Release Date: 16 September 2016
Format: LP Vinyl
|Moddi Unsongs Limited Vinyl LP
Unsongs is a remarkable collection of songs that have, at one stage, been banned, censored or silenced. The attempts to suppress them were as mild as an airplay ban and as brutal as murder. With great sensitivity and imagination, Norwegian singer-songwriter Moddi has given them new life and created a moving and eye-opening album.
Pål Moddi Knutsen, a 29-year-old from northern Norway, was an activist before he was a songwriter. As a member of Socialist Youth and Young Friends of the Earth, he realised that the songs they sang were decades old. “Beautiful songs but they don’t correspond to the reality we live in now,” he says. “That’s basically why I started writing music.” This impetus eventually led to his acclaimed 2010 debut album Floriography, hailed by Q magazine as “a heart-warming and beautifully constructed piece of melancholic folk-pop”.
In January 2014, after two more albums, Moddi cancelled a concert in Tel Aviv in protest of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. On his website, he wrote “silence can sometimes be stronger than music”. After the cancellation, Norwegian singer Birgitte Grimstad contacted Moddi to tell him about Eli Geva, a song about an Israeli officer who refused to lead his forces into Beirut during the Lebanon War in 1982. Geva became an icon of the peace movement, but also a reviled man among those who supported the war.
Fired with inspiration, Moddi made his own version of Eli Geva. When he performed the song, he noticed that it called forth strong emotions within the audience. From a list of more than 400 songs, Moddi decided to translate and rework 12 for the album. The only rule was that the element of the song which caused it to be suppressed had to remain intact, even when translated into English and with a different arrangement and melody. With the famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s Oh My Father I Am Joseph, for example, he changed almost everything except the Quran-quoting chorus, which caused it to be banned in many Arab countries. Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer, which led to a show trial and imprisonment for the Russian feminist activists, is stripped of noise and returned to its melodic roots in Rachmaninov’s Ave Maria, but the lyrics are no less subversive.
The stories on Unsongs span continents and centuries. They are as recent as Punk Prayer and as ancient as The Shaman and the Thief, a 19th century folk song from Norway’s aggressively assimilated indigenous Sami culture, performed here with the celebrated Sami singer Mari Boyne.
Some songs, such as Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Kate Bush’s Army Dreamers, became well known despite initial resistance. Others had dire consequences for the writers and performers. Vit Khang (Where is my Vietnam?) was imprisoned for anti-state propaganda. Algerian rebel and democracy campaigner Lounès Matoub (Open Letter) was assassinated by masked men for his criticism of the government. Most famously perhaps, the Chilean folk singer Victor Jara was executed during the 1973 military coup that toppled socialist president Salvador Allende.
For Moddi, Unsongs will have succeeded if the album encourages listeners to learn more, and think more, about the different ways in which important messages are prevented from finding an audience. In this way, Unsongs contains both stories from the past and lessons for the future.
1. June Fourth 1989: From the Shattered Pieces of a Stone It Begins - Moddi
2. A Matter of Habit - Moddi
3. Punk Prayer - Moddi
4. Open Letter - Moddi
5. Army Dreamers - Moddi
1. The Our Worker
2. Parrot, Goat and Rooster
3. The Shaman and the Thief
4. Eli Geva
5. Strange Fruit
6. Where is my Vietnam?
7. Oh My Father, I Am Joseph