Radical Music: Charlotte Church

IssueApril - May 2024
Comment by Penny Stone

I remember Charlotte Church’s rise to fame as a very young classical singer, and I was vaguely aware of the diversity of musical voyages she embarked upon as she grew into an adult. 

Years later, I re-encountered her in a new light when Welsh friends began talking about her as a grounded and committed activist voice. I heard about her support for local community, wellbeing and environmental campaigns, and for the Palestinian people.

Côr Cochion Caerdydd (Cardiff Reds) are part of our beautiful Campaign choirs network. They, along with so many of us, have been singing for many years for the liberation of Palestine, and justice for the Palestinian people. 

We often sing slightly adapted songs that were sung in solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, helping to make the links between those two racist systems, as well as trying to carry a glimmer of hope from the South African struggle to remind the Palestinians that systems of injustice can be toppled.

Charlotte joined with Côr Cochion to hold a day of singing solidarity with Palestinian people in early March. Friends who sang found it to be a very powerful and connecting day, and wee videos of singing in Welsh, English and Arabic carry complex and emotional stories about people’s right to self-determination, justice and equality.

In an interview with Novara Media, Charlotte talked about the importance of engaging with our hearts, ‘not just our minds and critical capacity’. She talks about using her skills as an artist to ‘try and help people understand… [and] connect with the emotions, and connect with the deep injustice of what is going on.’

One of the things that Charlotte has been criticised for in the media is for singing the phrase ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. She responds in an in-depth blog piece by saying ‘I do not believe that the phrase… is in any way a call for the ethnic cleansing or genocide of Israelis, and certainly when I have used it or heard it used by other people, it has always been as a call for the liberation of Palestine… A call for one group’s liberation does not imply another’s destruction.’

In her interview with Novara Media, Charlotte said that ‘every single activist I have met, every march, in every context that I’ve ever heard it sung, has always been for the human rights and for the equal liberty of Palestinian people as well as Israeli people on the lands of Palestine and Israel.’

This too has been my experience of the use of this slogan, and I know how important it is to my Palestinian friends, especially in this moment, as an expression of the Palestinian people’s right to life. But I also have Jewish friends who find the phrase difficult, as they hear in it a call for the total eradication of the state of Israel and feel threatened by it themselves. 

Although the phrase has been in use for decades before Hamas even existed, there remains a reality that in 2017 Hamas took up this slogan to mean not just the liberation of the Palestinian people, but also the eradication of Israeli people.

But for the vast majority of people, it is about acknowledging the reality of historic Palestine, and the varying layers of injustice experienced by Palestinian people today, whether they live in Gaza, the occupied West Bank or Israel, as well as connecting with the global Palestinian diaspora, many of whom are living in long-term exile from their homeland. 

Maria Rashed, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, wrote last October: ‘Let’s be clear: one can support Palestinians’ right to resist and end the occupation without supporting Hamas.’

In her article (which is well worth a read in full, see link below) Charlotte talks about ‘double-speak’, which so many of us are familiar with, particularly in some media and political framing of events in Palestine/Israel. And there remains for me something jarring about people who supported the South African freedom struggle, but who fail to give the same support to the Palestinian freedom struggle.

What singing does for my community, and campaign choirs all around the UK and the world, is bring us together not just to express our opposition to something so wrong in the world as the deliberate and globally-visible killing of thousands of innocent civilians, including thousands of children, but it also gives us time and space to feel connected.

Watching Charlotte Church use her platform to sing and speak out for real justice is heartening for so many of us who have been singing and campaigning in this issue for years. Seeing another activist stand firm helps us all to keep standing firm.

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