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The coup fighters
Dancing to the revolution; the devil in Ballymena; and holy water in Ferns
Eamonn McCann, 08 May 2002
What is it about Bono which leads folks of genius to write songs for him?
The most important singer in the world, Ani di Franco (shortly to favour our little country with a visit: Ambassador, Dublin, June 22), appealed to the Nabob of Killiney last year:
“Give back the night its distant whistle/Give the darkness back its soul/Give the big oil companies the finger finally/And relearn how to rock-n-roll.”
And now comes the Coup to remind us that the golden truths of rock’n’roll glitter ever anew. New album Party Music eschews ingratiation with the parasitical super-rich to celebrate instead “millions of people moving, organising, making something happen”.
The Coup, from Oakland in California, birth-place of the Black Panther Party for Self Defence, are best known beyond hip-hop for the original cover of Party Music, scheduled for release in the week of September 11th last, featuring Boots Riley in the foreground pressing the plunger on a detonator against a background of the Twin Towers exploding. Coincidence, but interesting nonetheless!
The Coup – rapper Riley and DJ Pam the Funkstress – name themselves as socialists and anti-imperialists and craft their music as agit-propaganda for the movement on the streets. Riley’s lyrics are so sharp they draw blood before you feel pain and so funny you’d laugh out loud if there was time before the next image thumps the thought away.
From ‘Everythang’: “Every death is an abrupt one/Every cop is a corrupt one/Without no cash in the trust fund/Every cat with a gat wanna bust one/Every guest want a plus one..../Every cancer is a homicide/Every boss better run and hide/Every human is some kin to black/Every Visa got a pin to crack/Every verse is from the cardiac/Every search is involuntary/Every inmate want commissary/Every bank note is promisary/Every broke muthafucka finna form a gang/And when we come we taking everythang...”
Words impact on consciousness in mysterious individual ways. One man’s blast of useful beauty is the next woman’s worthless dirge. But when genius comes along you get it, while you can. Riley’s lyrics set the poetical receptors atingle, like a Liam Coyle shimmy on the edge of the box, or Red Bernie’s soaring soprano in the summer of ’69, or contemplating a Renoir at a range of six inches.
This is an album, too, drenched in the spirit of soul. The Coup understands that if the art isn’t easy the politics don’t count. This is political-party music, an invitation to a revolution you can’t join if you don’t dance.
The Coup got family values. There’s the obligatory soft ’n’ personal track wherein the rapper signals he’s a tenderiser, too, except what Riley is tender about in singing to his daughter is to tell her that true love requires struggle against hate. Plus – my own mother told me the same thing – you should always “Wear clean draws” when you go to the shops because you never do know how the day will work out.
“You know you’re my cookie baby and you’re too smart/I can see it in the lines of your school art/True Heart, I mean courage expressed with care/Go on and draw them superheroes with your curly hair.../Tell your teacher I said princesses are evil/How they got all they money was they killed people.../Later on you gonna blossom like a lotus/You’ll get into boys and the boys gone notice/It don’t matter who you do it with/Just remember when I tell you baby, you the shit.../Wear clean draws/Everyday/Things may fall/The wrong way/You’ll be lying there/Waiting for the ambulance/And your underwear got holes and shit.../That’s what I told you I be saying in my vocals/That’s why the woman has a gun on the logo/The star is the future that we gone create/Where nobody steal money from the things we make/Revolution takes time and space/But you as a woman gotta know your place…”
It’s dodgy to deliver definitive judgment when still in the slipstream of the first whoosh of enthusiasm, but that’s a lyric as aching with splendour and heart as has fallen on tired ears in an aeon.
There’s the special song for (I like to think) Mr. Bono. “I’m anti-Imperial/Anti-trust/Anti-gun if the shit won’t bust/Anti-corporate/They anti my essence/Anti snorting them anti-depressants…/Take a look around and be for or against/But you can’t do shit if you’re riding the fence…”
Nor should it be entirely ruled out that Riley and the Funktress have crafted their art with people of a certain age and a Tony Bennet state of mind in the outer ring of the target audience. The passion may roll in giddy-high waves but you can hear every jewelled word, as if lifted out and polished and then re-placed carefully in its setting.
There’s highs and lows and the album doesn’t have an obvious hit, but it stays on Red-alert throughout, never backs off from disgust at the rich whose half-hidden ambition it is to stamp on the poor so they’ll never rise up, and disdain for the bombastic do-goodery of counsellors towards docility in wrap-around glasses who ever keep a police-line between themselves and the incandescent crowd.
If there’s a defining thought, it’s that “It’s a war goin’ on, the ghetto is a cage/They only give you two choices, be a rebel or a slave.”
Music to storm palaces by. Go get, and save your soul.
“You never write about Ballymena,” the young woman alleged as I sucked on a crafty fag behind the bike shed during a break in the seminar I was speaking at in Stranmillis College, Belfast. “Is that because you’re from the Bogside?”
Amazing the things Ballymena people believe. But then, the town’s now represented at Stormont by two Ian Paisleys. Not that you’d notice. If an idea ever entered the younger Paisley’s brain which the elder Paisley hadn’t thought up for him in advance his head would explode.
Thus it was scarcely a surprise when Junior piped up at a meeting in Ballymena town hall broadcast live by Radio Ulster on April 9th to explain that the high incidence of heroin-addiction in the town was “the work of the devil”.
Ah!, interjected ace presenter David Dunseith, how can this be? Is not Ballymena the shining buckle on Ulster’s bible belt? Doth not the Lord Himself preside over everyday life in Ballymena? Are not His local agents on permanent patrol throughout the area?
Yes, yes and yes, explained Paisley the Younger, patiently exasperated. Indeed, that was the whole point. In the citadel of Truth where God is strong, it’s only to be expected that the devil will be fiendishly active, incessantly scheming to subvert the Lord’s work...
So, if you want to ward off the devil your best bet is to ensure that God has a low profile in your locality. The Lord shows up on your street threatening to do good, give him the bum’s rush. No point provoking the Prince of Darkness...
To most hotpress readers, the notion of Satan as the Mr. Big of the Ballymena heroin trade might seem daft. (The last smack pusher we had an encounter with in the area bore a remarkable resemblance to the local leader of the UDA. But that’s a story for another day.) The relevant point is that things that seem mad to the multitudes elsewhere will strike the bewildered citizenry of Ballymena as unadorned common sense. Or so it sometimes seems.
Take the gift the local Muslims attempted to present to the council. When it was suggested by mild-mannered SDLP man Declan O’Loan that the gift – a brass replica of Islamic designs on the Ka’bah in Mecca – should be accepted, and thanks conveyed to the donors (a fairly common response to gifts), Councillor James Alexander (DUP) responded that Ballymena should instead spurn the dangerous artefact.
“I do not believe in their Islamic faith or in their traditions. I am suspicious because of the attacks on New York and Washington over six months ago. A lot of people in the United States and elsewhere have been slaughtered by them. I want nothing to do with this”.
Sadly, Cllr. Alexander did not turn up to the town hall meeting to elaborate on his interesting views. Happily, Paisley Junior did.
It was not true that the DUP or Cllr. Alexander harboured hostile thoughts towards Muslims. The reason the gift had proven controversial was not that it emanated from Muslims but that it had been tainted with Taigism. So, Paisley Junior reasoned, there’d been no bigotry involved...
Moreover, Cllr. Alexander was fully entitled to his opinion that the Ballymena Muslims bore some responsibility for the attack on the Twin Towers. If there’s any bigotry in Ballymena, Paisley Junior averred, it was to be found among those who, while proclaiming a belief in parity of esteem, refused to allow space for the expression of Cllr. Alexander’s views. These bigots tended to be united Ireland supporters, he revealed. One more reason for tolerant democrats to keep Ulster British and vote DUP.
There now. I’ve written about Ballymena. Very enlightening. Really worthwhile exercise. God, but they’re mad.