Friday, June 14, 2013

To the Barricades! Or, Barikatlar için!

This is simply moving. There's no other way to describe it. The song is beautiful enough on its own, when sung in English. When the choir start singing it in Turkish it gets almost impossible to remain unmoved. Knowing the context -- a pre-revolutionary situation -- makes it truly sublime.

Over the past thirty some-odd years, "Do You Hear the People Sing?" has become one of the best-known songs from Les Miserables. And likely for reasons that make a great many Broadway producer squeamish. Now, this. But hell, if you spread a song about revolution far and wide into popular culture, you should expect it to be seized upon by actual revolutionaries.

There are a great many examples of this. The Nicaraguan Sandinistas, while under siege from the Contras, reportedly played the BeeGees' "Stayin' Alive" over loudspeakers as a way of keeping the people's morale up. Hardly a revolutionary song, but meanings change with time, especially when the masses are in motion.

This isn't the first example of the Turkish revolutionaries instinctually seizing upon that dynamic either. The whole title of "Chapulling" is a thumbing of the nose to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who called the occupiers of Taksim Square çapulcu -- looters in Turkish. It didn't take long for the writing to appear on the wall... literally: "every day I'm chapulling." The notorious LMFAO song is just about the epitome of a corporate party anthem, designed for easy consumption. And yet, here it was being literally redefined, given a new context among the streets and barricades.

If the Turkish insurgents can do that, then it's not hard to understand how they could do the same to the famous Les Miz song; it's not as far a reach. Just a reminder that culture more naturally comes from the bottom up. We deserve to run it and own it just like everything else.

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