Episode 49

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Published on:

18th May 2022

Episode 49: Art and Upheaval

Notable Mentions

For this episode of Change the Story Change the World we are going to revisit some of those Art and Upheaval stories along with the song of the same name to make a point. Yea, some people think you can’t beat the devil with a song, but they don’t know!

Art & Upheaval (song) From the CD Songlines by Cleveland Plainsong:

Art & Upheaval: Artists at Work on the World’s Frontlines, New Village Press

Change the Story Change the World

South African Bill of Rights: The Bill of Rights is arguably the part of the Constitution that has had the greatest impact on life in this country. As the first words of this chapter say: "This Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom."

It has also been the source of the majority of the groundbreaking rulings the Constitutional Court has handed down. To read more about selected rights and the way the Constitutional Court has interpreted them, see children's rights, women's rights, gay and lesbian rights, workers' rights and access to information.

Art for Humanity: engages with multidisciplinary arts practice and a wide variety of creative practice within the context of the pressing need for the centering of social justice in our contemporary moment. Based primarily in Durban, the organization aims to support, host, document, create space for, catalyze, and help stimulate this intersection between the arts and questions of history, social transformation and social justice. 

Bishop Desmond Tutu: was a South African Anglican bishop and theologian, known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist. He was Bishop of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986 and then Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996, in both cases being the first black African to hold the position. Theologically, he sought to fuse ideas from black theology with African theology.

Khmer Rouge: The Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), otherwise known as the Khmer Rouge, took control of Cambodia on April 17, 1975. The CPK created the state of Democratic Kampuchea in 1976 and ruled the country until January 1979. The party’s existence was kept secret until 1977, and no one outside the CPK knew who its leaders were (the leaders called themselves “Angkar Padevat”).

While the Khmer Rouge was in power, they set up policies that disregarded human life and produced repression and massacres on a massive scale. They turned the country into a huge detention center, which later became a graveyard for nearly two million people, including their own members and even some senior leaders.

Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture:  Reyum was a non-profit, non-governmental organisation dedicated to Cambodian arts and culture. Reyum was founded by Ly Daravuth and Ingrid Muan (1964 - 2005) in December 1998 in order to provide a forum for research, preservation, and promotion of traditional and contemporary Cambodian arts and culture.  

Watts Writers Workshop: was a creative writing group initiated by screenwriter Budd Schulberg in the wake of the devastating August 1965 Watts Riots in South Central Los Angeles (now South Los Angeles). Schulberg later said: "In a small way, I wanted to help.... The only thing I knew was writing, so I decided to start a writers' workshop."[1] The group, which functioned from 1965 to 1973, was composed primarily of young African Americans in Watts and the surrounding neighborhoods. Early on, the Workshop included a theatrical component and one of the founders was the actor Yaphet Kotto. The group expanded its facilities and activities over the next several years with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Government files later revealed that the Workshop had been the target of covert operations by the FBI. Writers involved in the Workshop include Quincy Troupe, Samuel Harris Jr better known as Leumas Sirrah, Johnie Scott, Eric Priestley, Ojenke, Herbert Simmons, and Wanda Coleman, as well as the poetry group Watts Prophets.

Amde Hamilton: Father Amde is widely recognized for being one of the original poets in the world famous Watts Writers Workshop during the 1960’s, where he and two other poets formed the legendary rap group, the Watts Prophets. Amid racism, poverty, and police brutality that ultimately sparked the Watts Riots, the Watts Writers Workshop tapped into the young, Black voices of Los Angeles that needed to be heard. 

Watts Prophets: The Watts Prophets are a group of musicians and poets from WattsCalifornia, United States. Like their contemporaries The Last Poets, the group combined elements of jazz music and spoken-word performance, making the trio one that is often seen as a forerunner of contemporary hip-hop music. Formed in 1967, the group comprised Richard Dedeaux, Father Amde Hamilton (born Anthony Hamilton), and  (See Also Art and Upheaval: Chapters 11, 12. 13) 

DAH Teatar: (Research Center for Culture and Social Change) dah theatre is a professional theatre troupe and research center. Working at the crossroads between theatre, dance, and the visual arts, through dedicated team work, for 30 years dah creates daring artistic forms that inspire personal and social transformation. 

Slobodan Milosevic: (born August 29, 1941, Požarevac, Yugoslavia [now in Serbia]—found dead March 11, 2006, The Hague, Netherlands), politician and administrator, who, as Serbia’s party leader and president (1989–97), pursued Serbian nationalist policies that contributed to the breakup of the socialist Yugoslav federation. He subsequently embroiled Serbia in a series of conflicts with the successor Balkan states. From 1997 to 2000 he served as president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Bertold Brecht:  known professionally as Bertolt Brecht,[a] was a German theatre practitionerplaywright, and poet. Coming of age during the Weimar Republic, he had his first successes as a playwright in Munich and moved to Berlin in 1924, where he wrote The Threepenny Opera with Kurt Weill and began a lifelong collaboration with the composer Hanns Eisler. Immersed in Marxist thought during this period, he wrote didactic Lehrstücke and became a leading theoretician of epic theatre (which he later preferred to call "dialectical theatre") and the Verfremdungseffekt.

The Troubles: also called Northern Ireland conflict, violent sectarian conflict from about 1968 to 1998 in Northern Ireland between the overwhelmingly Protestant unionists (loyalists), who desired the province to remain part of the United Kingdom, and the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nationalists (republicans), who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the republic of Ireland. Marked by street fighting, sensational bombings, sniper attacks, roadblocks, and internment without trial, the confrontation had the characteristics of a civil war, notwithstanding its textbook categorization as a “low-intensity conflict.” Some 3,600 people were killed and more than 30,000 more were wounded before a peaceful solution, which involved the governments of both the United Kingdom and Ireland, was effectively reached in 1998, leading to a power-sharing arrangement in the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

The Wedding Community Play: The Wedding Community Play Project is not a title which trips easily off the tongue, and those of us suspicious of any artform which privileges "process" over "product" might be forgiven for approaching with trepidation a play which wears its origins so openly. Co-written by Martin Lynch and Marie Jones, along with seven different community theatre groups from different areas of Belfast, The Wedding threatens, on the face of it, to be a horse designed by a committee, especially given the political delicacy of some of the issues it addresses in dramatising the effects of a mixed marriage.

Song Exploder: is a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. Each episode is produced and edited by host and creator Hrishikesh Hirway in Los Angeles. Using the isolated, individual tracks from a recording, Hrishikesh asks artists to delve into the specific decisions that went into creating their work. Hrishikesh edits the interviews, removing his side of the conversation and condensing the story to be tightly focused on how the artists brought their songs to life. Guests include Fleetwood Mac, Billie Eilish, U2, Metallica, Solange, Lorde, Yo-Yo Ma, The Roots, Bon Iver, and more. 

 

 

 

 

Transcript

Art and Upheaval

nd destruction. I wrote it in:

Some people think you can’t beat the devil with a song! Actually, I would bet that most folks, including you, would agree. And I get that, I really do. That’s the story we all grew up with—Art is not powerful, is soft – even weak.

One of the questions I was asked over and over when I was touring the book was whether I really believe human creativity and imagination could help vanquish the forces of evil. My answer then, and now is absolutely. Not as a matter of faith, or conviction, but because I have seen it firsthand, in America’s prisons and jails, in war torn Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland, in post Khmer Rouge Cambodia, in South Africa, in Watts California, the list goes on, and on.

Needless to say, today’s headlines remind us that those terrible, fearful frontlines are an ever-present feature of human existence. Sometimes we notice, sometimes we don’t. I get that too.

That said, For this episode of Change the Story Change the World we are going to revisit some of those Art and Upheaval stories along with the song of the same name to make a point. Yea, some people think you can’t beat the devil with a song, but they don’t know!

Before I crank up the Victrola again, I’d like to begin with some digital distance calisthenics, if you’re willing. The muscles I’d like us to exercise are pretty easy to find but often overlooked. Some people call them the imaginative muscles. So here we go. Just relax. Close your eyes if you like and open your minds as you consider the following scenes.

Imagine working in a theater company for no money 12 hours a day six days a week crafting performances that few will ever see and will likely land you in jail.

Imagine hundreds of newly minted art school graduates whose number one goal is to use their talent and creativity to advance democracy and economic justice across the land.

Imagine a solo exhibit of paintings as one of the only visual records of a reign of terror in which over 2 million people died.

Imagine an internationally recognized writers program, forced into bankruptcy and burned to the ground by a government that feared its power to change hearts and minds.

Imagine street performance and graffiti art that somehow help to bring down a brutal despot and end a decade of war.

Imagine having to cancel your afterschool dance class due to local bombing.

Imagine a Supreme Court building that is an art gallery with judges as docents.

Imagine having to sit down with rival militia leaders to negotiate the individual lines of your community play.

Imagine poetry readings conducted at the barrel of a gun.

Imagine waking up every day knowing that your work as an artist, as an arts administrator even, is critical to the survival of your people.

Imagine knowing that your artmaking could get you killed and doing it anyway.

Imagine hearing this from one of your country’s most respected spiritual and political leaders.

“These images powerfully complement the words of the Bill of Rights. Given our history, they serve as an apt reminder that words, however inspiring and lyrical, have been used as much to subvert as to create. It is therefore necessary to portray our commitment to human rights in pictures which are less open to corruption.”

u, spoken at the opening of a:

the privilege of taking from:

A year later I released a CD with some songs that were inspired by the stories in the book. For this episode of Change the Story / Change the World I’m going to dig into the song Art and Upheaval and the stories they represent. I want to begin with a shout out to my musical partner in crime for Alan Freedman. I know its a cliché, but its true, No Alan, No recording without his brilliant production chops, his fabulous basslines, and his friendship, that music would still be in my head, keeping me up at night.

In fact, It was Alan’s idea to assemble and record our rhythm section first, and then build a different ensemble on top for every song on the CD. On the Art and Upheaval track in addition to the drums, base and rhythm guitar there were seven other players including a horn section.

As I said each verse represents one of the stories in the book. I have to say, making this song was an extraordinary journey of music and history. In these two verses we traveled to Cambodia and South Africa

In the crimson flood

of the killing field

we are going to beat our drums

till the plague dogs yield

The feral child

in the glow appears

she is the shaman at the gates

till the cracked bell peels

worked to bring Cambodia’s:

That feral child in the second verse comes from the South African story I shared. It alludes to the wild new spirit of democracy trying to find its way in through the pried opened gates of the newly re-born South Africa.

Here's another verse from the song that tells a distinctly American story about rap, poets, revolution, and a place called Watts

The poet stands

in the streets of fire

you know his feet are gonna burn

but he speaks his mind

es of poverty and neglect, In:

One of the few bright spots to emerge in the aftermath of what some call the Watts Rebellion was the creation of the Watts Writers Workshop. Starting small as the smoke was just settling on 103rd St., the workshop became a magnet for writers of all kinds in community that, believe it or not, had not one library for more than 600,000 souls.

For some the workshop was an introduction to the power of words. For others it was a needed way station to a life of writing. The work that rose up revealed a mother lode distinctive and talented voices.

One of those voices was a young man named Amde Hamilton.

Pimping Leaning and Feaning

Pimping leaning, and feaning

Some think my things is rest, dress, and request

Sometimes I don’t have a permanent address

I’m a thinking man

Forced to play a survival game, lame

I’m and educated man

with a doctor’s degree

from SWU, Sidewalk University

Pimping, leaning, and feaning

Shit, I ain’t dreaming

Leaning and Feaning from his:

Here’s what Amde had to say in the book about the power of words.

I learned the power of words in the insane asylum. I had a doctor who was insane. And he had control of me. He told me I had a problem and I said I didn’t have a problem. He said, explain to me then, why you don’t have a problem... I thought I had a pretty nice gift for gab, so I started laying it out When I got through, he sat back and he took every word that I said, and tore them into little pieces and threw it back into my face. He destroyed me with my own words. It made me see the power of words. I walked out of that room I said to myself, ‘someday am going to learn how use that power.’

Amde Hamilton

After he was released Amde eventually learned to harness that power at the Watts Writers Workshop. While there he joined fellow writers Richard Dedeaux and Otis O’Solomon to form the Watts Prophets. The book chronicles the Prophet’s 40-year history as pioneering urban poets who laid the foundations for rap, hip hop, the rise spoken word performance and mentored multiple generations of Los Angeles writers

Unfortunately, loss, and betrayal were a regular presence in the Prophet’s story. But, so was their resilience and their numerous rebounds. Actually, Losing something that is precious, and creating a path to the next chapter is a constant for all the stories in the book.

This pattern of apparent endings and rebirth is also at the heart of the song's chorus, which begins with a shrugging recognition of the audaciousness of the tune’s song beats devil premise. But then doubles down on it with the challenge, “Go ahead, take my voice away, I'll just start dancing.” And, if you take my legs, I'll be singing.” And finally, “You could take my life, but what I've created, my art will live forever.”

Chorus

Some people think you can’t

beat the devil with a song

but they don't know

they don't know

Take my voice

I’m a dancer

Take my legs

And I will sing

Take my life

And the anthem of my ashes

Will dance in the wind

Will always dance in the wind

Another recurring element in the Prophet’s story is fire, both metaphoric and literal. This is true as well, for Serbia’s Dah Teatar

The curtain burns

and the stage defiled

We are going to speak in tongues

till we heal the lie

ed the former Yugoslavia from:

ormance in Beograd in July of:

The afternoon is steamy. The hot concrete on the (Square of the Republic) is thick with workers intent on the journey home. Dijana and Jadranka shuffle back and forth in the art gallery on the edge of the square watching the rushing river of people through the windows. Arms crossed, staring out into the square, they try not to look like novice theater directors waiting for their first curtain. But this is impossible.

There is no curtain, and they are literally sweating with worry—worry and fear. What did they think they were doing? Years of training for the stage, only to debut here on the street in the middle of rush hour—bearing witness to an epidemic of not knowing, speaking words that have been disappeared, forgotten?

They had all agreed, this performance was unavoidable. This war that “does not exist” is destroying their country. The Bosnian, Serbia and Croatian men who are “not” being pulled from their beds in the middle of the night, never to return, can no longer be ignored. The cries of children who are “not” being cleansed from the cradle of their homelands must be heard. The mothers with “no” tears cannot remain invisible. In this interminable year of these things “not” happening the noxious cloud of denial has obscured the Serbian sun. Someone must speak.

It is time. The actors shed the coats that cover their black costumes and golden wings. SLIDE One by one they begin the action, first in the gallery, and then, stepping purposefully into the square. Solo journeys merge and break apart, then merge again. The surging crowd changes course to avoid the black forms moving against and across the flow. A few slow, glancing haltingly at the incongruous wings springing back and forth on the crude harnesses attached

to the actor’s backs. Slowly, one of the actors, Maja Mitic, begins singing the lyrics culled from Bertold Brecht’s anti-war songs.

“In the dark times, will there be singing in the dark times? Yes, there will be singing about the dark times.”

The sun’s last golden glow mingles with the glint of streetlights. Jadranka holds her breath as the angels maintain their circuitous journey across the square to the empty fountain at the center. The singing continues.

“When evil doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out stop! When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible.

When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in the summer.”

The actors move more intensely, trading lines that ring out across the square. Though Brecht’s lyrics are sixty years removed, they are shocking to hear.

“When the leaders speak of peace The common folk know

That war is coming.

When the leaders curse war

The mobilization order is already written out.”

There is no mistaking what is being said here. This romance of blood and soil is an obscenity. With each passing line, the ugliness of the war is materializing in the Square. And now, as more people stop and cluster, the congregation of angels is accorded the space they need to complete their mission.

Dijana scans the crowd. There are people in suits, mothers and children, students with their book bags and, yes, men in uniforms.

Slowly it dawns on her that there are soldiers everywhere, watching the action, glancing nervously at each other, cradling their weapons. She feels like an acrophobic on the edge of a cliff, anticipating the gust of wind that will tip the balance one way or the other.

She is both exhilarated and terrified by the danger premature conclusion. But as the actors continue, nobody moves. They are all listening.

YEAH, Some people think you can’t beat the devil with a song or a painting or a play.

You know, when I started researching my book and looking for publisher a few folks were encouraging but others thought I was just crazy. They said, sure you might stumble on a stray artist here trying to survive in the trenches but, give me a break, no artist worth their salt is going to be willing or able to do serious work in these conditions.

I thought they were wrong, but I had no idea how wrong until I started to do my research. In a few short weeks of internet searches, conversations and with colleagues around the world I found over 500 stories of what I was calling art and upheaval. Since that time, I have found thousands more with thousands of variations in context and intention along the way.

I have come to know—that if you scratch the surface of a human disaster, you will find artists doing astonishingly courageous work in the midst of chaos and destruction.

You might ask, why, what moves them

To live, to eat, to kindle the human spirit, ---

to bring peace, or to resolve conflict,

to manifest beauty in the face of horror,

or to reveal the ugly truth in the face of denial,

to rally, or bring order

or to educate and inspire,

to entertain, to heal, ----

and most of all to tell the story,—

directly, obtusely, in code, as a joke,

as a song in a pub,

a poem or a painting on the wall,

as a play unfolding in cramped a living room –

as a dance in the streets.

I think you would all agree that we live in time and place where our fellow citizens, our families, communities and institutions searching for a way to bring some kind of balance to an out of kilter world. A balance between the safe and the challenging, the material and the transcendent, tradition and modernity, opportunity and responsibility, chaos and order. A balanced future that honors and respects all of the community’s stories. A balanced community that trusts itself to embrace the full range of these stories—the good and the bad. The settling and the unsettling.

I think these stories about artists making a difference in some of the world’s most out of kilter places could teach us something about using the creative process bring some balance to our own communities. In the end, that’s what most of us are out their working for. --- Communities that engage their creators to help weave a strong fabric out of the many stories to define our histories, our struggles, our values, our beliefs and our dreams.

We are going to conclude this episode of Change the Story / Change the World by playing Art and Upheaval in its entirety with a nod to Hrishikesh Hirway and his fabulous podcast Song Exploder, and a thanks to our composer Judy Munsen for the wonderful soundscape she created for this episode.

e you to Northern Ireland, in:

If you are interested in learning more about these artists workin on the worlds frontlines check out the links to Art and Upheaval the tune, and the book in our show notes.

So, for Change the Story / Change the World, I’m Bill Cleveland. Thank you for listening. Stay well, do good, and spread the good word

Art & Upheaval:

The poet stands

in the streets of fire

you know his feet are gonna burn

but he speaks his mind

The curtain burns and the stage defiled

We are going to speak in tongues

till we heal the lie

Chorus

Some people think you can’t

beat the devil with a song

but they don't know

they don't know

Take my voice

I’m a dancer

Take my legs

And I will sing

Take my life

And the anthem of my ashes

Will dance in the wind

Will always dance in the wind

In the crimson flood

of the killing field

we are going to beat our drums

till the plague dogs yield

The feral child

in the glow appears

she is the shaman at the gates

till the cracked bell peels

Chorus

On the broken road

the signs appear

Oh and the when silence breaks

you know the fake gods fear

the soldier veers

Through the fission clouds

He is livin’ half a life

till the songlines clear

Chorus

Show artwork for Change the Story / Change the World

About the Podcast

Change the Story / Change the World
A Chronicle of Art & Transformation
Poets, dancers, and painters at war with white supremacy, COVID, criminal militias, and Milosevic? Muralists, musicians, and actors, making a difference in homeless shelters, planning departments, emergency rooms, and death row? Sound delusional? Yea, sure, but also true! And when creativity confronts destruction, and imagination faces fear, in places like Ferguson, Johannesburg, Belfast and San Quentin surprising things happen.

Our stories help shape and sustain our beliefs and actions. Bill Cleveland believes that meeting the challenges of the 21st century will require a revolution of thought and deed— in essence, a new set of stories powerful enough to change beliefs and behaviors.

Change the Story/ Change the World is a chronicle of art and community transformation across the globe. In each episode, Bill will introduce listeners to creative change agents working to re-imagine and recreate the social, political, and cultural narratives that define their communities. Join us
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