“Refugee is a musically and textually perfect track….” – Wasser-Prawda (Germany)

Wasser-Prawda (Click here for original German text.)

Refugees, Violence and Poverty – Political Issues in Current Blues Songs

If you listen to new blues albums, more and more frequently you will find the most up-to-date political and social issues. Or old songs are re-interpreted, with the message still or always up-to-date. Here is small cross-section of current releases.

A deep groove from the Delta, a stoic riff of the guitars, a pearly piano and a story told by different voices. Suddenly one is in the middle in the flight over the Mediterranean. Delta Moon tell the story in “Refugee” from the point of view of the refugees, which you can see briefly in the news, but which hardly ever really reaches to our proximity. “Refugee” is a musically and textually perfect track, a song that you cannot play and hear often enough.

With his latest album “Migration Blues”, Eric Bibb draws the parallels between the escape from the Delta in search of a better life at the beginning of the 20th century and today’s refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Thus he portrays the simple life in the Delta as well, the consequences of long-standing drought at that time, or praying for a safe coast. Accompanied by the French harp virtuoso Jean-Jaques Milteau and guests like Big Daddy Wilson, an album is created in the sound of the classic Delta blues, which is hardly to be surpassed for realness.

Unless one accesses “Manic Revelations” by songwriter Pokey LaFarge. In the sound of the soul of the ’50s and ’60s, the musician sings about revolts in the USA in the face of increasing police violence, from the escape from the news to the seemingly apolitical country. This comes with a partly intersecting humor, which can make the hardness more bearable.

And here Lafarge is akin to John Nemeth, the Soulblueser, who has been living in Memphis for a number of years. With him, the everyday gun violence in the US comes along in a loose-footed party sound and a call not to let the brains fog, as in the funk of the 60s. “They Never Pay Me” by Gina Sicilia, on the other hand, is musically close to the blues singers of the 1920s, a lament about poverty and social injustice.

Blues was already in its beginnings more than music for the entertainment or the temporary escape from the everyday life with dance. Blues musicians have always told their songs of social issues, of the experience of injustice and violence, but also of the joy of developments for the good. This function of the blues musicians as political and social commentators led to the soul music of the ’50s and ’60s. And then the rappers more and more took over this position. But times such as today lead to the fact that the blues musicians are more aware of their social function. The artists listed here are probably only a part of the current scene, an encouragement to go out on their own to search for songs beyond the pub, dance and love-affair.

Road Music

When Delta Moon travels, we’re not just playing music. We’re listening too. We were lucky to hear a lot of great live music over the last few weeks in Europe, both onstage and off.

In Calabria, Italy, we got a great taste of the ancient local music tradition (and an outstanding taste of spaghetti) at our friend Saro’s house, where we met Michele (Mi-KAY-lay), who played the three-stringed Calabrian lira.

Then at a roadside bar on a nearby mountain we heard a tambourine and squeezebox version of the same song.

It’s an ancient tune called the “Tarentella.” There’s a dance that goes with it, a kind of step right and shuffle then step left and shuffle, and apparently once the party gets started it can last for three or four hours at a stretch. “We have a saying in Calabria,” says our friend Enzo, “– that pig has only three hairs, meaning that song has only two chords.”

We saw a lot of Italian bands. The Southern Gentlemen League, a Southern rock band from southern Italy, are good friends who stayed at Mark’s house when they visited America last year. On this trip they lent us their van, opened a few shows, and all came to see us off at the airport. It felt like the end of a movie. Red Light is a fantastic band from Sicily we’ve seen three times now. We also had memorable jams with Blue Cat Blues and Gió Vescovi.

And there were other Americans around, too. Grayson Capps  performed a great set at Buscadero Day on the shore of Lake Como. The last time I’d shared a stage with him was at the Frog Pond in Fairhope, Alabama.  I had a very pleasant lunch at the beach with Gina Sicilia, an excellent singer from Nashville.

But by far our favorite show of the trip was the Nikki Hill Band in Soria, Spain. Nikki opened with “Sweet Little Rock and Roller” and then continued with some original songs, a few Ike Turner gems — “You like to dance? Well, here’s another” — closing her final encore with AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood.” The band kept whipping up the festival audience, and the audience kept sending more and more energy right back. When they came off backstage the band members were walking ten feet high, saying over and over, “I love Spanish audiences!” It was a terrific experience.

(Photo at top by Arianna Ligi.)