I grew up in Ireland at a time when the Catholic Church had significant power over the people, if not the Government. When Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ was released the film was banned as blasphemous. As a true rebel of the sacred heart I hopped on a bus to London and picked up the soundtrack – on vinyl, and smuggled it back into the country!
Songs that have upset the establishment have a long history of being banned or supressed. In many cases the suppression has been so extreme that writers have been exiled or worse, killed. Such is the power of music.
Norwegian artist Moddi has recorded an album entitled ‘Unsongs’, it is a collection of twelve songs from twelve countries which have, at some stage, in some place been banned or supressed. The songs are re-interpolations by Moddi but what I found fascinating is the story behind these songs and their place in history.
When Billie Holiday wanted to record ‘Strange Fruit’, a 1937 poem about African American lynching’s in the USA, her record label, Columbia feared for the reaction of their retailers in the Southern States and would not record it. They did however release Holiday from her contract to record the song on Commodore.
The BBC were wary of playing songs with an anti-war sentiment during the Gulf War, their DJs allegedly being told to think carefully before playing such songs as Kate Bush’s ‘Army Dreamers’ from the 80s.
What is most concerning is that not all this suppression took place in far gone, unenlightened times gone by – Pussy Riot’s ‘Punk Prayer’ hit the headlines as recently as 2012.
In this collection, Moddi is shining a light on not just the songs but also on the politics of the time. This album is not an easy listen, holding up a mirror to man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. It is however powerful and thought provoking. By singing and arranging them himself he has recorded a consistent and disturbing message.
Perhaps it is the rebel in me that is drawn to this album, perhaps it is my social conscience, or maybe because Moddi and I share a birthday – I don’t know, but who cannot be moved by lyrics like “Learning to kill is a matter of habit, the more you’ve done it, the better you’re at it!
‘Unsongs’ is released on Friday 16th September. If you have Pete Seger’s ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ or Buffy Sainte-Marie’s ‘Universal Soldier’ in your collection you will probably want to add this album.