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Chumbawamba!

Updated: Sep 14, 2023


 


“Celebration is a kind of food we all need in our lives, and each individual brings a special recipe or offering, so that together we will make a great feast. Celebration is a human need that we must not, and can not, deny. It is richer and fuller when many work and then celebrate together.”

Corita Kent


“Celebrate good times, come on (Let's celebrate)”

Kool & The Gang



Film still of a lip-dub street party in the Spanish village of Taradell, to the tune of a hit by the British anarcho-punk-rock-folk band Chumbawamba, July 2010




Minstrels

In the previous installment of this blog, I recounted the passing of my wife Agnes' mother.

I talked about how witnessing this process of dying -the fourth passing in our family in just a few years- also caused me to slow down, and to reflect on my goals with A Biosphere Project. But I also stated that we could perhaps also see death more as a cause for joy and even celebration.

I took the time to consider what my intention is, essentially. What am I trying to do, if I have to reduce it to one simple sentence? What is my main intention for the coming year and years to come? Faced with the seemingly endlessly complex and difficult situation we find ourselves in (the scope and implications of which I tried to outline in the second part of my essay ‘Let us not talk about the climate crisis any longer’), what is the contribution I am essentially trying to make?

Summarized in one sentence, I would like to help spread a new story. Just as the minstrels in the Middle Ages traveled around and told their stories to teach the public in all the regions they visited, I would like to make my contribution in helping spread a different story about the world than what we (or at least most of us) are used to. And like the minstrels, I would also like to do this through travel. Stories are able to convey wisdom and truths that cannot be conveyed in any other form. And that process of storytelling is much needed. For as radical ‘spiritual’ economist E.F. Schumacher put it:

"Man has now become far too clever to survive without wisdom. Therefore, the task of our generation is first and foremost that of metaphysical reconstruction, rather than the endless accumulation of material possessions."


I realized that over the past few years I have been very much engaged in building a ‘library’ of stories and viewpoints of people who are doing exactly that: formulating a new (but at the same time ancient) story for man, a story in which the latest developments in science bear a surprising resemblance to the oldest stories noted by man.

Before I send out my planned newsletter and other updates out into the world, I would like to feature some of these contemporary ‘storytellers’ in this and future editions of ‘Old Wisdom and New Stories’. They have inspired me greatly over the past few years and will presumably continue to do so in the years to come. I wish for you to get to know them and their storytelling, knowledge and wisdom, and I hope that it will be of benefit to you in more ways than one, as it has been for me. It is food for the soul, and we need than more than ever.



Wandering minstrels on an illustration from c. 1250 (source: Spartacus Educational)




Chumbawamba!

For starters, something about music, contemporary minstrels and feasting. Because just as we can see death more as a cause for celebration (as it is in some other cultures), so we can also see life itself every day as a cause for celebration, something we tend to forget.


So let’s begin with music and some pure energy. Also to counter the impression that activism must always be sad, oppressive, boring or serious. Examples abound of activists who were above all outstanding actors, singers, musicians, artists, and also used or use their art to show us the way to more truth, beauty and also fun. Because pleasure is essential to our lives, and also in nature pleasure is an abundantly present feature, which we tend to overlook or explain away from within our mechanistic worldview. Thus contemporary performers are also a new version of the minstrels, and through their art and their energy they can help us on our way when we are lost.


I kind of stumbled upon the group Chumbawamba again recently, the eccentric and radical activist band from the eighties and nineties. And like many of the traveling minstrels of the Middle Ages, Chumbawamba also had a heart for the poor and oppressed of the earth.

There were two types of minstrels in the Middle Ages: those appointed to a royal or noble court, and those who traveled around the country. The traveling minstrels were not bound to an authority, and were rather adventurous. They performed songs that were about the ‘common people’, often with outspoken commitment to social justice and with rather rebellious undertones. For example, Robin Hood was one of the popular figures in the songs and ballads of the itinerant minstrels.

Chumbawamba (1982-2012) not only had chosen a strange name that no one understood (they never explained the name), it was also a band that explored many genres: punk, pop, rock, dance, folk.... But above all, the group was also very politically active and radical-anarchist, and its members stood up for social justice and political awareness and against the then-emerging neoliberalism of Margaret Tatcher and Ronald Reagan. And like the minstrels, they sided with the underdog, in a way that was perceived as rather exteme at the time, which was not always received well by the mainstream musical press of the day. When they scored a worldwide monster hit with 'Tubthumping', it was a surreal experience for them as anarchistic ‘underdogs’. Incidentally, they consistently gave away much of their profits to political and social organizations. And they also liked to expose the ‘fake activism’ of events like Live Aid, because those left out the true causes of poverty and hunger. In their hit song itself, by the way, you don't have to expect a socio-political stance. If anything, it's about their neighbor who had a serious alcohol problem. But the lyrics have also been interpreted as a cheer to activists and an ode to resilience:


We’ll be singing

When we’re winning

We’ll be singing


I get knocked down, but I get up again

You’re never gonna keep me down

I get knocked down, but I get up again

You’re never gonna keep me down (2X)



Chumbawamba (Photograph: Hayley Madden/Rex/Shutterstock)



In 2000, a fine documentary about the anarchist group was released, called ‘Well Done, Now Sod Off’. You can watch this documentary (which features both lovers and haters) here on Youtube.

Last year (2022) a new documentary was released about the history of Chumbawamba, and the successes and disappointments of their activism in the music world of the 1980s and 1990s. Frontman Dunstan Bruce of the band looks back , and searches for a new inspiration to still be an activist in a world that seems to be going further and further in the wrong direction. You can watch the trailer for this documentary here.

Chumbawamba reminded the world that artists, musicians and performers have a potential to reach large audiences with a message, or with a story that is different from the dominant narrative. And therefore, one could argue, in times when everything is at stake, they also have a responsibility to actually do so. This is never without risk, for the ‘powers that be’ do not like a ‘louse in the fur’. Medieval minstrels were also often considered a threat by king and nobility. More than once there were calls to arrest or otherwise silence the wandering minstrels. As contemporary minstrels, the members of Chumbawamba also continued to consistently stick their necks out for justice, for ecology, for truth and a better world. It's high time more artists and performers started doing the same again, because sometimes it seems like everyone is lulled to sleep by the dominant narrative and the omnipresent infotainment apparatus. When the world needs a wake-up call, artists and performers are among the first to administer that wake-up call.


In the following clip, you can see the entire population of the Spanish village of Taradell participating in a whirlwind lip-dub street party recorded in one long film shot through the streets of the town. The entire village goes wild to the tunes of ‘Tubthumping’, Chumbawamba's biggest hit from 1997. For three and a half minutes you are taken through the streets of Taradell, ending with a grande finale in a square at the edge of the village where all of Taradell dances along. The lovely people of Taradell may not have been aware of Chumbawamba's activism, but as far as I'm concerned, this is a great ode to life, to community, and to joy.

Enjoy!



Lip dub street party in the Spanish village of Taradell to the hit ‘Tubthumping’, July 2010.




So much for this ‘Old Wisdom and New Stories’ letter.

In a few weeks, a follow-up with some other narrators and performers of old stories.

Until then, all the best to you, and don't forget to celebrate that we exist!

Filip



Kool & The Gang - Celebration (1980)




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