five ragas to balm the post-election pain (with further thoughts on moving forward)

khan

 

For a week, I have lost my words – the will to speak. Like many others, I have been pushed from the path by sadness and fear. It has, by all accounts, been a horrible period. For many of us – those on the Far-Left, the outcome of the American presidential election wasn’t surprising. For my own part, I saw the writing on the wall in June when the Brexit result was announced. It became clear then, that the intertwined institutions of global politics and economics were out of alignment with the social realities which they are charged to serve – far worse than any of us recognized. Decades of Right-Wing attacks on education and social equity are beginning to bear a final season of poisoned fruit. The tree of liberty is rotting from within.

If we’re honest, we must consider the possibility that American Democracy had failed before the election cycle began. Had it been functioning properly, Bernie Sanders would have been the Left’s candidate, and in all likelihood we would not be faced with the reality we now are – nearly every poll had him winning by a landslide, while Clinton was foreseen as being caught in a deadlock with Trump. Disregarding this, the DNC attempted to assert their dominance, telling the Left leaning citizens of the United States that they could not have the candidate they wanted, did everything in their power (particularly through collusion with the corporate media) to undermine Sander’s campaign (which favored the interests of the American people over those of the political and economic establishment), and then (after winning) accused the public of misogyny for doubting a candidate who had been forced upon them, while employing a culture of fear to try and win votes. The Clinton campaign (with the DNC) lacked respect for the democratic process, and the intellect and awareness of the American people – believing that they were incapable of seeing this, while failing to anticipate the backlash of anger and betrayal. More than any other reason, this is why Hillary lost – few wanted her as their candidate, and saw her presence as a fundamental betrayal of democratic values and the desires of the American people.

Though it’s impossible to know what kind of president Hillary Clinton might have been, and I have no doubt that she would have been far better than Trump, it is crucial to not get caught in this detail. Clinton is part of the same destructive and self-serving system as her opponent – Neoliberalism, an aggressive political and economic position which has reaped untold destruction in millions of lives across the globe for decades. In my view, she has as much right to the presidency as he does – none at all. The dominant contemporary economic system – bound to the current realization of the political establishment, which Trump and Clinton both seek to further, is anti-democratic by nature. In order to fix the system – in order to fight for Democracy (which is to say universal equality), we must vanquish denial and recognize the true character of our social, political, and economic landscape. Though Trump is a vile racist, and a sexist xenophobe, the system that Clinton fights to sustain is equally all of these things. The consequences are simply one step removed. It is Neoliberalism’s destructiveness and greed which have yielded the election result – which has given us Trump. It is dying, but if we fail to recognize the source of the problem and work together, what replaces it will not be ours to form (and potentially far worse).

Hillary Clinton (unlike her opportunistic opponent) failed to gauge the mood of the American people – the need for change. She played a bad game of politics – offering to sustain the very thing which is the source of the problem – the cause of so much pain among the American people (and across the globe). How could she have done otherwise? It is the system which has given her nearly everything she has. She was simply the wrong candidate. The vast majority of voters understood this (all be it, intuitively) – even those who voted for her, in their desperate attempt to stave off a far worse alternative. Nearly everyone knew they were playing a game of lesser evils. It turns out, in the face of so much pain and suffering, it was not enough.

We don’t live in a new world. America has not changed overnight. Fundamentally, its character the same – the same people, the same beliefs, the same same social, political, and economic aggregators. What has shifted is the balance of power, the potential of consequence, and perhaps our willingness to face certain truths. The election result has lifted a veil, behind which lay crushing truths – not the least of which is our own complicity, apathy, and fault.

Putting the election behind us and looking ahead, America has found itself with a president-elect who is a vocal racist, bigoted sexist, and xenophobe. As the country and the globe have struggled to come to terms with the meaning of this – of the destruction it will likely reap in countless lives, and who is to blame, I am yet to hear some basic truths which must be addressed to understand the current landscape – of what is to come, and how best to fight it.

Politics, as a system and structure of ideas, has associative meanings which are not part of its strict definition. We recognize its relation to the architectures of power, and the bureaucracies that come with running a country. We see it (when existing within a democratic system) as an extension of our voice, and a means of collective decision making. What we rarely recognize is that, embedded within our expectation of the word, is the idea of change. We expect politics to be moving toward a better ideological realization of itself and the policies it enacts (regardless of where you fall in the political spectrum, or how you see this as best realized). As Americans, we intuitively associate the idea of stasis with failure. This is logical – particularly in Democracy, which has yet to find the realization of its base principle – universal equality and access. For decades, Neoliberalism has duped us into thinking that everything was ok – that progress was occurring, and thus we have retained our complacency and distance. We have focused on our own lives, cloaked in our belief that the system, and our expectation of it, was working. As a result we have lost sight of the whole. We have fooled ourselves into thinking our own lives were a mirror for the nation – that if we’re surviving, others must be too. If the election has taught us anything, it is that this luxury must be done away with. The majority of our country is suffering and in pain – far worse than most of the Left can imagine. Within a Democratic system, we must all bear some of the blame and responsibility for this. We have caused this. We must take charge of its resolution.

It is easy to cast Donald Trump’s win as the result of an advocation of inequity – scapegoating, using xenophobia as a polarizing device of focused blame, but this is not the best way to understand and fight it. We must look deeper. It is rooted in the denial of access – in the dismantling of Democracy. The economic philosophy of Neoliberalism has taken root in nearly every country in the West, and with it practices which shift finance away from the public sector (thus basic social protections, education, healthcare, housing, and economic distribution), while undermining access to a sustainable income for the majority of the global population (through deregulation). Within this economic system as we enter it, there is a fairly static amount of Capital in the global economy, thus one person having more, has the counterpoint of another having less. To focus on immigration as a political device, is a method of subterfuge (immigration is in fact a major component in stimulating financial growth in nearly all systems of Capitalism), distracting attention away from the massive consolidation of wealth by the ruling class. The theft of millions of people’s well being. Understanding this is not enough. If politics is fueled by desire, we must find the root. We all know that immigrants, or whomever divisive political strategy chooses to focus on, are not stealing jobs or a previously allotted piece of the pie. They are not the source of the economic desolation of Middle-America. In fact, none of this is about the “other”. It is about the individual who is compelled to focus on such a thing. While we can not cease our fight for the rights and well being of those the Right-Wing attack, we can not forget to fight for those the policies of the Right have attacked the most – their own voting pool – the poor and the disenfranchised.

If we address the two components of access and change, we instantly see the root of Donald Trump’s political platform. We all know he will not deliver on his promises – that he in fact will work against the interests of the very people whose imaginations he captured, but that does not mean what he achieved is not of use. It cannot be dismissed. What Donald Trump did was simple. He claimed he would activate access and change for a population who has been denied them – that he would give something to those who have nothing. He capitalized on a hope for Democracy, embedded in those who have been denied its benefits. Beyond political strategy, this is exactly what we should all strive to do. It is what needs to happen, and what is ethical. Where he fails, it will allow us to strip him of power and persuasion. What we cannot grant is the polarization of the political process to take root – to embrace the growing distance between the Right and the Left – to think of those who support or vote for the Right as an evil racist body to be silenced. This would only serve the Right-Wing political and economic establishment. They have divided us and conquered. We must return the access and economy to those who have been denied it by decades of Neoliberal policy making and action – the Right-Wing political base. We must give, even if it means taking from ourselves, and offering everything to those who embrace the most repugnant of ideologies. They are the ones who suffer most.

As the first particles of dust settled, following the election, it was this final factor which was hardest for me to address. My fear and sadness was focused less on Donald Trump, than it was the inconceivable millions of people who had embraced, supported, and been complicit with his hateful rhetoric. How could I process this scale of evil in the world? How could we undo it? What role could I play? The astounding weight placed a metaphorical sock in my mouth.

Racism, sexism, and xenophobia, all of which played a significant role in the election result, deny the equality of one group of human beings in favor of another. In a system of Democracy, all people are equal or moving toward equality. If you do not believe in universal equity, you do not believe in Democracy – thus, as Donald Trump does not, we are about to have a president who does not believe in the fundamental system which governs America’s base principle belief. He will likely work against interests. He is anti-democratic. Recognizing and understanding this is crucial to navigating and contributing balance to what will almost certainly be a profoundly challenging four years.

Donald Trump is a single man. Like all American presidents, he is a figurehead – a lens for the zeitgeist of our country. It will be easy for us to become distracted by him. He is a loud mouthed fool who says abhorrent things. He is a master of the art of misdirection. We must watch him like a hawk –  asserting our dissent, and fighting him at every turn, but our work should be focused on the long term – far beyond his four years (otherwise we will likely find ourselves here again). We must strive to undo what has brought us to the brink – what has ushered such a vile creature into our lives. We should be paying attention to the heaving mass of those who supported him – trying to understand them, and to change their views. We must recognize their humanity, asking what has compelled them to place their support behind a structure of ideas that denies the value of others. We must find a way to bring them back into the fold – to help them see that all of our lives have equal value and importance, and that the system which denies their own is the same system which oppresses us all. We must fight to help them see that, despite how it appears, what they are supporting is anti-democratic, and that only collectively pursued Democracy will come to their aid. Most importantly, we must lay an educational infrastructure available to all, which prevents this from happening again.

How do we cope? Where do we begin? With each other. With respect and learning, and in this music has a profound role to play. Like all of the arts, it can unravel the distances and misunderstandings that grow (or are imposed) between people, and help us cope with the pain of our failures. It is a bridge and a builder of empathy. It is a balm. It is something that nearly all of us have in common. It can bring us together against the odds.

For many years, during my most difficult moments, I have found myself gravitating toward Indian Classical music to help me cope. I can’t claim to know why, or how it does what it does, but it helps. It replenishes me and pushes me forward. It is one of the greatest loves of my life. For the last week, I have shut out the world and listened to raga after raga – letting them wash over me, teach me, and bring me calm. They have given me strength to write the words which have now come to pass – to move forward and gather myself for the coming fight.

The following are five of my favorite live performances online. Among others, they have helped get me through the difficult week. I hope they bring a bit of joy into each of your lives, and offer some strength to press forward in the coming dark days.

-Bradford Bailey

 

U. Srinivas – Private Concert (1989)

Uppalapu Srinivas is one of my favorite contributors to the Carnatic tradition of Indian Classical music. A child prodigy who began performing to great acclaim at a young age, he is widely credited with popularizing the electric mandolin within Indian music – sadly he passed away far too young in 2014. Recordings by Srinivas, particularly those made when he was young, are incredibly rare and hard to find.  This makes videos of his performances that much more important. This one, made at a private performance in 1989 when he was 20, and clocking in at just under two hours, is a remarkable gem. You can find a few more in my previous post here.

 

Zia Mohiuddin Dagar – Raga Suddha Todi (1976)

Zia Mohiuddin Dagar was one of the most remarkable players in 20th century Indian Classical music. He was a member of the 19th generation of Dagar family dhrupad musicians, and was largely responsible for the revival of the rudra veena as a solo concert instrument. Prior to his generation (and aspects of his personal contribution) both dhrupad and his preferred instrument had largely fallen from public favor. During his lifetime, despite the acclaim he achieved in India, he was arguably more well known in the West. Dagar was best known for incredible sparse and slow realizations of ragas, making this performance from Seattle in 1976 a bit uncommon (but not unheard of). It is short, rapidly progressing, features Mridingam (the drum) accompaniment, and is absolutely fantastic.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan – Raga Jhinjhoti (Raga Khamaj?)

Next to his brother-in-law Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan is probably the most famous player from the 20th century in the Hindustani tradition. He is easily the most important to me. It was through his music that my love for the Indian Classical traditions first took seed. This is a broadcast from Indian television. I’m unsure of the date. Though my ear is not developed enough to distinguish the character of individual ragas, there are a number of people who chimed into the comments, indicating that this is probably Raga Khamaj, not Raga Jhinjhoti. Any way you look at it, it’s an incredible performance and bound to brighten any day.

 

Pandit Ranadhir Roy – Raga Jaijawant

Ranadhir Roy is a player I don’t know much about. Though it seems he was fairly well known, recordings are rare. My interest in him came through the Esraj, which is a bowed instrument somewhat similar to the more commonly used sarangi. He was one of the instrument’s greatest players and proponents. This is one of my favorite YouTube videos of all time – in part because of the beauty of the performance, in part because of the beauty of the film itself.

Vidushi Smt. N Rajam – Raga Darbari

N Rajam is one of my absolute favorite players of violin in the Hindustani tradition, and this video of a performance of Raga Darbari is probably my favorite of this list. It leaves me speechless. I have returned to it again and again. Rajam is a player of astounding depth and sensitively, who deserves to be far more famous than she is. If you have to limit yourself to watching one of the videos featured here, I’d recommend this be the one.

 

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