Radical music

1 August 2022Comment

'The clocks are turning back now, and everyone must add their voice to the chorus'

Just as the election of Trump caused ripples of increased racism and misogyny the whole world over, so the overturning of Roe v Wade by the US supreme court on 24 June has empowered those who seek to restrict women’s access to reproductive healthcare far beyond the borders of the USA.

In Scotland, there has been a sharp and necessary increase in campaigning to introduce buffer zones around reproductive health centres so that women do not have to face harassment when accessing…

1 June 2022Comment

'What filled my heart so much this May Day was being able to see the solidarity.'

Many of us met in person this year for our first May Day together since 2019. And let me tell you, it was pretty darn exciting!

There were singers, CND marchers, Extinction Rebellion campaigners, pipe bands, young socialists, abortion rights campaigners, Living Rent campaigners, Ukraine Solidarity, young communists, samba drummers, the Radical Independence Campaign, anarchists, and even a gaggle of mummers.

And, of course, there were folk from lots of different unions, with a…

1 April 2022Comment

'It is banned in Russia, and you can be fined for singing it. Such is the danger of song.'

I have a postcard above my desk of a photo Lee Miller captured of the opera singer Irmgard Seefried. She is singing an aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in the bombed-out remains of the Vienna opera house in 1945. The image embodies the words of the cellist of Sarajevo, Vedran Smailović, when asked how he could continue to play music when bombs are being dropped all around: ‘No, the question is how can people drop bombs when there is such beautiful music?’

In 1899, the…

1 February 2022Comment

What point is there in the struggle if not to experience joy together?

Desmond Tutu planned his own funeral, including the music.

It was a simple affair, with a choir singing some of his favourite hymns, some in his home tongue, Setswana.

One of his favourite hymns, ‘Thato ya hao’ includes the line: ‘Give us the joy of all the things you love’.

Joy in the struggle, and the struggle to truly live freely, whoever we are, is a big part of the legacy he leaves us.

What point is there in the struggle if not to experience joy…

1 December 2021Comment

Penny Stone meets the Minga Indigena delegation to COP26

We’ve been privileged in Glasgow during COP26 to have the Minga Indígena delegation of Indigenous leaders from across the American continent.

They have eloquently shared their experiences, fears and hopes alongside a clarion call for global unity and action. And woven through their sharing, like writing through seaside rock, has been song and dance as well as the holding of reflective and connective spaces.

They have called on us in the Western world to recognise that we are…

1 October 2021Comment

Penny Stone looks at some of the ways in which music is being used to fight climate change

Here in Scotland, a year later than expected, COP26 is nearly upon us. As the global climate emergency worsens before our very eyes, world leaders will gather to discuss their collective priorities and plan for action (or inaction).

While the pandemic has amplified the unequal access to this forum for those communities who are most affected, there are many challenges to the COP structure that I’m sure will be addressed by others.

But for grassroots climate activists, it’s…

1 August 2021Comment

Penny Stone goes in search of some English inspiration

Nearly everyone I talk to is feeling a bit weary just now. Weary with the pandemic and all that it means, weary with the chipping away of the welfare state and the lack of honest and compassionate human behaviour demonstrated in Westminster.

Weary with the upsurge of overt racism that Brexit has brought us and weary with fear and anger for the future of the planet and its people, flora and fauna.

It’s the same old stories: divide and conquer; keep the rich getting richer and…

20 July 2021Comment

What incredible strength it takes to stay where you are, to offer food and drink to strangers, and to sing together ...

‘Mawtini, Mawtini…’ ‘My homeland, my homeland / Glory and beauty, sublimity and splendour / Are in your hills, are in your hills’

I first visited the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem in 2009 when I was working as a human rights observer with EAPPI (the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel).

We visited the area because Palestinian residents had been evicted from their homes and Israeli settlers had moved in.

Israeli settlers,…

6 July 2021Comment

Every story we hear, every idea, has the chance to sow a seed of change, of learning, of divergence from the dominant narrative.

In ancient Greece, Plato warned of the danger to the state of 'musical innovation'.

More recently, Leopold I of Belgium wrote to queen Victoria: 'Beware of artists, they mix with all classes of society and are therefore the most dangerous.'

It’s no secret that countless governments have tried to suppress the voices of artists for fear of the power they might have to sow seeds of questions and different ideas in the minds of all people.

3 March was Music Freedom Day,…

4 July 2021Comment

Penny Stone celebrates a historic moment in the struggle against nuclear weapons

22 January saw a landmark moment for the global peace movement – the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons entered into force on 22 January 2021 after it reached its 50th ratification last October. 

When the treaty first came into being, thanks to the work of peace campaigners around the world (under the umbrella of ICAN), we were still able to gather together safely in large numbers. 

There was a great celebration at Faslane, the nuclear weapons base just outside of…

11 December 2020Comment

Penny Stone reminds us that we hear music and see human faces.

As global citizens, we want to change the reality on the ground for people in our immediate communities and those around the world.

We want to stop the pain, level the inequalities and stop the bombs from falling. And, so often, we can’t do that, or we can’t do it quickly enough. So often, we aren’t able to physically intervene to make things better on the ground for our neighbours.

Of course, there is a time for direct action. When we have energy, time and organisation to…

11 December 2020Comment

Penny Stone explores the history of 'the Black National Anthem'

One hundred and twenty years ago, 500 African-American schoolchildren sang ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ for the first time in a segregated school in Florida.

In 2020, the song has been sung on countless Black Lives Matter (BLM) marches, on global stages such as the Coachella music festival (Beyoncé, 2018) and in sports stadiums and at graduations across the USA.

‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ began its life in 1899 when the school principal, James Weldon Johnson, wrote a poem to…

9 December 2020Comment

We have no place sharing songs from other cultures if we're not also actively seeking to work against racism, argues Penny Stone

In my singing and teaching community, there has been increased exploration of what cultural appropriation means in the current global context.

I’m delighted that so many of us are prioritising these conversations that have been ongoing for many years.

I have, of course, been reflecting on my own practice, my privileges and how I can use my voice to uplift and empower others most effectively. This is, as it should always be, an ongoing process.

A useful framing can be to…

8 December 2020Comment

It's too important not to sing just now, says Penny Stone

When the world is in such a turbulent state, it can seem hopeless to ‘just’ sing songs.

I am a great believer in music and action working together, but it is also true that simply singing songs can help to change ideas and perceptions (for better or for worse!).

Music is powerful – if singing songs wasn’t a powerful human act, then governments and dictators wouldn’t bother to ban them.

To give a few of examples, Edwin Starr’s ‘War – yeah, u-huh, what is it good for?!…

1 June 2020Comment

Penny Stone suggests some ways in which white activists can show solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter 

Currrently one of the major challenges for those of us who sing as part of our social protest is that we can’t safely sing together.

Nothing can replace the feeling of singing in harmony together, it’s a physiological and emotional experience that often helps us to channel our anger at social injustices towards a positive outcome, to feel connected to each other in our outrage and if we’re lucky communicate with people who wouldn’t otherwise engage with issues we sing about.