Bruce Cockburn – Call It Democracy


Canadian folkie Bruce Cockburn argued back in 1986, that the foreign policy of powerful countries is about making a buck, not lifting people in poor places out of their misery. As well, that international organizations are not benevolent, either. The International Monetary Fund is a target in one verse.

The IMF goes back to 1944, and on the face of it, with almost 200 member countries, seeks to encourage financial stability in countries dealing with low revenues, high debt, inflation, high unemployment, and more. The IMF works to foster international trade.

Cockburn figures the IMF does more harm than good, leaving developing countries in debt.

More generally, the IMF has been criticized for the conditions it has sometimes imposed on countries to get into their version of fiscal shape. This has meant getting troubled countries to reduce public spending to address government debt. The IMF has also been criticized for not been sensitive enough to local conditions and on-the-ground needs of the places it exists to serve.

Also by Cockburn: If A Tree Falls, If I Had A Rocket Launcher

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Ash Ft. Blidboy – Billkamcha

This song asks people to report government corruption and encourage political transparency in Tunisia. Billkamcha is a crowd sourcing platform for this purpose. Hip hop (and this cause) has been an outlet for youth movements in the country that are frustrated with employment prospects, and that believe that the new government is not much changed from the old.

Elections came to this north African country after the 2011 “Arab Spring.” Tunisia has a constitution that aims to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Outsiders have praised the efforts of the country to enhance and maintain respect and adherence to tolerance and overall, human rights. There is progress to be made, all the same.

It could be the tensions and challenges come not just from government, but from society: the people. The republic struggles with addressing violent Islamic terrorist attacks that have targeted tourists. It struggles with youth that may have chosen radical Islamic outlets to commit these crimes.

The public policy response to terrorism has been aggressive counter terrorism efforts. Yet then, the Tunisian government is open to criticism for being too heavy handed. It’s a tight rope walk.

At any rate, these struggles are being articulated and vented about, and maybe even sorted out, through music.

Etta James – Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Of course, this is a traditional spiritual performed by hundreds if not thousands of performers besides Etta James. It might be too jubilant an arrangement for a tune about finding relief from slavery through death?

Writer Vy Higginsen, as cited in the collection of spirituals by Gwendolin Sims Warren, “Ev’ry Time I Feel The Spirit,” explained that a chariot-like vehicle was used by black slaves in the Carolinas to move tobacco around. The chariot came to be seen as a transport to swing low from the skies to fly the people back to freedom in Africa.

Procol Harum – Something Following Me

The narrator of this 1967 song sees his own tombstone. Somehow, on places such as Twitter, Procol Harum have been mixed up with Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is a Nigerian-based group, widely considered terrorist, that in 2014 abducted about 200 girls. It has done so as ransom for its own prisoners.  It aims to establish a Muslim state based on sharia law. Its members and leadership oppose modern (Western) culture, and violently promote causes which may be ethnically motivated.

Manu Chao – Rainin’ in Paradize

A relentless rhythm makes for a great driving song, the kind when your foot keeps getting progressively heavier on the accelerator pedal. Little variation in song structure could be criticized as being repetitive, but also speaks to the single-minded focus of the 2007 song: that there is a sameness: wherever you look, things are not going so well. The song is a world tour of troubles in many countries, focusing on Africa and the Middle East.

Manu Chao himself is an artist with many country allegiances. He is a multicultural performer, born in Paris, France to Spanish parents, and who sings in many different languages.

Below The Line – Josh Groban

Operatic pop singer Josh Groban aims his vocal chords at the world’s poorest this year. The smooth arrangement and measured crooning in this 2013 number probably contradicts the hardscrabble, dirty and chaotic lives of those that somehow subsist on less than $2 per day.

The song title references an event, Live Below The Line. Living below the line is about the extreme poverty measure of $1.50 per day. This was actually $1.25 as set by the World Bank, but perhaps has been increased to reflect inflation over the years. Anyway, concerned citizens along with celebrities attempt to temporarily live on this amount to raise funds and awareness for global poverty efforts.

The leading nongovernmental organization working at extreme poverty reduction is the World Bank. Essentially, it is like a bank that since 1944, collects aid donated by governments to distribute to the poorest countries. As these are often in the form of loans, this has been criticized, since loans must typically be repaid. The World Bank still has other programs such as grants. A stronger World Bank criticism is its focus on economic liberalization/free market reforms that assume and impose methods of economic development that are Western-based and may not work in poor countries with different histories, cultures and goals. Still, the World Bank remains the most influential and well-known international economic development institution.

Groban’s Live Below the Line Page