Sweet Sounds Of Love:
Lullabies From The Axis Of Evil
Here in the middle of the psy-ops free fire zone, otherwise known as the America 2004-2008, we are removed from any other bitter consequences of war, save for our own suffering, as seen on television. War is portrayed as a video game and all the real blood of death - especially of civilians - is drained. Humans and the people who love them are relegated to mere statistics, otherwise known as collateral damage.
What is this collateral damage? We all grieve and bleed for our friends and neighbors who died in the attack on the World Trade Towers, but what of other people's friends and neighbors? What of their children? We are not encouraged to think of that stuff, because, as any Marine will tell you, killing is not easy and you have to dehumanize "them." As Karl Rove and his peeps remind us, such thoughts are "unpatriotic."
In response to this attempt to render us Americans and the rest of the world comes Lullabies from the Axis of Evil. Proving that we as planetary citizens have more in common than not, these lullabies, performed by women from the various countries on Bush's enemy's list and Western enemy noncombatants, have a similar feel, though the languages and tunes vary. Each evokes the primordial sound of mothers communicating to children. It's the soothing sound that smooths over the struggle of life that even babies must endure (watch a baby try to move, sit, stand - life is never easy even in the best of circumstances).
Almost as difficult was the birth and development of this project by Norwegian Producer Erik Hillestad. All ideas take work to realize them and make them real, but to go into these lands, find these singers - and all the political and cultural barriers this entailed, not to mention armed soldiers and the lawless chaos of war and strife - and record them and get past the barriers with the tapes, was truly a feat even more courageous than learning to walk, talk, run, play, sing, and love.
[Mark Kirby] What type of music did you grow up listening to?
Erik Hillestad I am from a religious family. My father was a priest, so I grew up hearing a lot of hymns, church-music and classical music. But as a teenager my favorites (like for most people of my age) were Elvis, and (later) The Beatles. I also heard a lot of gospel music like Mahalia Jackson."
[Mark Kirby] What is your background in music? Are you primarily a performer? Engineer?
Erik Hillestad I have studied music at the University of Oslo. I have also studied and practiced a number of instruments, like piano, bass, flute, guitar, drums. Since the age of 22 I have produced around 200 records.
[Mark Kirby] What types of musical projects have you produced?
Erik Hillestad I have produced quite a few records with pop-music, folk-music, jazz, classical music and church-music. But the later years I have more and more searched for cross-cultural projects with elements from two or more countries mixed together. Like Argentinian tango meets Norwegian jazz, South African choral music meets Scandinavian pop, Palestinian folk meets European jazz etc.
[Mark Kirby] I know you were outraged by Bush's simplistic extremism, but what made you think of lullabies?
Erik Hillestad I searched for the opposite _expression. To meet violent words with peace-building and love-bringing lullabies. And Lullabies are the most "clean" expression with no other agenda than to give safety. Bush's words are meant to create fear.
[Mark Kirby] Describe how you found the singers.
Erik Hillestad It was different from country to country. In Palestine I had worked with musicians since 92, and I contacted one of them (Suhail Khoury) to get some help finding lullaby-singing ladies. In Iran I had to ask Norwegian Enterprises in Tehran if any of their employees knew of interesting female singers. In Afghanistan I went through a Norwegian humanitarian organization. In Syria and Baghdad a journalist living in Amman helped me with contacts in the music scene.
The women of these so-called foreign lands have something that unites them with those of us in the so-called free world: love. Love of song, love of life, love of children, and love's cousin from around the way, hope. The lullabies express what all mothers think and feel about their babies: they tell the babies, and ask god, that they will be safe from harm; that the babies are precious jewels of love and hope; that in their perfection, will the universe in all it's expressions of love - moon light, wind, the scent and flowers of jasmine - please rain gently upon them. These songs fly in the face of those who paint those people on the other side of political and economic demarcations as monster, as other. And it is a reminder that art can act like a mirror and a hammer without screaming, bluster, curses, and bombastic beats.
While cross-cultural collaboration of this sort is impressive, it is amazing how, in the hands of these true artists, the foreign tongues and melodies easily lend themselves to incorporation with the western music styles used on this record; music that blends American and European folk rock, ambient, country, and subtle, but striking blends, thereof.
This is especially true on the cut "Nam ya la Žaubi (Sleep, My Doll)". The amazing percussion of Paolo Vinaccia sets the atmosphere with tabla drums, chimes, and a shaker. The voices of Rim Banna, of Palestine, and Annisette, of Denmark, mesh like that of sisters. The rhythmic chant of Ms. Banna's voice is complimented by Annisette's sung version of the same lullaby: "Sleep my dolly/sleep my dolly/When the sun is rising you will shine/ And on you cheeks Arabian jasmine, a rose and lavender/ Sleep, my dolly.
On the delicate "Luna, Luna" the voices are virtually indistinguishable as Mayada Killsly Babhdadi, of Syria, and Mimi, of the good ole USA, trade singing and humming, over music that mixes slow-hand soft-funk drums and new school country accents in the bass and lap steel guitars of the projects main composer, Knut Reiersrud.
[Mark Kirby] How did American artists respond? Was there fear on their part of getting involved?
Erik Hillestad Most of the managers of the American artists were negative. Some of them just never answered, some said that the artist would never have time for doing it, some said that it would create damage to the career for the artist to do something so unpatriotic at a time of war, but quite a few were positive and enthusiastic about the idea. Some tried hard to make it happen in spite of heavy schedules, and of course some of these were not able to make it, but some ended up doing it, like the ones you find on the record.
[Mark Kirby] Nina Hagen and Ricki Lee Jones are the biggest names on the project. How did they come to be involved?
Erik Hillestad Nina Hagen responded very positively to the idea the first time we approached her. We had a couple of phone calls, and it was just a matter of organizing the recording. I went to London where we did the recording. She chose the Cuban song "Aruru" from a selection of four lullabies I sent her.
Rickie Lee Jones was also immediately very positive, but it took quite a time to make it happen, because of recordings and tours. I spent some months working together with her management to find an appropriate time, and finally it happened. I delivered some tracks for her to choose from, and she decided to do the Iraqi song "Garibe". The vocal tracks were sent to me through the internet.
[Mark Kirby] Any visits, calls or other harassment by the F.B.I. or Dept. of Homeland defense?
Erik Hillestad I haven't heard from them so far. They could surely need some lullabies. I don't understand how they can sleep.
[Mark Kirby] Are you in touch with any of the women? What is happening/has happened to the women in Iraq?
Erik Hillestad I am constantly in contact with Halla Bassam from Iraq. She has visited Norway several times after the recording. She will in fact come here tomorrow (Friday the 10th of December). On Sunday she will do a concert in our venue here in Oslo. Rim Banna from Palestine has recorded her next solo-album with me as a producer. KKV will release it in January. She is here now touring with the Norwegian artist Kari Bremnes whom she learned to know through the lullaby-project.
Marjan and Mahsa Vahdat from Tehran have also been to Norway after the recording, and they were part of a lullaby-concert here the last year. I have plans to visit them in February. I know that the women in Iraq both have suffered a lot of difficulties after the war broke out. They do not feel safe anymore. They have seen fighting and felt deep fear. They are deeply worried about the future.
As we head to this future, this project reminds us that we are all human and war and political strife is the creation of those who use all the rest of us humans as pawn and cannon fodder in their lemming-like march along paths of glory. These lullabies are recommended for home use and can certainly be used to spice up the repertoire of moms and dads everywhere. For information please contact Valley Entertainment at 212-974-9400 or on the web.
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