Sunday, June 17, 2007

Benefit Album for Palestine?

The recent release of Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur got me thinking about why it is that, as the occupation of the West Bank enters its forty-first year, there has never been a comparable benefit album for Palestinians. Why is it that "progressive" pop artists are so timid? Benefit albums for HIV/AIDS victims, for the ethical treatment of animals, for Bengla Desh, against hunger, for Tibet. But Palestine: taboo?

I began to wonder whether one could assemble an imaginary tribute album using tracks already recorded by well-known artists? Unfortunately, I can't think of many. Here's a start, a work in progress.

1. "War Crimes," The Specials (In the Studio, 1984), written by Jerry Dammers.

From one of Britain's best two-tone ska bands, a song about the Sabra-Shatila massacre of 1982. Here are the lyrics.

Bombs to settle arguments, the order of the boot
Can you hear them crying in the rubble of Beirut?

I can still see people dying, now who takes the blame?
the numbers are different, the crime is still the same

From the graves of Belsen where the innocent were burned
To the genocide in Beirut, Israel was nothing learned?

I can still hear people crying, now who takes the blame?
The numbers are different, the crime is still the same

Bombs to settle arguments, the order of the boot
From the graves of Belsen, to the ruins of Beirut

I can still see people dying, now who takes the blame?
The numbers are different, the crime is still the same

(Jerry Dammers has publicly come out in support of the campaign against the apartheid/separation wall.)

2. "PLO Style," Method Man, Tical (1994)

Method Man only invokes the PLO metaphorically, but it's great song nonetheless.

P.L.O. style, Buddha monks with the Owls...
The street life is the only life I know
I live by the code style it's mad P.L.O...

Iranian thoughts and cover like an Arabian
Grab a nigga on the spot and put a nine to his cranium"

Classic Wu!

3. Simon Shaheen & Qantara, "Olive Harvest," Blue Flame (2001).

This instrumental, composed by New York-based Palestinian 'ud and violin master Simon Shaheen, is based on Shaheen's memories of the olive harvest in his native village of Tarshiha, in the Galilee (one of the villages that was not ethnically cleansed in 1947-48). Benefit albums of the sort I am imagining usually feature major stars, but they also often include one or two world music artists. Shaheen is one of the most prominent world musicians of Arab background living in the US, so I think this track qualifies.

4. Roger Waters, "To Kill the Child," "To Kill the Child/Leaving Beirut" (2005).

It’s cold in the desert
And the space is too big
The rope is too short
And the walls are too thick
I will show you no weakness
I will mock you in song
Berate and deride you
Belittle and chide you
Beat you with sticks
And bulldoze your home
You can watch my triumphant procession to Rome
Best seat in the house
Up there on the cross
Is it anger or envy, profit or loss
That we would choose to kill the child

Waters is also active in the campaign against the wall. I'm not a huge fan of Waters, but he does have name recognition.

5. Billy Bragg, "The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie" (single available only online, written in March 2006, to the tune of Bob Dylan's "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll)
Read about the song and download it here:

An Israeli bulldozer killed poor Rachel Corrie
As she stood in its path in the town of Rafah
She lost her young life in an act of compassion
Trying to protect the poor people of Gaza
Whose homes are destroyed by tank shells and bulldozers
And whose plight is exploited by suicide bombers
Who kill in the name of the people of Gaza
But Rachel Corrie believed in non-violent resistance
Put herself in harm's way as a shield of the people
And paid with her life in a manner most brutal

6. Patti Smith, "Qana"

Maybe this doesn't belong here, it's about Lebanon, not Palestine. Patti wrote it last summer during Israel's onslaught on Lebanon, about the airstrike on Qana on July 30, 2006, and she performed it at Lollapalooza in Chicago. You can download it here.

Village is empty
Not a human
Nor a stone
Village is empty
In the village
Children are gone
And a mother rocks
Herself to sleep
Let it come down
Let her weep

And the dead lay in strange shapes

Some stay buried
Others crawl free
Baby didn't make it
Screaming debris
And a mother rocks
Herself to sleep

And the dead lay in strange shapes

Limp little bodies
Caked in mud
Small, small hands
Found in the road
Their talking about
War aims
What a phrase
Bombs that fall
American made
The new Middle East
The Rice woman squeaks
And a mother rocks
Herself to sleep

And the dead lay in strange shapes

Little bodies
Little bodies
Tied head and feet
Wrapped in plastic
Laid out in the street
The new Middle East
The Rice woman squeaks
And a mother rocks
Herself to sleep
Let it come down
Let her weep

And the dead lay in strange shapes

Water to wine
Wine to blood
Ahh Qana
The miracle
Is love
The miracle
Is love

And the dead lay in strange shapes

That's all I can come up with so far. Belle & Sebastian have visited Palestine with War on Want, but I don't know whether they have any relevant songs. Please help me find some more!


islamoyankee said...

The Cure,
"Killing an Arab"
Lyric from here:

I can turn and walk away
Or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky
Staring at the sun
Whichever I choose
It amounts to the same

Absolutely nothing

I'm alive
I'm dead
I'm the stranger
Killing an Arab

Anonymous said...

first of all, "Killing an Arab" totally does not qualify (its more a song about Camus' book "The Stranger").

But here's some songs that do:

-Ani DiFranco has a spoken word piece that gives a shout ou to Palestine

-Mos Def, I think the song is called "what's beef"

-There is of course all of the Palestinian hiphop out there (check out the "free the P" benefit CD) and the Jewish pro-Palestine artist Invincible

-Peter Tosh mentions Palestine, I think in the song "Apartheid".

djleftover said...

Peter Tosh, "Equal Rights"

John Trudell's "Rich Man's War" mentions Palestine in the same breath as Three Mile Island, El Salvador, and Harlem.

Nigel Parry has recorded a number of songs inspired by the situation in Palestine.

And some amateurish band called Bee Children (OK, it's my band) recorded a song called "Balata":

Listen at your own risk... :-)

islamoyankee said...

"Killing an Arab" is about "The Stranger," no argument. However, as cultural artifact doesn't it's use as a peace song give it some additional meaning now? It may not have been written about Palestine (or Iraq, or Lebanon, etc.), but it currently reflects that ethos.

islamoyankee said...

whoops. "its use," not "it's use." sorry.

Commie Curmudgeon said...

Seems to me we would have to include the woman who once claimed that she felt like a "walking Gaza strip," Natacha Atlas. (By the way, in case you don't know, I fairly recently praised your blog(s) on my blog but complained that I couldn't find a post about Natacha Atlas. Of course, I was corrected re. that foolish comment.)

Lyric-wise, I can only comment on the songs that are in English or that are translated. Translated, there's "Bastat" (which I've quoted myself before). I like these lines:

What's all this misinformation all over the world?
Power struggles continue with perpetrators of corruption, a continual cycle of the same condition.
The endless flow of distorted political, religious belief systems that act like an addiction.
Let's break it down, let's make analogies and use anomalies to discover political deception.
Let's analyze, philosoph[iz]e, and sympathize with the millions subject to deprivation and oppression, and let's make it a necessity to become aware.
Lord help us to unite with wisdom.

And then, of course, there's M.I.A. (my other favorite), who got in some trouble for her reference to the P.L.O., in her song "Sunshowers":

Quit bending all my fingo
Quit beating me like you're Ringo
You wanna go?
You wanna winna war?
Like P.L.O., I don't surrendo

Actually, this was more, I think, part of a string of references to her father and his experiences in the Tamil Tigers, who consulted with the P.L.O. But certainly enough to get her into this hypothetical album...

Commie Curmudgeon said...

P.S. Correction: "Bastet." (Bad typo - "Bastat" sounds like some kind of insult :) ...)

Anonymous said...

Checkpoint 303 would be good to add, as well as Le Trio Joubran.

Also, Massive Attack, Primal Scream, Spacemen, Basement Jaxx, Pete Doherty (of Babyshambles), Chrissie Hynde, Sharlene Spiteri of Texas, have all come out to support Palestinians. See

Anonymous said...

there hasn't been a benefit album like they have for HIV/Aids or whatever is cause palestinians don't need charity they need an equal state.