In our celebrity culture, music and songs can be PR vehicles for consumer society and celebrity culture. But down among the folk where life’s struggles often go unnoticed, songs and music can bring people together, they can heal, they can express the frustrations, heartaches, anger, fuck-ups, and desire for redemption: they can send messages to friends, whanau, politicians and the wider society; and they can motivated groups of people to demand change.
Following the dominant stories in the corporate controlled mainstream media can be a frustrating experience. The values and agendas of the most conservative and well-off sections of society dominate. There are other stories out there, but that can be relegated to the margins of the media. I took a look at some of the recent stories lurking within local newspapers. Much of that is good news stories, about the good people in their communities. Two stories caught my eye, hinting at things not so good in our communities.
The first is in the Auckland Central Leader 21 February 2014, p 3. It was also published online on Stuff in it’s Auckland local news “Rising rents bring calls for controls”. It puts a bit of a human face on the property bubble in Auckland and other parts of NZ. iT BEGINS:
Aucklanders are working longer hours to pay for skyrocketing rents, sparking calls for rent controls to be imposed by the government.
It presents some statistics to back up thse claims, then reports:
Tamaki Housing Group member Sue Henry says landlords are now charging up to $700 a week for a three-bedroom house in Glen Innes.
Rising rental prices are a “big issue” affecting many Aucklanders, she says.
“I know one family who moved into a home, the electrics weren’t working and there was sewage spilling out of the drains but they were still charged $320 per week.
“It got put up to $445 and then $550.
“The tenants couldn’t pay it then and got evicted.
“People are too frightened to speak out because they think they’ll be evicted.”
This is what some of the public get to see or hear of those struggling to survive in our unequal world.
The second story in the local press took me from the local face of celebrity culture in a well off north of Auckland area, to the struggles of those who are the most marginalised in our unequal society in north and south Auckland prisons. Rodney times, Feb 201, 2014, p.9: “Prisoners let it all out in their songs”. There’s an accompanying color picture of successful singer songwriters Laughton Kora, Annie Crummer, Anika Moa, and Don McGlashan.
The focus of the article is on Kora, who has lived in the Orewa area with his family for the last 9 years. The four in the photo are part of a the second series of Maori TV’s second series of “Songs from the Inside” which began last Friday night. Episode one is available for viewing at the link. In this series, the four celebs go into prisons to work with inmates on writing their own songs. In the Rodney Times article, Kora says:
Some guys don’t have much choice. One guy grew up living in a car with his dad. And some make stupid choices.
One stupid decision can change the whole direction of a person’s life.
The series should be must see viewing for most Kiwis. But it doesn’t get very much front page attention in our daily news media flow. It’s beautifully shot, with some really compelling music. It follows some of the format of “reality TV’. However, it embraces totally different values, and uses a different style from the glamourised, individualistic, journey to riches (or failure) of the mainstream of reality TV.
“Songs from the Inside” begins in a down market, noirish, melancholy and reflective mode. There’s a lot of images of bars, wire and people enclosed in small spaces. As with the glamour side of reality TV, we get introduced to the main characters: inmates from the “Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility Manukau City” [I thought that city was no more?], and from Paremoremo Prison. They mostly reflect on their relationships with whanau and friends, and how these will be impacted by exposing their life and criminality to the public.
They also talk of the importance of song and music, often while doing a bit of singing, accompanied by the low tech instrument of community – the accoustic guitar.
I’m anxious, not scared. I’m anxious because the words that I speak will affect a lot of people. Not just people that don’t know me, but family members and my mother. And that’s not my intentions, but things have to be said. I need to be listened to because I wasn’t being listened to before.
Lops, who sings about rising up, talks of his family and daughter and says he’s been inside for 6 years. He’s looking forward to collaborating with people because music brings people together.
Elvis introduces himself by saying,
I was always a loner at school. Pretty rough living at home. My father was an alcoholic. Mum was hardly around because she was busy working trying to keep us kids clothed fed and housed.
The whole episode is about the power of collaboration; about sharing skills, intimate experiences and feelings. Annie Crummer says,
I’m aware of the gifts that I’ve been given. So, I also know that art of that deal is to serve others. My gift.
Ruth sings a song that includes the words, “cause I’m crying from the inside out”.
Fiona’s explanation includes her saying,
“My objective here is to redeem myself for what I’ve done and to send it out to my whanau.”
Laughton Kora sings his “Politician” song:
Don McGlashan sings
Holly Smith’s his song, “Bathe in the River”, (a song also sung by Hollie Smith)
Annie Crummer sings “See What Love Can Do”
Women tend to commit different kinds of crimes than men. Convicted women are likely to be survivors of personal abuse, trauma, poverty and/or substance abuse; their crimes less serious and more casual than those by men. Both men and women convicted of crimes tend to come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
As Kora says, “Everybody Deserves a second chance”
See what collaboration, empathy, and the power of song can do: uplifting.
Politics is about power – and it is about people: about their communities, and their daily struggles to survive.