On the 7th November, the Nicaraguan people went to the polls. Though met by the outcry of ‘sham’ and other nonsensical accusations, the Nicaraguan people returned Daniel Ortega to office, continuing the renewed Sandinista Government’s rule. Since then, Britain, Canada, and other lackeys of the US have stamped up their sanctions, in yet another attempt to cripple anything progressive or pro-human to develop in the Central American nation.
As artists, we can often feel powerless in such situations. However with the likelihood of more mud being slung at the Nicaraguan people, I would like to introduce you to some wonderful Nicaraguan artists who use their art either in support of the Sandinistas.
La Misa Campesina, by Carlos Mejia Godoy and Oscar Gomez, was completed in 1979. As the title suggests, the piece is a Mass for the peasants of Nicaragua. The work is a wonderful marriage of traditional Catholic liturgy, Nicaraguan folk music, and Marxism. Over the multiple songs/movements, the music alternates between revolutionary new texts reaching out to the morals of the peasants to rise up, returning to traditional mass elements like a Sanctus or Angus Dei.
The very first performance in 1979 was broken up by the National Guard of the Somoza government, followed by prohibition of performance by the Archbishop of Managua. This may in part have helped the work gain its cult status, although it has never been accepted by the official Catholic hierarchy of Nicaragua.
I believe in you, comrade,
Christ human, Christ worker,
victor over death.
With your great sacrifice
you made new people
You are risen
in every arm outstretched
to defend the people
against the exploiters;
you are alive and present in the hut,
in the factory, in the school.
I believe in your ceaseless struggle,
I believe in your resurrection
– Excerpt of La Misa Campesina, Carlos Mejia Godoy
Grupo Pancasan formed in 1975, and play Nicaraguan folk music as a cultural accompaniment to the Sandinista revolution. At first, they were a modest, ramshackle group of guitars and drums. Then in 1977 one of the original members Agustin Sequeira went to join the guerrilla FSLN, and their music became more pointed and political. Their first album, ‘Pancasan’, was recorded in slightly frantic fashion, however it was politically driven throughout, including a song La Hora Cero based on the poetry of Ernesto Cardenal. After the album was released, and their first payments came through, the group did not accept the money stating 'We did not touch one peso. The money went directly to the help the fight against Somoza'.
The second album, ‘We Are Making History’, was once again pointed directly at the Somoza government, including songs like Notes on Uncle Sam. Throughout their work the sounds and politics of Nicaragua have been in a close and intricate marriage, and many Nicaraguans have described them as the ‘sound of the revolution’.
Grupo Libertad were formed in 1982, equally driven by the revolution as their colleagues in Pancasan, add a slightly funkier edge to it. Though the Nicaraguan folk element is present, the rhythmic drive is of a different flavour, full of satire and musical skill:
The neoliberal government of the early 90s forced the a backward turn in music and culture generally, especially in pro-Sandinista varieties like Pancasan and Libertad. Privatisation forced music to effectively disappear from ordinary people in Nicaragua, and it became a treat for the wealthy and the tourists. However, since Ortega and the Sandinistas returned, support for the arts has been very strong, and it is only a matter of time before a brand-new generation of artists begin to take the region, and hopefully the world, by storm.
At the beginning of this year I talked to artists in Nicaragua, thanks to the Friends of ATC, see here. Juan, Isaura, and Marvin showed me some of the initiatives that are taking place including the Fundacion INCANTO which aims to bring more classical music to the people of Nicaragua. As long as Nicaragua stays on a politically progressive path, the musical future is very bright indeed.
Ben Lunn is a composer, music critic, trade union activist, and helped found the Disabled Artist Network, an organisation which is bridging the gap between the professional world and disabled artists. He also has a monthly column in The Morning Star.