Populism, tyranny, and the lessons of the past

Populism, tyranny, and the lessons of the past

In the opinion pages of this morning’s Guardian there’s an article by Timothy Garton-Ash on the worsening situation for free speech and human rights in Turkey as Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian regime tightens the screw. ‘To travel to Turkey today is to journey into darkness,’ writes Garton-Ash; ‘tens of thousands of state employees and thousands of academics dismissed, more journalists locked up than in any other country, and a chilly mist of fear.’

Erdoğan crops up in Jan-Werner Müller’s concise guide, What Is Populism? which I read recently. For the epigraph to his book Muller chose the words of Bertolt Brecht: ‘All power comes from the people. But where does it go?’  It’s a good question, and Muller provides a readable analysis of populism, a term that’s been bandied about a great deal post-Trump, post-Brexit, and in the context of fears of what might happen in Europe in 2017. Even more timely and urgent is On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, a brand-new, slim volume by Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder. Continue reading “Populism, tyranny, and the lessons of the past”

Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren at Liverpool Jazz Festival

Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren at Liverpool Jazz Festival

On Thursday evening, after storm Doris had raged all day, I turned up for the opening event of this year’s Liverpool Jazz Festival to find that Sons of Kemet had been stranded in London by the suspension of all services out of Euston. However, by Sunday lunchtime everything was balmy in the meteorological department when I returned to the Capstone to see saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren perform a remarkably eclectic set that embraced music from many genres, times and places. Continue reading “Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren at Liverpool Jazz Festival”

Two fine Oscar nominated films on masculinity and the trouble men have expressing their feelings

Two fine Oscar nominated films on masculinity and the trouble men have expressing their feelings

I was fortunate in being able to attend, in a 24-hour period, screenings of two of the films in contention for Oscars this weekend. Though their stories are set in very specific and different communities and cultures, both Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea are films which reveal their characters’ inner lives with a sensitivity that prompts not just empathy but the realisation – as outstanding drama will – that their travails reflect universal themes and humanity in all its complexity. Common to both films is their examination of masculinity and the trouble that men have expressing their feelings. Both are blessed with exceptional performances, convincing dialogue that leaves spaces for silence, and an imaginative use of music. Continue reading “Two fine Oscar nominated films on masculinity and the trouble men have expressing their feelings”

Marching down Freedom Highway with Rhiannon Giddens

Marching down Freedom Highway with Rhiannon Giddens

Once in a while there comes an album that is so musically perfect and so in tune with its times that you know on one listen that it is destined to be a classic. Such is Freedom Highway, the second collection that Rhiannon Giddens has released under her own name. Its songs are drenched in her country’s history while speaking directly to its troubled present. There is horror here, but inspiration too.

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On this day: three voices that speak to our time

On this day: three voices that speak to our time

On this day in 1907 WH Auden was born. His poem ‘September 1, 1939’, written in a bar in New York at the outbreak of war, seems to chime with our own time (even if he later disowned the poem, saying it was ‘infected with an incurable dishonesty’). And on this day in 1933, Nina Simone was born. ‘I wish I knew how
it would feel to be free; I wish I could break all the chains holding me,’ she sang, while in her song ‘Revolution’, after a lifetime of tireless advocacy for the civil rights movement, she saw in the demand for Black Power the challenge to continuing racism, inequality and repression in the United States: ‘The only way that we can stand in fact/Is when you get your foot off our back.’ And now, written this month we have a superb poetic response to the present situation in America from Joanna Clink.

Continue reading “On this day: three voices that speak to our time”

Migrant tunes: a Klezmer-ish night out at the local synagogue

Migrant tunes: a Klezmer-ish night out at the local synagogue

A Klezmer-ish night out? Why not – especially when the venue is one of the most beautiful buildings in our neighbourhood. Klezmer-ish are a group of four musicians whose day job is with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. They play klezmer, but at the same time (thus the -ish) explore a wide range of music created by immigrants from all sorts of places around the world – from Argentinean tango to gypsy jazz and Irish fiddle music. Last night they were performing in the dazzling Princes Road synagogue.
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The films of Asghar Farhadi: stories of unintended consequences that pose moral questions

The films of Asghar Farhadi: stories of unintended consequences that pose moral questions

Last week, BBC 4 screened The Past, a film by Asghar Farhadi. He’s the Iranian director, Oscar-nominated for his most recent film The Salesman, who has pledged not to attend the ceremonies even if he gets exemption from Trump’s travel ban. Previously I had seen Farhadi’s celebrated A Separation which, like The Past, takes the story of a seemingly straightforward divorce before developing, by way of a succession of unintended consequences involving a group of equally flawed yet decent characters, into a complex and challenging exploration of what forms moral behaviour.
Continue reading “The films of Asghar Farhadi: stories of unintended consequences that pose moral questions”