Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl – White Wind (two weeks with Ewan MacColl, day twelve)

• “White Wind” set to a picture of the housing album cover. Thanks to Various Artists – Topic.

9.2 “Classic Folk from the USA”

From their LP “Hot Blast” (Blackthorne Records BR-1059) released in 1978.

In 1978, the husband-and-wife duo continued with their fine 1970s form, following “Cold Snap” with “Hot Blast” (see what they did there!) with musical accompaniment from their sons Neill and Calum MacColl, as well as Bruce Turner. The liner notes set the stall out:

“All but one of the songs on this album were written between September 1977 and February 1978. For the most part they deal with political matters, and for those credulous souls who believe that political songs are part of a world-wide communist conspiracy we would point out that the practice of writing and singing political songs is one of our oldest traditions, dating back (at least) to the Norman conquest. We hope that the songs on this album will be useful weapons in the arsenal of those who are engaged in “the international conspiracy” against the brutal exploitation of the working-class, against the senseless waste of human and natural resources and against the perniciuous disease of racism.”

The epic “White Wind”, clocking in at over 18 minutes, closes the LP magnificently. Ewan’s inspirational songs of the black man’s struggle in South Africa had been adopted by the African National Congress in the 1960s and they approached him to write more. Speaking of this, Ewan explained his dilemma:

“it was impossible—for me, at any rate—to do justice to what was happening in a single song. I determined to write a group of songs, but to relate them to each other. So, I made a little study, as best I could in the short time at my disposal, and talked to lots of Africans, and wrote these five pieces, each using a different style—a style, not an African style, but a style that was suggestive, inspired, touched off by listening to different African—music from different parts of Africa.”

It’d be fair to say, he did them proud, he did them justice, holding individuals and corporations to account for the atrocious events. In the finale, there are two ways to look at Soweto: “Soweto: a word for murder, Soweto means fascist terror, Soweto: a word for death, Tanks opposing naked flesh. Soweto! Soweto! Soweto: a word for courage, Soweto means will to fight, Soweto means end oppression, Soweto: it spells UNITE!

Act I
Did you hear the wind that came in the night from the Northland?
(we have heard, we have heard)
Did you hear the notes of the broken song of the wind from the Northland?
(we have heard, we have heard)
Song of rust sung out of iron throats, the rattling bones, lamenting flesh,
Chattering teeth of guns saluting death, the crackling tongues of fire
Cadaverous choir of worms.

Have you seen how the land was raped by the wind from the Northland?
(we have seen, we have seen)
Have you seen the crops that were sown in the night by the wind from the Northland?
(we have seen, we have seen)
The tortured land is lashed with iron rain, the shuffling reapers harvest chains,
Skulls in the twisted trees are ripe with flame, whips bloom in the fields
The earth is bearing prisons.

Have you known the sickness borne on the wind from the Northland?
(we have known, we have known)
Have you smelled the blood and known the hate that was born on the wind from the Northland?
(we have known, we have known)
The white disease, the pestilence of greed, the carriers of the taking plague,
Scavengers of the world condemned to feed on everything that lives,
And kill what they don’t need.

Act II
The warriors came,
They overran our land,
The landless poor of distant lands,
Red-coated poor,
The disinherited of northern lands,
The broken men of the white tribes.

The warriors came,
They overran our land,
Their only song the song of fire,
Red-coated slaves who bring enslavement,
Their only dance the dance of death
Of the white tribes.

The warriors came,
They overran our land,
With smoke and flame and reek of blood,
Their god of pain is fed on murder,
And tortured flesh,
The gentle god of the white tribes.

The warriors came,
They overran our land,
And bloodless men came bearing laws,
The twisted laws that make theft easy,
The law of chains,
That made us slaves of the white tribes.

The warriors came,
They overran our land,
The hard-eyed men who worship gold,
They took the land that bore and fed us,
They made it theirs,
The ravaged earth of the white tribes.

The warriors came,
They overran our land,
And shuffling priests of gods of pain,
And men with serpents’ eyes,
Lawbearers of poisoned laws,
That gave our land to the white tribes.

THE SPOILERS CAME,
A RAVENING PLAGUE OF ANTS,
WHITE ANTS THAT FEED ON BLOOD AND GOLD,
DEVOURING MEN AND PLAINS AND MOUNTAINS,
AND GRASS AND TREES,
DRIVEN BY GREED
MADE MAD WITH NEED
OF DEAD YELLOW ROCK
AND CRYSTALS BURIED IN THE EARTH’S DRY GRAVE.

THE SPOILERS CAME,
RIDING A WHITE NIGHTMARE THROUGH EMPTY VIEWS,
KNOWING NO WARMTH, NO LOVE, NO KINSHIP,
ONLY PRIDE IN THE SKIN OF THE WHITE TRIBE.

Act III
Who are the people, the people of southern Africa,
The sons and the daughters,
The natural offspring of Africa’s soil.
O —–
Who labours and toils so that Africa’s soil
Might be fed with their sweat?
O —–
What are their names?
What are their names?

Xhosa and Swazi and Tswana, Mpondu, Mfengu,
Venda, Shangaan, Tsonga and Sotho, Africans all,
O —–
Coloured and Indian, one people,
The people of Africa’s south,
O —–
These are their names
These are their names

Whose is the land and the riches of southern Africa?
The copper, the coal, the valuable diamonds, the glittering gold?
O —–
Is it the Zulu’s, the Swazi’s
The people of Africa’s south?
O —–
Whose is the land?
Whose is the land?

Who digs the coal and the copper and gold of Africa?
Who are the toilers? Who digs the diamonds, uranium ore?
O —–
Who works in the fields
And who gathers a harvest that’s none of their own?
O —–
What are their names?
What are their names?

Who plunders the land and the people of southern Africa?
Who are the spoilers? Who owns the diamonds, uranium ore?
O —–
Who takes the gold and the copper and coal,
All the fruits of the earth?
O —–
What are their names?
What are their names?

Vorster and Verwoerd and Smuts, the unholy trinity:
British investors, American, German, Belgian and French,
O —–
General Motors and Barclays and Rio Tinto and Shell
O —–
These are their names
These are their names

The prophets of progress have come to southern Africa,
Bringing apartheid, guns and the Pass Law
Prisons and slums,
O —–

Act IV
Where is your daddy, son?
Where has your daddy gone?
Why doesn’t he live at home?
Why did he go away?
Why does he stay away?
Why does he leave you and your mammy alone?

Maybe he’s down a mine
Or building a railway line,
Maybe he’s hauling stone.
Maybe within a year
They’ll let him come back here,
Give him a permit to visit his home.

How will he know you, son?
You’ve been a-growing, son,
He’s been away so long.
So long since he’s seen you,
They’ve bulldozed our lean-to,
So how will he know where you’ve gone?

How will you know him, son?
You’ve been a-growing, son,
He’s been away so long.
He’s poor and he’s black
And the clothes on his back
And the pass in his pocket is all that he owns.

Maybe he’ll never come,
Maybe he’s on the run,
Maybe he’s lost his pass.
Maybe he’s gone to ground,
Hid in some shanty-town,
Waiting to earn enough cash.

Maybe they picked him up,
Questioned him, beat him up,
Then sent him on his way.
Maybe they weren’t satisfied,
Maybe they thought he lied,
Maybe they put him away.

Maybe he got colour-blind,
Maybe he spoke his mind,
Maybe he didn’t say “Please”.
Maybe he saw the light,
Better to stand and fight,
Than live all your life on your knees.

Maybe he’s lying dead,
Hanged or shot through the head,
Killed in a prison cell.
Maybe he’s fighting back,
Gone over to the attack,
Maybe he’s learned to rebel.

Where is your daddy, son?
Where has your daddy gone?
Why doesn’t he live at home?
He’s learning to fight,
For all black people’s rights,
And he’ll never let up till we’ve won.

Act V
SIXTEENTH DAY OF JUNE,
IN THE YEAR OF SEVENTY-SIX,
THE LONG HOT BLOODY YEAR,
THE YEAR OF SOWETO.

Soweto! Soweto! Soweto! Soweto! Soweto!
Sleepers stir and the dawn is breaking,
Soweto! Soweto!
Morning sun and the township waking,
Soweto! Soweto!
Through the streets black children walking,
Soweto! Soweto!
Rise and fall of voices talking,
Soweto! Soweto!
Down at the schoolhouse people waiting,
Soweto! Soweto!
Barefoot students demonstrating,
Soweto! Soweto!
Boys and girls they stand determined,
Soweto! Soweto!
Give us books, the tools of learning,
Soweto! Soweto!
Clouds of dust as the armoured cars pass,
Soweto! Soweto!

We ask for books and they give us tear-gas,
Soweto! Soweto!
Learn the lesson of apartheid,
Soweto! Soweto!
Tanks in the streets and the smell of cordite,
Soweto! Soweto!
Children who have known no childhood,
Soweto! Soweto!
Pledge their hope and give their life-blood,
Soweto! Soweto! Soweto! Soweto!

Soweto: a word for murder,
Soweto means fascist terror,
Soweto: a word for death,
Tanks opposing naked flesh.
Soweto! Soweto! Soweto!

Soweto: a word for courage,
Soweto means will to fight,
Soweto means end oppression,
Soweto: it spells UNITE!

You can read my album review here.

peggy-seeger-and-ewan-maccoll-hot-blast


Ewan MacColl is known to most people as a songwriter and singer, but he was also of significant influence in the worlds of theatre and radio broadcasting. He was a committed socialist all his life and his political sensibilities underpinned all his creative activities. His art reached huge numbers through the folk clubs, greater numbers through his recordings and untold millions through the radio. Although The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Dirty Old Town remain his biggest ‘hits’, MacColl wrote songs for many different contexts: incidental songs for theatrical productions, commissioned pieces for labour unions or political causes, songs stitched together from vernacular speech recorded for the radio documentary series The Radio Ballads, songs for rallying, striking, marching… and, of course, songs for singing in folk clubs.

For sixty years he was at the cultural forefront of numerous political struggles, producing plays, songs and scripts on the subjects of apartheid, fascism, industrial strife and human rights. It has been said that he was an enormous fish in a small pond – but the ocean of traditional song and speech upon which he navigated and hunted owes him a great debt for the treasures that he returned to it.
ewanmaccoll.co.uk

ewan-maccoll

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