Music Notes – April 2016

Mehdi Rabajian

Iranian musician Medhi Rajabian (see below)

Iranian musicians convicted

The International Federation of Musicians and more than a dozen human rights groups are challenging the verdict of an Iranian appeals court that sentenced two musicians and a filmmaker to three years in prison on February 29th. Mehdi Rajabian, a musician and founder of the alternative music distributor BargMusic, his filmmaker brother Hossein Rajabian, and musician Yousef Emadi are charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities”, “spreading propaganda against the system”, and “illegal audio-visual activities”. BargMusic has been notable for its promotion of the work of women musicians in Iran, and for importing music from singers living abroad, some of whose messages are political or address taboo subjects. The verdict comes at a time when dozens of other Iranian musicians, filmmakers, writers, and journalists are being arrested and sentenced to prison terms. Members of the heavy metal band Confess, for example, were arrested in November, and are currently on bail awaiting trial. Two members of the band are charged with blasphemy, potentially a capital crime. As People’s Voice goes to press the Rajabian brothers and Emadi are still awaiting arrest and detention, while an international solidarity campaign seeks to quash their convictions. For more information on human rights in Iran visit

‘Jerusalem’: Hymn to Women’s Suffrage

British musicologist Jeremy Dibble marked both International Women’s Day and the centenary of the U.K.’s “alternate national anthem” with a March 7th article on the progressive UK website “Culture Matters” ( “Jerusalem: A Hymn to Women’s Suffrage” describes how William Blake’s 1808 poem ‘Jerusalem’ was set to music in 1916 by the composer Hubert Parry, and how subsequently the song became the anthem of the suffragette movement. Parry had been commissioned by poet laureate Robert Bridges to set Blake’s poem to music “to sustain the resolve” of Britain during World War I, but he soon had misgivings about its use for military propaganda and withdrew the song from the war effort. Upon learning that it had been adopted by the women’s suffrage movement, he created a full choral arrangement of the song for a massive voting rights rally in March 1918. Later that year Parry assigned copyright to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Copyright was held by the NUWSS and its successor, the Women’s Institutes, until it entered the public domain in 1968. The song ‘Jerusalem’ has been embraced by many socialists, including the great African-American singer Paul Robeson, because of its stirring music and Blake’s visionary language: “I will not cease from mental fight/nor shall my sword sleep in my hand/’til we have built Jerusalem/in England’s green and pleasant land”.

Celebrating Phil Ochs at 75

Radical American folksinger Phil Ochs, who took his own life in 1976, has never really been forgotten, but his influence has grown noticeably in recent years. It’s surely a sign of the times that young activists are rediscovering this composer and singer of protest songs like “Draft Dodger Rag”, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”, “Cops of the World”, “Love Me I’m a Liberal”, and enduring ballads like “Changes” and “There But For Fortune”. Last fall the Facebook group “Celebrating Phil Ochs” was launched to observe the his 75th birthday. The site’s hosts have subsequently decided to keep it going as a Phil Ochs forum. It currently has about 2400 members. The latest manifestation of the resurgence of interest in Phil Ochs is the release of “We’re Going to Sing It Now!”, a compilation Cd from the creators of the Facebook group. The sixteen tracks on this well-produced album are performed by artists who, while relatively obscure, are worth discovering. Incidentally, David Rovics, the contemporary troubadour most often compared to Phil Ochs, has contributed a song, the activist anthem “When I’m Gone”. Visit for ordering info and bios of the artists.

Alí Primera: People’s Singer (1941-1985)

In the 1970s, many exponents of Latin America’s progressive nueva cançion (‘new song’) movement could be heard around the world. Activists in North America, inspired by the Cuban revolution and moved by the shock of counterrevolution in Chile, listened regularly to artists like Victor Jara, Pablo Milanes, Violeta Parra, Silvio Rodriguez, and Mercedes Sosa. But there were many other important artists who were relatively unknown in El Norte. Alí Primera, the ‘People’s Singer’ of Venezuela, is a prime example. Primera composed dozens of eloquent songs expressing the struggles of the Venezuelan people and their resistance to imperialism. As an introduction to Primera, two songs would be a good place to begin: “Yo No Se Filosofar” (“I Don’t Know How to Philosophize”), and “Casas de Carton” (“Houses of Cardboard”). The original recordings are available on YouTube, as are English translations of the lyrics. A museum is dedicated to Alí Primera in the Venezuelan town of Coro, and both his birthday and the anniversary of his premature death in an automobile accident are officially commemorated.


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