of the Week [Recordings
of Indeterminate Origin]
by a newspaper article on the rising fortunes of weapon makers during
the NATO war on Yugoslavia, I decided to write music celebrating positive
protest against the misuse of money and power. Each piece is inspired
by and dedicated to artists and activists who have creatively challenged
authority, sometimes endangering their own lives, but inspiring the
rest of us to resist."
This is Dave
Douglas' Witness album from 2001, premiered live in concert in Germany
two years before the album's release.
Unfortunately, the listening experience is mixed. On the one hand, the minimalist style - nine men playing like there are only two on stage - could be interpreted as an attempt to reproduce ennui or apathy toward the causes of these unfortunate victims, as it is in life. Douglas dedicated songs to prisoners of conscience - Naguib Mahfouz, Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Nawal el-Saadawi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Eqbal Ahmad and Chandralekha. Each song drags around in search of a melody. The listener finds it hard to listen just as it has been hard for these men and women to have their cases heard in public. The struggle becomes the issue.
Douglas however offers nothing new to jazz as a protest idiom. If you recall Max Roach's We Insist: Freedom Now Suite or Albert Ayler's Music Is The Healing Force of The Universe or Archie Shepp's Things Have Got To Change, each of these albums hit with the force of a hurricane. It left you breathless. This was something new, unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Like the impact of a new idea - that racism was evil.
You don't get much by way of the music on Douglas' Witness. In fact, the playing is so standard, so polite, so accommodating, so friendly that you are irritated. Where's the balls? The sense of outrage has been co-opted into co-operating with the authorities to not protest too loudly. Think non-governmental organizations without teeth.
When actually jazz, or any other music, should take a note from India's anti-colonial leader, Gandhi, who substituted violent protest with a form of non-violent non-cooperation that could unite people to make a difference. Generally, Gandhi preached a protestor should practice boycott. Boycott their products, boycott their activities, boycott their people. That would send a non-violent and peaceful message that you disagree.
Otherwise, it's just another show. - Michael Cheah
[The radio show was broadcast live from Donaueschinger Musiktage, Germany, on Oct 15, 1999. Excellent stereo.]
The Witness group:
[by German radio announcer]
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