Chumbawamba’s activist, pop agenda

In their concerts they like to mix theater with politics, while their main concern is to make audiences dance. Though a leading contemporary rock band, Chumbawamba reject this definition, opting instead for putting Bertold Brecht’s teachings into practice. Even though their albums sell millions of copies, they still live in Leeds, while remaining at the forefront of anti-globalization demonstrations. A few days before their appearances in Greece, Kathimerini spoke to founding Chumbawamba member Alice Nutter (violin, vocals). One of the songs in your upcoming album is «On e-bay,» which refers to the looting of the Archaeological Museum in Baghdad during the war… We are looking at how local cultures are shrinking under the pressure of a global – yet essentially Western-born – culture. As far as Baghdad is concerned, this is not just about a regime occupying the land and its people, but also about ruling over its culture, what gives meaning to people’s lives. The occupying forces are not paying any attention to local cultural heritage – and that is indicative of their own culture. Right from the start you supported the anti-war movement, yet despite all the reaction there was a war. Does this point to the pacifists’ inability to put across their own opinions? The anti-war movement proved particularly strong. The demonstrations were massive, the biggest since the Vietnam era – one million people marched in London, three million in Rome. A large part of the population was mobilized. The problem, however, was that the media ignored public sentiment, downgrading the reaction. On the other hand, Tony Blair’s stance was firm. He did everything in his power to confirm – responsibly – the stories told by the Americans. He stressed on every occasion that Britain’s future lay in going along with the United States, irrespective of whether the latter was following the right political path or not. Yet the majority of Britons did not want to get involved in this war; they dealt with it with great skepticism. Today, the anti-war movement has been corroborated, since, in the end, no weapons of mass destruction were found. How would you define yourselves politically? Labels are irrelevant. In the last five years, the anti-globalization movement managed to bring together people from the entire political spectrum, from extreme leftists and anarchists to conservatives. This is exactly the movement we belong to. Three years ago during a festival in Athens, you were accused of taking advantage of this movement. We have often been accused of this. They forget however, that the money we make goes to the movement. At the same time our music reaches a broad spectrum, our albums enter the homes of millions of people. As people, we are exactly the same people we were 20 years ago. We still do the same thing, playing pop music. We believe that an artist’s responsibility is to turn his art into a weapon for expressing the world he lives in. You mix different, often contradictory musical styles. Is this, perhaps, what will define 21st-century music? We don’t have a single musical theory determining the way we compose our songs. Music creates emotions, but it’s also created from emotions. If something expresses our feelings, then we use it. We like dancing and millions of rhythms and tunes from all over the world. What you present on stage resembles a theater production: changing costumes, using acting methods. Are you dramatizing music? We are not staging a musical, but yes, we do interpret characters, each song’s character. Don’t forget that, on stage, even a typical rock band interprets the role of a rock band! What does the song «We Don’t Want to Sing» refer to? The Columbine massacre – where two schoolkids began shooting their classmates. The dominant culture puts pressure on people, it isolates them and when they find themselves in tragic circumstances or unlucky coincidences, they reproduce the kind of violence they have been taught by television – the dominant culture’s major conveyor. In this particular case, these «peculiar» kids were never taught how to look for means of expressing their feelings. That’s why they became assassins, since they couldn’t manifest how they felt. In the beginning of your career, you recorded your work through your own label. Then you signed a contract with a multinational company and today, you are back with an independent label. First of all, we are bad businessmen! We record albums – and we enjoy doing so – but we can’t be bothered to promote them. Our heart is with the music and not in some kind of office where we have to manage those working for us. Naturally we want to be able to control our circulation, and that is why we always end up looking for the right balance. This is the third time you have come to Greece. Do you like our country? The image I have of Greece comes solely through Athens. I like the fact that the past is part of the present, this widespread notion that the city’s culture continues through time. And how could I forget Greek cuisine! The interview was translated from the Greek text.

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