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David Rovics: Lay-offs, empty highways and songs of inspiration

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US singer-songwriter David Rovics spoke to Jimmy Ross about his musical response to the war and recession
Issue 2152
David Rovics	 (Pic:» Guy Smallman )
David Rovics (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

US anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan has described singer and activist David Rovics as “the peace poet and troubadour for our time”.

David is a Jewish American folk artist from Connecticut. His anti-war and pro-worker lyrics have seen him banned from most mainstream radio stations.

Despite this, he is very popular. I caught up with David during his current tour of Britain.

Many of his new songs touch on the issues currently making millions of people angry and fearful.

David said, “I’ve been mainly writing children’s music over the past two years.

“But one of my new songs I’m performing at the moment is about Somali pirates – and it’s in praise of their efforts.

“My current show has a lot of songs about what is happening in Palestine – the situation is going from bad to worse as the Israeli occupation reaches new levels of horror.

“I was touring in Australia when the Israeli military started laying siege to Gaza, as the shelling and bombing began.

“But even when I got back home to Portland people were still protesting in the streets on a daily basis.

“I’ve also got a new song about the recession. The effects of this are really profound. It seems that anybody working in the private sector in the US is getting laid off.

Empty highways

“The only people that seem to be keeping their jobs are doctors, nurses and some school teachers. One other measure of how the recession is impacting on the US is that there are a lot fewer people driving.

“Nobody’s taking vacations, and the highways are empty. As a touring musician, that’s one of the ways you can take the pulse of people’s disposable incomes.

“People are still coming to shows but they’re not buying as many CDs.”

Barack Obama’s election victory was for David, like so many others, “a thrilling moment”.

He admits that it’s a bit early to make a proper assessment but does say that “in terms of foreign policy it doesn’t look very hopeful with the continued bombing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We saw one of the worst civilian death tolls in the war in Afghanistan take place last week.

“It looks like Obama’s committing lots more money and troops to the war in Afghanistan.

“He’s also talking about keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq for three more years.

“He’s not releasing the photographs of the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib.

“From that point of view his presidency so far doesn’t look very good.

“On the other hand, Obama will make history if he does introduce universal healthcare in the US and gets high-speed trains going across the country.

“If these things, which he’s talking about, actually happen it will be significant and benefit a lot of people in the US.”

Despite the horrors of war and recession produced by capitalism, David is still given hope and inspiration by “the movements throughout the world to try to end this capitalist experiment and put a sane society in its place.

“These social movements have their impact – more in some places than in others. To me Latin America is the beacon of hope in the world.

“There are lot of good people in North America and Europe trying to change things with limited success.

“But the successes are so obviously on display in places like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Argentine.

“There’s a real significant transformation happening in Latin America, as far as I can tell, and it’s not just in one or two countries but spreading across much of the continent.

David sees his job as that of a communicator. He said, “Music, musicians, theatre, documentaries and journalism are all different forms of communicating within society.

“Music and songs have their own particular role. Musicians like me are part of this tradition, which in Latin America they call the nueva canción (new song) movement.

“This sort of movement is widespread.

“It’s global and if it’s done well it can inspire people to keep fighting, let them know they’re part of a community, educate people, depress some and make others happy – even with the same song – depending on where you’re coming from.”

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