Music Review: B-A-G-D-A-D: For those besieged by U.S. imperialism

 

 

As a person who has primarily been exposed to the culture of Black people, it would appear difficult to review an album from outside that world. When it is classical music, then, one would think it an even more profound dilemma. It is difficult to write well about something that is distinctly different from what one is accustomed to.

However, when songs are purposely connected to the struggle against exploitation, war and imperialism, then a music that intellectuals may describe as heady becomes beautiful and accessible.

Milos Raickovich is a Belgrade, Yugoslavia, born, world renowned classical musician and composer. His newest album, “B-A-G-D-A-D,” has an explicit purpose. The cover art itself, done by Raickovich’s daughter, illustrates the greatest tragedy of this imperialist war—what becomes of children faced with constant death and destruction, in whose ears alarms will forever sound. The name, the spelling in many languages of the capital of Iraq, is the title of the anchor of this collection of nine compositions.

The anchor piece is an “ode to the ancient city,” according to Raickovich. “B-A-G-D-A-D” was composed as a piano piece in September 2002 before the war in Iraq started, and is made of six notes, starting with B-flat. There are three different versions in the collection, one a piano piece, another with a harp and the third with a string quartet.

The piece is reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “Alabama.” “Alabama” begins melancholic, symbolizing the place and time, then strolls like life, never free from the struggle as the theme returns and continues until percussionist Elvin Jones’ drums roll in—the dawn that can’t be held back, like the struggle of the oppressed.

Raickovich’s “B-A-G-D-A-D,” while somber too, builds more slowly. As an ode to an ancient city, it takes its time because it has a longer history to reference. It ends on a melancholic tone, an allusion to the tragedy of U.S. imperialism and what it has done to a people, their culture and their cities.

The second piece is composed of chanting done at an anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C., in January 2003. Raickovich says, “This piece is a testimony to the courageous people in the U.S. who are struggling to stop the war.”

“Alarm,” the third piece, was the first one composed as an anti-war statement. It was written in 1999 after Yugoslavia had been bombed for 78 days by the U.S. and NATO. Raickovich was inspired to write the piece after he heard a woman scream during a protest in New York City: “Her sliding, falsetto scream sounded like sirens in Belgrade.”

The cello and violin are used to great effect to symbolize the sound of sirens; in between the sirens the thoughtful and haunting piano playing continues, hearkening to the human tragedy. One is left to imagine the space between the sirens, until they reach a cacophony when there is no space. It is jarring and disorienting, but Raickovich finishes with the sad melody, symbolizing what is left when the sirens cease.

For someone who has never appreciated classical music, or for anyone, “B-A-G-D-A-D” is a surprising collection. It is a statement; further evidence of a culture other than that of the ruling bourgeois class; an expression of the hopes, desires and frustrations of the oppressed and exploited. It is a piece in solidarity with those besieged by U.S. imperialism. It translates well and this reporter is honored to have had the opportunity to appreciate and review it.


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