April 24, 2002


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frequencies

by josh kun

Basque planet

ON THE OPENING night of the World Economic Forum in January, Bono introduced Jean-Paul Messier, the CEO of Vivendi-Universal, by calling him a "corporate motherfucker." Far from an insult, it was an elbow nudge between millionaires and a sign of just how empty Bono's merger of pop and politics has become. Before Angelique Kidjo and Ravi Shankar could even take the stage to do a post-Sept. 11 version of "we are the world," the script's finale had already been written and performed: the triumph of corporatized rebellion and the friendly assurance, to an international audience of business executives and world leaders gathered to "address global issues" and to engage the forum's "corporate members in global citizenship," that dissent can be bought.

As post-punk Basque singer-songwriter Fermin Muguruza reminds us on his 2000 album of cheery agit-ska, FM 99.00 Dub Manifest (newly available in the United States on Piranha), this was not the first time Bono embarrassed himself in the presence of world leadership. In his song "Radical Chic," Muguruza blasts Bono for calling the pope a "funky pontiff." Bono's blur of transnational politics into corporate handshakes and wanna-be cool poses represents everything Muguruza – who since the 1980s has been a leading musical voice for Basque nationalist independence from the Spanish crown – is against.

Bono embodies what Muguruza calls the "radical chic artist," an artist who in trying to make rebellion cool sacrifices the true purpose of art: to be dangerous, tell the truth, and upset the social balance. Just look at the image of yellow crime-scene tape bearing the slogan "Artist Line Do Not Cross" that adorns FM's liner notes. At Muguruza's world economic forum, the musician is not an entertainer but a people's cop who protects and serves the noncorporate members of the global citizenry – find the crime, check for prints, and hunt down whoever is responsible.

The gulf between Bono and Muguruza is no surprise. Bono's become a corporate globalist masquerading as an activist, and Muguruza is a global activist busy fighting for the local. The Basques are the oldest indigenous ethnic group in Europe, and for the past three decades many of them – the car-bombing separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque homeland and freedom) being the most extreme example – have been struggling to maintain their land and language rights as a legitimately autonomous people and region.

On FM's opening track, Muguruza – who sings in Euskera, the age-old language of the Basques – bills himself as the "commander" of a musical army armed with "dissident thinking against just one memory." On "Nazio Ibilitaria Naiz," a song from another Muguruza album now available, Brigadistak Sound System (Piranha), Muguruza calls himself "a wandering nation," does a Public Enemy "fear of a Basque planet" riff, and then outlines a "strategy of symbolic resistance to linguistic domination, to the structured division of society." As someone engaged in the fight for local sovereignty and the preservation of local culture in the face of what he dubs "Macdonaldization," Muguruza wants to keep modernization from becoming synonymous with cultural homogeneity. As he sings on "Big Benat and Korrika 2001: Reunite the World!," he wants to be able to be both Basque and a citizen of the world, to not have to sacrifice one for the other.

Though both of Muguruza's albums were released more than two years ago, it's hard to listen to either FM or Brigadistak without hearing them through the ears of Passover massacres and Jenin border attacks. Both albums come from a world of bombs exploding on city streets and of people so wedded to the land they call their own that they are willing to saturate it with their own blood. On FM's "Ekhi Eder," Muguruza laments that "the right to live in the place of birth appears to be on sale."

Ever since the Franco dictatorship that Muguruza was born into actively suppressed Basque culture with death squads and political imprisonment, the violent tug-of-war between the Basques and the Spanish has had its echoes of the Middle East conflict, complete with political assassinations, ethnic separatism, and antistate violence committed in the name of future state formation. Throughout Brigadistak – where Muguruza's "musical army" is backed up by a global crew of "fellow travellers" that includes Mexican border punks Tijuana No and peripatetic Franco-Spanish agitator Manu Chao – he sings of language as if it were a weapon of war, of occupation as a way of life, and of culture as a military battlefield. He pays homage to his favorite Arabic bar while "remembering the words we have in common" and equates the U.S. bombing of Iraq with "Madrid fascists" killing Basques.

You could see this as a shortsighted, even irresponsible, conflation of very different political situations. Or you could see it how Muguruza does, as his approach to global thinking, one that, instead of merging economies and linking national interests to international markets, merges oppressions and links struggles – in short, one that calls Messier a corporate motherfucker and doesn't expect a laugh.

E-mail Josh Kun at jksfbg@aol.com.