia is a mixture of global instrumentals, hip-hop, vocals and guitar riffs – and it packs a real political punch. Some of the tracks spell out their message clearly, while others are a little more subtle.
The opening track “Calm And Silent” features lyrics of death and destruction that pierce through tranquil music as if calling to wake us from our slumber.
“Flags” mixes together music with excerpts from political speeches, weaving together Arundhati Roy’s emotionally charged words on the insanity of nationalism with electronic beats and guitar riffs. This is a truly eclectic political record.
Todo Cambia was released in Britain and online on Monday of this week. To download the album or for more details go to » www.slovo.co.uk
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