Barbez, with Velina Brown,
For Those Who Came After
(Important Records, 2017)

War and protest often have been the inspiration of great music.

Though memory of it has faded in the wake of more recent horrors, the bloody Spanish Civil War was no exception. Some of the best music of that time has been gathered in this new release by Barbez, a Brooklyn-based band, and vocalist Velina Brown. Recorded live during the annual reunion of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in New York, all proceeds are destined for the brigade's archives.

When a group of far-right military officers calling themselves Nationalists rebelled in 1936 with the aim of overthrowing the democratically-elected Spanish Republic, Hitler and Mussolini were quick to come to their aid with weapons and troop support. The United States, Britain and France -- leery of being drawn into war with the Nazis and Fascists -- rejected pleas for aid from the outgunned Spanish Republic. The only nations to offer support were Mexico and the Soviet Union (which had its own ulterior motives). But men and women from more than 50 countries, including 2,800 Americans calling themselves the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, courageously joined in the fight against fascism.

The Republicans and their allies were ultimately crushed, leading to the brutal 35-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Many of the songs on this album were preserved by the late Pete Seeger and covered by other folk musicians down the years. Some, such as "L'Internationale," have become icons of protest. Barbez draws on a variety of musical styles and eclectic instruments in presenting the 10 tracks on this album. Actor/singer/director Brown adds a stirring ingredient to the mix.

"Viva La Quince Brigada," the first track on the album, is a tribute to the XV Brigade in which most Americans, Britains and Canadians volunteered to fight. Featured in the track are comments by Abe Osberoff, one of the last surviving members of the brigade.

Among my personal favorites on the album are "Song of the United Front," composed by Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler, which called for all the parties involved to join as one to fight the fascists; "No Pasaran (They Shall Not Pass)," slogan of Madrid's defenders, and the rousing "Las Barricadas." This final track includes an interview with Delmer Berg, the last known survivor of the American volunteers, who died in 2016 at the age of 100.

The musicians of Barbez are Dan Kaufman, guitar; John Bollinger, drums; Peter Hess, clarinet/bass clarinet; Peter Lettre, bass; Catherine MacRae, violin; Pamelia Stickney, theremin, and Danny Tunick, vibraphone and marimba. Special guests on the album are Dafna Naphtali, background vocals, and Sebastian Faber, trumpet.

Kaufman, bandleader of Barbez, is also a journalist who has written extensively on the Spanish Civil War and conducted the interview with Del Berg from which the short segment on the album is taken.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
John Lindermuth

2 December 2017

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