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It’s been two years since Larry Graham last graced a Shanghai stage with the Central Station guys in tow which was Shanghai Midi.  The father of slap bass and the heavy thumbed plank spanker from funk giants Sly and The Family Stone has been busy since his 2012 release Raise Up but managed to squeeze an interview in with us prior to his arrival on our shores to perform at Shanghai Stadium.  Graham contacted us from Minneapolis to talk with us about his career, the genesis of his style, touring and his anticipated expectations of his January 17th slot in Shanghai, China.

Words: James ‘Twitch’ Hogan

Graham is an exemplary character and stands with an improbable rise to fame that would be considered textbook in some ways. Coming from a humble background  with enough hard work and intuition as well as quick wits he became the seasoned musician and musical edifice that manifested as the cornerstone of seventies funk.   The rest of the musical world and his loyal listener fan base know Graham through his ground breaking work with Sly and Family Stone and his offshoot band Graham Central Station, Larry has imprinted his name into musical history through his work ethic and creative drive in pioneering the slap bass technique firmly rooting his instrument as one of percussive as well as harmonic capabilities as well as his work as a producer and notable work as a session player with some of the artist that hallmarked our musical formative years such as Lenny Kravitz and the late great Prince.

In conversation Graham is completely approachable, humble and candid which makes it easier to see why he is such a sought after musician and indeed he has been kept very busy throughout his career.

In leaving The Family Stone, Graham had a battle call to assemble his finest in a band led by female vocalist Patrice Banks under the name Hot Chocolate. Though Graham had assembled the band and had placed himself behind the curtain, he opted to play for the last song at their San Francisco show and felt like he had found home.  As he had in essence produced and written their music he flexed his powers in his managerial capacity to rename the band Graham Central Station. From their inception in the early days to their present day soldout shows in nearly every corner of the globe the Station continue to make a searing impression.

The groundbreaking moment for GCS was in their first gold album Ain’t No Doubt About It after securing their first gold single Your Love. Following this GCS ventured to Washington DC to do a concert at Washington Monument with Stevie Wonder entitled Human Kindness Day in front of a hundred thousand.  In his own words:    “That was pretty major because that was the biggest crowd that I had played in front of since Woodstock with 500,000 so for Graham Central Station to do that concert with 100,000 was major for us.”

GCS was on the road with Sinbad, Tina Marie and Earth, Wind & Fire with a stop off show at the Amphitheatre in Nashville Tennessee to garner the knowledge that Prince was playing another venue in town.  Graham learned that Prince was more than a just a fan of his music:

“He invited me over to the after party (he’s famous for throwing those after party jams). So he invited me to come over and jam which I did, and so we played together for the very first time. What I didn’t know and found out later was that he was raised up on my music; I was one of his influences. So when we jammed together for the first time, he just knew all of my stuff [laughs].” This jam would be a portent of things to come as Graham continues:

“We hit it off musically, immediately. That night after the jam he asked me would I join his tour which was going to continue on across the U.S and go up into Canada, so I did. I joined his tour and that’s how we began our relationship touring and became best friends. He asked me to move to Minneapolis. So, we moved to Minnesota and we continued to be best friends for the last 20 years.”

Graham and Prince dogged each other’s paths to the point where they became next-door neighbors and close friends both musically and as kindred spirits. As well as maintaining a strong working relationship with one of the most impacting pop artists of the century Graham was kept busy producing and working with the likes of Lenny Kravitz amongst other up and coming or established musicians of the decade.

Having cut his teeth in playing in his high school marching band and school orchestra, Graham had prior lent his hand to many different members of the instrument family including percussion, clarinet and saxophone but he cites his main path into the world of music as his mother who was a trumpet player turned pianist.  A lot his early inspirations for composition started in the family home where his mind was opened to the different textures and tonalities that different instruments could offer:

“ Yeah, I’ve always had a thing for horns and also guitar. I started playing when I was 11 because my father was a guitarist. He gave me his guitar when he decided to stop playing and I taught myself guitar so that was before bass too. That definitely influenced my bass playing because back then when I started playing bass, bass players weren’t really into using FX like guitar players, you know, like the fuzz tone and the wah-wah pedal and stuff like that, but because I played guitar first, my thinking was more like a guitar player. So, I had no fear of plugging into a pedal and saying, “What does this sound like?” [laughs]. Then of course, after Dance To The Music with the fuzz bass then bass players got more into “Hey, let me experiment with some pedals too.”

Though Graham is credited as being a bassist whose style of playing inspired a legion of others, he originally played in his mother’s band as a guitarist.  His familiarity with the guitar as well as a series of mishaps with problematic equipment and absent instruments placed him as the midwife to the formation of the now ubiquitous slap style of playing:

“When I was about 15, she asked me to join her band. We had a trio with her on piano and me on guitar and a drummer. When my mother would solo, I would play bass lines on my guitar then when I would solo, she would be playing bass lines with her left hand on the piano. So, that’s how we would go for a while and then this one club that we worked in had an organ.

It had bass pedals half way across, so I taught myself to play the pedals. I already knew where the notes were; I just had the transfer it to my foot [laughs] and play the bass pedals with my foot at the same time as playing the guitar. So, now we had bottom and we sounded a lot fuller. We sounded like a 4-piece band instead of a 3-piece now we had bottom. So, we got kinda used to that then the organ broke down and now we sounded empty because we had gotten used to having that bottom end. So, I went down to the music score and rented a St. George bass, and the reason I rented it was because I figured well “as soon as the organ gets repaired, I’m taking this back and get back to my guitar”. As it turned out, the organ couldn’t be repaired so I got stuck on the bass, so now it  was bass, piano and drums. That’s how I got started on playing the bass. One day, my Mother decided we weren’t going to use the drummer anymore and it was just going to be piano and bass, just the two of us. So, to make up for not having that bass drum, I would would thump the strings with my thumb, and to make up for not having that backbeat on the snare drums, I would pluck the strings with my fingers. So, its kinda like playing drums on the bass, you know, trying to create just a rhythmic sound on the bass just to fill in for not having a drummer. So, that’s how it started. Then this lady who was a regular, you know when play in night clubs and lounges you get your regulars that come in, and I didn’t notice until later but she was really into my mom and I, but she was also a fan of Sly Stone’s. He was on the radio at the time DJing and she found out that he was going to be starting a band. So she started calling the radio station and telling him that he had to come down and he this bass player. She liked what I was doing so she kept calling him and he came down and heard me doing this weird way of playing the bass and loved it, then asked me to join his band which he later named Sly and the Family Stone, and that’s how my style of slap bass, of thumping and plucking got popular. At first, a lot of bass players didn’t know what I was doing because there wasn’t a lot of videos out back then and there wasn’t a lot of TV shows. So, they would hear it on the record and like, for example, Thank You Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin, they had no idea what I was doing. Then, more and more, they saw us on TV shows and live concerts then they could see what I was doing.”

Turning our attention to China with a focus on the upcoming Shanghai date, Graham reflects on Shanghai Midi 2014 where GCS were warmly received to a new enthusiastic and receptive audience:

“It was a lot of people. They were a very enthusiastic crowd. Even from soundcheck because when we went out to do soundcheck of course there’s no curtain to come down in front of the stage, so you’re just there in front of everybody. There was quite a few people there and even during soundcheck, they were cheering every time we did the songs, they really had a great time. That night when we played, the weather was kinda rainy and when I did my bass solo, I went and jumped over the barrier to do my bass solo and I slipped [laughs], and there was mud almost up to my knees [laughs]. So when I got back on stage, there was a camera focusing on my leg and my shoes. [laughs] That was kinda funny. I could turn around and look at this big, giant screen and see the camera on my feet and my leg, but the crowd was happy that I was out there with them and I was happy that I was out there with them too. So, we had a great, great, great time.

What does the upcoming date promise? To sum it all up a diverse set with plenty of funk favorites from Graham’s familiars as well as a healthy dose of his own material old and new. When it comes to tight lineup and a consistent set, the Station always delivers, Larry is positive as always:

Well, I mean, based on the last time, I’m looking forward to having a great time. I didn’t know what to expect the first time, but since everything turned out so well, now my expectations are very high. I’m looking forward to a fun show, the whole band is pumped, of course, its the same people as last time so they know what to expect too. They love our music, so we’re excited.”

Originally published on behalf of Rolling Music, Shanghai, China. 

 

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La Savate, c’est quoi ?

Les arts martiaux comme le Taekwondo sont très populaires en Irlande, mais quand les gens pensent aux arts martiaux ils pensent à l’orient et ne considèrent jamais même la possibilité d’une forme traditionnelle de lutte qui a été crée en Europe.  C’est difficile aussi  d’imaginer comment un pays beau et sophistiqué comme la France avec sa littérature, son art et sa culture étaient probablement le territoire le plus violent sur ce côté de l’Océan atlantique au cours du 18e siècle.  La Savate est un nom fourre-tout pour un style de combat avec les pieds et un bâton développé à Marseille et Cannes à la suite de la Révolution.  Il est reconnu comme la seule forme de combat natif en France et les plus vieux arts martiaux « modernes » dans le monde.

L’Histoire de la Savate

La Savate s’est développée très lentement avant d’être reconnue comme un sport natif car elle avait été associée avec la violence urbaine et non comme un sport compétitif.  La révolution française en 1789 a interdit au citoyen ordinaire de porter des rapières ou les pistolets. A la suite de ceci, les français habitant dans des secteurs hostiles et bondés comme Paris et Marseille ont adopté ce sport.

Le nom de la Savate est dérivé des chaussures lourdes que les combattants de rue ont portées. Ils avaient besoin d’une forme d’auto-défense contrairement à la boxe anglaise qui exclue de donner un coup de pied.  La Savate ressemble au kickboxing Muay Thai ou Tae Kyun (un art martial coréen qui utilise seulement les jambes pour attaquer).  Les arts martiaux étaient pratiqués d’une manière prédominante par les marins français notamment dans le port de Marseille.  Pour soulager l’ennui en mer ils pratiquaient le combat employant les hauts coups de pied et les gifles transmises au corps (comme opposé aux poings fermés qui feraient  mal). Pratiquer sur les mers rugueuses signifie que les marins étaient supposés avoir un sens incroyable d’équilibre.  Le Savate a pris le nom jeu de Marseille ou Chausson d’après les pantoufles que les marins portaient sur le pont.

Le développement de la Savate

En 1824 La Savate est confirmée comme un art martial qui pourrait être enseigné à tous et non pas juste aux voyous et aux marins.  La méthodologie de la Savate s’est développée sous l’influence de Michel Casseux qui a ouvert le premier centre d’entrainement à Paris à l’aide de son étudiant Charles Lacour qui avait été exposé à l’art de la boxe anglaise dans son jeune âge. Ensemble, le professeur et l’étudiant ont adapté une liste de règles esquissant la conduite au combat de Savate, un système pour distinguer l’ancienneté d’un combattant (ils portent des gants colorés différents) et un uniforme (un maillot et un haut pantalon moulant évoquant leur inspiration nautique).

La Savate a vu une autre addition : la canne.  L’usage de la canne au lieu d’une rapière a mis au monde une nouvelle forme de Savate : La Canne de Combat.  Cette forme de combat est toujours pratiquée aujourd’hui et popularisée par le Savateur Roger Lafond, quatre-vingt-treize ans,  qui avait modernisé ce sport et l’a enseigné à ses collègues détenus dans un camp de POW pendant l’occupation allemande de la France.  La Savate était devenue officiellement un sport et un moyen « civilisé » d’auto-défense (Savate de la Rue) dans les années soixante-dix et quatre-vingt.

La Savate dans le Monde Moderne

La popularité de la Savate continue chez les jeunes et les moins jeunes depuis la vulgarisation par Lacour. Elle est estimée par ceux qui la pratiquent comme un trésor national de la France. Utilisée dans une rue parisienne dangereuse, son efficacité est très visible. Regarder n’importe quel combat de Savate et vous verrez.

La Savate a reçu la reconnaissance internationale comme Sport Olympique en 1924 et la force de police français a incorporé la Savate dans son programme d’entraînement pour son équipe contre-terroriste R.A.I.D. (Recherche, Assistance, Intervention et Dissuasion) les champions de la Savate francophones ont été enrôlés dans l’escouade.

Plus près du chez nous, James Southwood (un étudiant du Savateur Philip Reed) dans sa salle d’entrainement à Waterloo à Londres est maitre de la Savate, bien connu avec les titres de champion Britannique en 2006 et 2008, vice-champion Européen et champion du monde dans sa division (75-80kg) dans la Savate d’Assaut.  Il enseigne la Savate depuis dix ans maintenant.  Quand je lui ai demandé quels étaient les bénéfices de pratiquer la Savate il m’a dit :

« C’est un sport qui nous apprend la forme physique, vous apprenez à vous contrôler, à vous connaitre vous-même. Les bénéfices sont que vous devenez plus flexible que vous pouvez améliorer votre santé et participer à des poursuites sportives et rencontrer des gens d’ autres pays. »

Malheureusement, il n’y a pas un club de Savate en Irlande à cause d’un manque d’affiliation à une fédération  de Savate comme celle de Grande Bretagne (fondée en 1999).  Y-a­-t’il quelqu’un en Irlande qui voudrait fonder un Club de Savate pour des gens qui, comme moi, sont très intéressés ?

Originally published in Le Canard Déraciné

Pour les gens passionnés des beaux-arts en Belgique, l’exposition de l’œil surréaliste du peintre influent René Magritte a ouvert ses portes à Bruxelles.  J’ai eu la chance de visiter l’exposition et j’étais impressionné par la collection. J’ai compris en deux heures que Magritte avait raison quand il disait: « chaque chose visible cache une autre chose visible. »

L’exposition célébrant les travaux du peintre surréaliste belge René Magritte a ouvert dans les vieux bâtiments du Palais Royal à Bruxelles juste à côté du Musée des Beaux Instruments.  L’exposition contient presque 250 tableaux dans les halls de la Gallerie Royale, tout le travail que Magritte a composé pendant son vie.

L’ouverture de l’exposition avait été retardée en 2006 à la suite de l’effondrement du gouvernement belge et à cause d’autres problèmes entourant les droits de possession artistiques.  L’exposition est ouverte depuis le 30 mai et a été vraiment bien reçue par le public.

Tous les tableaux montrent le concept du Surréalisme selon Magritte et reflètent son humour.  Il nous prévient de à la traitrise de la représentation dans les oeuvres Les clés du rêves et Le traitrise des images.  Ce dernier, qui est bien connu par tout le monde comme l’image d’une pipe avec la légende « Ceci, n’est pas une pipe. »  Son objectif était de faire penser les gens de façons différentes et de débattre les notions de précondition des objets et des situations ou la réalité comme nous la représente La Condition Humaine.

L’idée dans les tableaux de Magritte est de regarder les objets et de ne pas se référer à leurs associations. Simplement, une pipe n’est pas une pipe.  Ca pourrait être beaucoup d’autres choses. Les associations viennent  dans La Durée poignardée où une cheminée devient un tunnel et une représentation de l’horloge du temps peut être associée avec la vitesse du train.  Dans tous les tableaux, les images des nuages et de la fumée sont synonymes du temps.

La collection reflète toute la période des années passées comme penseur créatif et artiste. Elle est située dans l’enceinte du bâtiment avec peu de lumière pour protéger les toiles.  C’est plaisant de se balader parmi les tableaux est de voir l’histoire  sa créativité notablement sa période Renoir pendant l’occupation allemande de la Belgique et la période « Vache » quand il adopte un style Fauve pour son portrait.

Charly Herscovici, président de la fondation Magritte a dit à la cérémonie d’ouverture « je pense que Magritte est notre meilleur ambassadeur, comme Picasso à Paris, et van Gogh à Amsterdam, il mérite un musée. ».  Le public est certainement d’accord avec ces propos car l’exposition attire des foules de partout.

On peut aussi visiter la maison de Magritte Rue d’Esseghem, une des maisons où le surréaliste a demeuré et qui est transformée en une sorte de petit musée, offrant d’autres tableaux et des reliques personnelles de sa vie.

Originally published in Le Canard Déraciné

The goal of attaining a solid knowledge of self-defense has reinforced the individualist nature and psyche within the traditional forms of martial arts, though one all inclusive training session hosted in the name of charity demonstrated that the positive practice of martial arts with other passionate devotees can benefit not just those in the training hall.

Some thirty odd martial artists from Shotokan clubs in DIT, Trinity College, RCSI and UCD as well as first-timers descended on the Ancillary Hall in Trinity College Sports Centre on the 7th of March for a seminar conducted by Dermott O’Keefe Sensei 5th Dan of Hokubu Dojo, Swords.

The attendees ranged from black belts from different colleges in Dublin, members of Hokubu Dojo, Hombu Dojo with at least a third of the attendees being novices with no experience of martial arts having arrived to donate to a good cause and to have their eyes opened to the Shotokan style of Karate.

Dermot O’Keeffe Sensei is the head instructor for Hokubu Dojo in Swords which is a JKS affiliated dojo which previously operated under the name ‘Red Dragon’.  Dermot Sensei is a dedicated instructor who has been a practitioner of Shotokan Karate since he was sixteen years of age.  As well as this, Dermot Sensei possesses a scholarly knowledge of physical anatomy within the confines of combat as well as an attuned understanding of the different learning processes of each type of martial arts student.

The seminar was geared towards those who had relative experience and those who had none which removed elements of initial intimidation and self-consciousness that novice practitioners experience when assigning themselves to a new martial art.

The seminar consisted of a quick warm up and an induction to some of the fundamentals of Shotokan karate such as basic kicking, striking and blocking tools in the arsenal of the form as well as giving a thorough briefing on the physics of movement within the martial art.

Practical applications for self-defence were drilled using a few basic sweep and throw down techniques and the session was concluded with a training kata to demonstrate the aesthetic quality of some of the more advanced techniques within the context of a standard pattern.

The training session was hosted in aid of the the St. Francis hospital in the developing region of Ifkara in Tanzania.  Nine students including two members of Hokubu Dojo from the current third year Trinity college medicine course shall carry out an elective within the hospital which is understaffed, underfinanced and underequipped to perform most of the perfunctory tasks of any standard operation as expected in Europe or the US.  The issue of hygiene with specific reference to the medical equipment and ward facilities is an area of concern prompting the group to try and raise €10,000 to correct these issues before they leave the country.

The seminar was enjoyed by all and successfully raised a substantial amount for the St. Francis Hospital in Tanzania.  Best wishes and highest aspirations extend towards Hokubu Dojo’s karateka Debra Chan and Karl Kavanagh who will carry out their placements within the student medical team stationed in the under-financed health facility in Ifkara.

On behalf of those who attended, thanks goes out to Dermot O’Keeffe Sensei for his benevolent donation of time to instruct the seminar and Debra Chan for organizing the event.

Osu.

Originally published in the Irish Fighter Magazine.

The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010, setting restrictions on street begging was released at the beginning of the new year in an attempt to curb the levels of ‘unacceptable conduct such as harassment, intimidation and obstruction’ according to The Department of Justice, Quality and Law Reform.

The Bill states that as one of powers that it shall from now on be considered an offence for vagrants to beg within 10 metres of an ATM or the entrance to a business premises where ‘their behaviour or number is likely to deter members of the public to entering that premises.’  Repeated offences will result in an arrest which according to the bill:-  ‘carries a penalty of a maximum term of imprisonment of one month and/or a fine of up to €400.’

The Bill was drafted by Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D. who in a statement issued by the Department press office justified the Bills passing by stating:-  “This Bill gives us a modern and reasonable solution to a problem we cannot ignore.  I am confident this new power will be an effective addition to An Garda Siochana’s enforcement options.”

The new legislation is segmented into five sections au propos of the judgement made in the aftermath of Niall Dillon -vs- The DPP that the act of begging itself shall not in the eyes of the law be considered a criminal act but according Section 2 of the Bill, shall be criminalized ‘where begging activity is accompanied by threats, intimidation, violence or obstruction.’

The spawning of this Bill came as a result of this precedent case which the reform commission body concluded that uncontrolled begging led to an ‘antagonism towards social or ethnic groups that are associated in the public mind with the activity’ which would ‘harm attempts to promote integration and social harmony.’

According to the Garda Recorded Crime Statistics (CSO/PULSE) 1,125 court proceedings were recorded between 2005 to 2007 amongst vagrant cases resulting the need for the government to precautionary measures.

The issue of minors being the perpetrators of begging is addressed under Article 247 of the Children’s Act that puts adults in control or in charge of a child liable where children are begging.  The bill does not distinguish between the age of children in question but where children are to be tried and convicted; their sentence is dealt with under the minor-orientated provisions of the Children’s Act 2001.

The new legislation will not criminalise anyone seeking help or assistance i.e. someone asking for bus fare.  It will only be deemed an offence if such a venture is accompanied with the aforementioned elements listed within Section 2.

There has been no further comment from Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D. regarding the Bill at this time.

Originally published in Chrome Magazine.

The government are to unveil a new identity card scheme later this year in an attempt to cut down on social welfare fraud and cut down on waiting time within the social services.

The scheme which will cost €25 million shall enforce all citizens over the age of 16 years, estimated by the CSO as roughly 3 million within the republic, to be in possession of a card.

The card is said to bear the holders photo, name, signature and PPS number as well as a swipe bar in which other information relating to owner will be electronically encrypted.

The proposal of the identity card scheme was inspired by the successful introduction of the card as opposed to the passport that operates in European countries such as England, Germany, France, Belgium and Argentina.

Within the republic, a talk was given by Lecturer and Legal Researcher at King’s College London Cian Murphy at a IALT Conference in 2006 on the nature of what he refers to as ‘cradle-to-grave’ PPS tracking which might come as a malignant by-product of the scheme.

The lecture made specific reference to the analysis and treatment of information about members of the public as it is shared amongst  public sector information ‘hubs’ such as the Interagency Messaging Service which facilitates exchanges of private information between the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the General Registrar’s Office.

In an interview with Cian Muphy he stated:-

“The Irish card is largely a welfare based card which in that respect doesn’t sit along side the proposals for Britain which was a card driven out of security considerations …the question that I think we need to ask from the point of view of privacy is how far we are allowing the process to go.”

The general idea of the card scheme is to carry out the duties of the social welfare system but in a more efficient way though this data tracking high-lights the government’s knowledge of a citizen’s exact location though according to Murphy, the identity card schemes that operate in other European countries go beyond this.

In the issue concerning the cards estimated cost figure, Murphy expressed his scepticism in stating:- “The only estimate that I can put on that figure is that often the government claims that IT projects are going to cost a certain amount of money and they often end up costing a lot more.”

The ID Card scheme was introduced in the UK including Northern Ireland on the 30th of July last year courtesy of the UK Identity Card and Passport Office.  Negotiations for the scheme had taken place as early as 2003.  This card scheme requires the applicant to receive a facial scan, an iris reading and ten fingerprints to be created as a file within the National Identity Registrar database.

The proposal for the implementation of compulsory ownership of the UK identity card received flak within Northern Ireland namely from Human Rights watchdog organisations.  The complaints that were made against the scheme were grounded on the prospects of the possibly exclusion of some minority groups as well as the issue of information privacy and intrusion.

Originally published in Chrome Magazine.

Proposed budget cuts in the education sector inspired a wave of protest courtesy of DIT, UCD and Trinity College student bodies.  Yet has the intimidating gleam of student activism been dulled in changing times?  James Hogan spoke to anthropologist Susan Gill and journalist and author Kevin Myers about the switch from Molotov cocktails to Mexican waves.

College years are a catalytic period for a person and his or her politics.  Both those in third-level education, and seasoned working professionals who barely remember those halcyon days, could agree.

All students on admission to a higher level education faculty are beset upon by the immediate reality of the weapon of student lobbying to achieve a political end.  In the words of Chilean activists;- “a people united will never be defeated.”  Students Unions demonstrate a relative amount of power in which they can influence governmental policy making decisions.  Political parties take complete advantage of the product of a third level education through the plugging their own agendas within the medium of party youth branches during Societies Week with the intension of increasing membership figures.  The faculty is politics permeated.

The student is in a privileged position of having a considerable amount of time to make himself or herself heard. But at the same time, not taken completely seriously, and so can avoid clamp downs that journalists or state dignitaries would be subject to. The sixties and seventies have seen exceptions, though, as Irish Independant columnist Kevin Myers is quick to remind, Ireland was a different place settled deep within the oppressive hand of the Catholic Church in those days.  The Celtic Tiger cubs seem to be choosing to take things easy but they only know what they’ve lived through (or not lived through).  Politics is there for anyone who wants to get involved whether you consider yourself to be a political affairs anorak or not.

Therein lies the problem; what does it mean to be politically active as a student?

Attending youth party meetings and manifestations is one way.  It’s difficult to organize protesters when there are lots of politically apathetic students.  With this reality riding in tandem with an upcoming demonstration, the notion of protest becomes diluted somewhat and a crowd of students who should be making a racket about an important issue are questioning why there are there in the first place.  It’s even worse when a Let’s-Make-Politics-Fun methodology is incorporated into the process of recruiting picketers for the protest.  People forget that they are exercising their constitutional rights to make a stand and vocalize their dissent.  It is not some big day out.

What’s a protest as we know it anyway? Protest has a clear definition as everyone knows but in spirit, it is certainly not what it was before in earlier generations.  In May 1968, the notion of student activism was synonymous with those student riots in France. Those protests affected most of the employment sector as well as all the education faculties in Paris, Sorbonne and Nanterre.  As Karen Moller of the Daily Mail recalled of her time spent in Paris as a student, the riots that had occurred in 1962 had been profoundly different to the riots that had occurred during 1968.  Amid the chaos of the street fighting she recalled a feeling of unification and understanding amongst the Parisians.  The protests were seen as a failure in their aftermath as De Gaulle maintained his position. However they had a profound impact on the French government and set a precedent and a whole new dimension of protest within the French psyche.

The May Fourth Protest carried out by 3000 Peking University students calling for democracy in 1919 was brutally suppressed under the command of state officials.  The Tiananmen Square manifestation in 1989 in which the government chose to take a hard-line military action to deal with protesters at the various hot spots of the protesting resulted in the deaths of an assumed 214 students.  This list goes on and on which raises many fundamental questions:

So what has happened?  Postmodernist complacency is one excuse but it couldn’t just boil down to that.  A riot or protest is an human action which would fall within the study of human behaviour, the study of group psychology and tribal thinking;- anthropology.

Anthropologist and Sociologist Susan Gill gave me some academic alignment:-

Do you think that as a result of living in comfortable times we have lost our political edge somewhat?

“Well not everyone was comfortable during the Celtic tiger era, and secondly what does “political edge” actually mean?  I think the link with a charmed life and lack of political awareness is somewhat lazy, as is the link with consumerism.  In fact the way in which we consume can be a political act.  Resistance to a political ideology can be in the everyday, not just in mass organised events.”

With regard to student demonstrations, what do you believe is the key component that is lacking in the make-up of student-based political agenda setting when it comes to the execution of flash-mob protests and other such manifestations?

I think what is lacking among student-protest groups is the belief that aggressive protests can actually work.  As I said in the answer to the first question, during the boom times there was a very quiet form of protest happening and still is.  There has been a substantial rise in DIY culture in recent times, coupled with a number of other cultural phenomena such as guerrilla gardening.  There seems to be a culture of gentle protest among youth, so if I was forced into a corner, I would say aggression and the belief in its utility is what is lacking among student demonstrations.”

What makes Irish students so different from French or Eastern European students? The student manifestations during the sixties in France were a lot more “physical force”. What’s happened?

“Well again, I would say that what has happened is a gentler form of protest and a questioning of whether protests actually work.  You have to remember that even though the French protests of May ‘68 had an enormous socio-cultural impact, politically they were regarded as a failure.  They didn’t overthrow the Government, de Gaulle was re-elected and the students themselves were seen as a bit of a nuisance to many members of French society.  What emerged from those protests, a more liberal secular society, was a by-product of these protests rather than their ultimate goal.  I’m not sure that Irish students believe that protesting is the way to get what you want and are finding other ways to do so.”

With Irish history as a precedent, would it be expected that this kind of revolt action would be condemned by the majority?

“I think whether or not that kind of revolt is condemned by the majority rests on a number of factors, some of them quite mundane.  Support rests on a few things; does the majority believe that the cause is worthy?  Does the cause have salience outside of the student population?  Does the majority support the rights of people to protest? Then there are other considerations; will the protests block the road on your way to work? These are factors in the majority’s perceptions of student protests that can influence the support they receive.”

With political apathy being another term synonymous with the First World Twentysomething would it be out of the question to assume that in the economic era and subsequent environment that we live in, should we take things a lot more seriously?

“Who says that things aren’t being taken seriously?  Again I think it boils down to the ways in which youth are engaging politically and, what “engaging politically” actually means.  If you have a problem with the governments animal welfare policies on, let’s say, the production of beef there are a number of ways you can show your dissatisfaction.  One of them is protesting, so you can try to conjure up people who feel similar to you, maybe picket outside the Dail, hand out leaflets etc but it’s risky.  What about the farmers who depend on these policies to make an income?  What about all the businesses that will be affected if there is policy reform? And what about all the people whose support you will lose by disrupting their working day?  One thing you can do is “engage politically” in a different kind of way.  You can become vegetarian, eat in and support local vegetarian cafes, buy products that are cruelty free, perhaps open a vegetarian stand in the local food co-op.  Now it’s not for me to say which way is better or more effective but I don’t think that a decrease of aggressive student protests necessarily equates to political apathy among first-world twenty-somethings, there is just a shift I think, to what I have already referred to as gentle protestation.”

“There hasn’t been any student protests in recent months.  Not a single march, not like what we went through..” journalist Kevin Myers asserts:

“There is a difference; the students that were marching were doing so in their own self interests, in this case on the pressure of fees.  As a youngster, we were doing it for the welfare of others.  It was quite easy to generate some enthusiasm in Ireland because everyone was aware that students around the world were in uproar about period issues and you must remember that the times were different from the times now.  There was a series of revolutions in perception, tolerance and in what people thought was possible.  There was a sexual revolution spawning from the emergence of the pill, there were a lot of people in Ireland that were experimenting in drugs, it was just coming clear that as students, there was a growing line between the lives that our parents had led and the lives that we were going to lead.”

According to Myers, there isn’t a war that we are actively involved in which the majority deem immoral like the Vietnam War during the sixties, if it was anything it was a series of student reactions against the conformities of the oppressive Church State and the taboo issues of sex and the use of recreational drugs.  As a student with keen political awareness he understood that a youth revolution was just around the corner and that he in a group would be able to influence a society to be more just.  Being on the cusp of political power had its empowering satisfactions:“It was exciting, they were really good times.”

It has become clear that revolution can take its form as something of either a passive or active act.  Consumption can be a form of revolution as much as a sit in.  Like the conduct of behaviour, it’s the way something is done, not the action itself that predicts the direction of the species.  It’s good to get politically involved but it means nothing without a sense of dissidence to back it up.

If we have learnt anything from history’s precedents it is that more often than not the price of physical force action is an injury count or death toll that demerits the cause but triviality in dealing with an issue is nothing but detrimental to any political aspiration.  What do Mexican waves outside the Department of the Taoiseach say about a faculty?  It seems contradictory that our political muscles are wasting on our bones in such a lax political environment to the degree that we have voices but nothing to say.  But as history’s precedents detail quite clearly, things were not near as comfortable or as liberalized as they are now.  I think, now, any form of protest can be clarified as self-serving, annulling its nobility.

Protest, go ahead and protest, sure…but take it seriously.

Susan Gill holds a B.A (Hons) in Anthropology, an M.A in Anthropology of Ireland from NUI Maynooth and is currently engaged in  PhD research at DIT School Of Media.  She is also a researcher at the graduate school for Creative Arts and Media.

Kevin Myers is a journalist and author contributing regularly to the Irish Independant and the satirical magazine, The Phoenix.  He has previously contributed to the Irish Times and the Sunday Telegraph.

Karen Moller is a journalist for the Daily Mail in the UK.

Originally published in Chrome Magazine

South America is seeing a new wave of leftist sentiment manifested in the virtual currency “sucre” and the Bolivarian Continental Movement.  Author of “The Battle of Venezuela,” Michael McCaughan speaks to Chrome reporter James Hogan.

IT WAS A sight to warm the hearts of the seventies leftover revolutionaries – nearly 1,000 of their number gathering in a South American capital to talk about changing the world, again.

Caracas was the set venue for the meeting of the Bolivarian Continental Movement named to honour the great liberation hero, Simon Bolivar. The new MCB wants to support and unite the resurgent  leftist and rebel groups, the FARC included, across the continent and even plans a common ‘virtual currency’, the sucre.

The meeting saw 950 leftist activists from the 26 Latin countries partaking in the negotiations on their agreement to form the Bolivarian Continental Movement.   Revolutionaries and activists from Australia to Turkey also joined the ‘Chavistas’, followers of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez, in formulating their new social vision.

What is the manifesto, you ask? The group was formed predominantly with the intention of being an alternative to US-backed free-trade consortiums and economic arbitration bodies.  The member nations of the proposed movement consist of:- Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Antigua and Barbuda, San Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica.  This is also a growing list.

What does this new currency mean?  The left-wing bloc as early as January  started putting plans ahead for a new currency dubbed ‘sucre’ as an anti-dollar scheme allowing internal fiscal circulation and stronger internal trading which they deem would strengthen their economy.

Journalist and writer Michael McCaughan maintains the view of the imposed currency as a statement of diversity or alternative in face of insurmountable financial powers as well as a means to generate an alternative economy.  During his time spent living in the Latin Americas his exposure to the social power shifts within the cultural climate percolated into his condensed, well researched work “The Battle of Venezuala.”  The new currency is not just a monetary form according to McCaughan.

“It is seen as a means to get away from the straight-jacket of the dollar and the gold standard.  It is in its beginning form symbolic, probably more a statement than a reality as there are very areas that are strict, government to government commerce where this could take root in its early stages.”

This form of currency shall not exist in printed or coin format but shall manifest itself as a virtual electronic monetary transfer system that hopes to aid the management of debts between Latin America’s governments and reducing the reliance on the US dollar and the Washington seat of administration.

The “agreements of co-operation” between Cuba and Venezuela on 285 bilateral projects set for 2010 with an estimated planning and construction costs matriculating at nearly £2 billion are well underway highlighting the scope of trust that BMC are cultivating.  Trade links between the Americas shall stress test the sucre currency in face of their exports says McCaughan.

“Venezuala is an oil exporting country nation, they can’t deal in sucre as they’ll be dealing with US corporations and other governments such as China and they’re in a de facto world of the EU Euro and the dollar.”

The BMC are readjusting their grasp bu not without some opposition.  Conservative billionaire Sebastian Piñera in Chile led the presidential vote and won a run off that will see the major political shift in Latin America’s most recent stable state of economy.  Piñera, ranking No. 701 on Forbe’s global rich list, took 44 percent of the electorate vote, eight votes shy of the outright victory vote which is bestowed upon the candidate how wins over 50 percent.  Referring to Cuba as  ‘a dictatorship’ and Venezuela as ‘not a democracy’ in the mixed political leanings of the Chilean electorate it is feared that Piñera’s criticism of the BCM could lead to his downfall.

The Leftist side saw its first victory in the form of winning the electorate in the impoverished and economically stunted nation of El Salvador.  The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) represented by journalist, social democrat and minor celebrity television presenter Mauricio Funes assumes position of power with intentions to set up the first communist party cabinet in 80 years.

With such a financial and political climate evolving within the Latin Americas it is up to speculation as to what the outcome will be for the people of the respective nations.

Originally published in Chrome Magazine.