Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Songs For Che

Anyone familiar with YHO will know of the fascination with how things fit together and unexpected patterns emerge. Let's illustrate that again, by starting with this clip of the great Greek singer/composer Manos Loizos singing a song for Che in the early '70s:

The lyrics to this beautiful song, I believe, translate as: "A poster with your photograph also came to my hands, a photograph with your face mailed from far lands. One of them that on walls at night they hang. One of them that the cops are there to tear. One of them that the students can just hang on their hearts. Che Guevara, Che Guevara, Che. Shut the windows and the blinds, can you seal all doorways. The man in boots just made me tremble like always. What he wants? In the shadow now he walks. What he wants and about you now he talks? What he wants and is looking at our home every evening? Che Guevara, Che Guevara, Che. Just how many roses’ buds snow this year has bitten. Ah, this Spring has made my heart go bleeding." You see the way Loizos uses the familiar imagery of the Che poster as a device to attack the repressive military junta in power at the time?
We are so used to the Che brand, the ubiquitous and absurd use of the familiar photo, that we forget that he meant a lot to a lot of people, and not just to kids in love with the romantic icon. For example, while putting together an Algerian sequence as part of our trans-global pop project, Anywhere Else But Here Today, I came across this clip of Mohamed Lamari singing a song for Che, from I guess sometime in the '70s:

I confess I don't actually know what Lamari is singing here, and I trust it's not along the lines of Suicide's song for Che. To many in Algeria Che really was something of a saint, and he has close links with the country, as shown in this tribute by Ahmed Ben Bella, the former Algerian president.
Anyone who has read the Uruguayan themed edition of YHO, What A Life!, may remember a reference to the singer Jorge Lazaroff and his early group Patria Libre recording an adaptation of Letter From Che To His Children during what were turbulent times in the country. The cover of What A Life! featured the footballer Diego Forlan, the star of 2010 World Cup. His manager was Oscar Tabarez, who is a scholar of the works of Che Guevara, and indeed Eduardo Galeano, in sharp contrast to England's manager who reportedly admires Franco.
Che, it has to be remembered, was born in Argentina, and it is understandable he is still revered there by some. The great Argentinean folk singer Atahualpa Yupanqui, for example, recorded this beautiful tribute. I don't know what his politics are but the Argentinean composer Lalo Schifrin created a fantastic score for what was probably the first film about Che after his death. Again soon after his death the United States of America recorded the incredible Love Song For The Dead Che, which also seems to have been covered by The Locomotive on the West Midlands group's LP, We Are Everything You See, which was a brilliantly perverse move for an outfit better known for singing about Rudie.
On the more traditional left Peggy Seeger wrote the beautiful tribute Wild And Free Was Che Guevara: "The stars are lost in the fields of darkness. Hunters' moon stalks the empty night. Like a farmer, walks Che Guevara. Bearing songs to sow the world with light ..." And it should be no surprise that in Chile Victor Jara felt a close affinity with Che, singing this among others for his dead hero, little knowing the same fate would shortly befall him:

Victor Jara's comrades Quilapayun also recorded a very beautiful elegy for Che which perhaps said more than words ever could. Probably the most famous instrumental tribute to Che was composed by Charlie Haden for the Liberation Music Orchestra, and later covered by Robert Wyatt and by Ornette Coleman. Rather neatly, Wyatt performed with the Liberation Music Orchestra in London in June 2009 as part of a season curated by Ornette Coleman. And as for the charm of Che - Hasta Siempre Comandante. Wonder if Primark are still selling those Che belts?

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