Love Music Hate Racism release The Beautiful Resistance
The Glasgow branch of the nationwide, events-based political campaign Love Music Hate Racism are releasing a compilation album, The Beautiful Resistance. We chat to some of the organisers and artists involved in its creation
Raymie Kiernan can remember when the campaign Love Music Hate Racism really began. The Glaswegian organiser and campaigner was a "relatively new anti-racism activist" in 2002 – involved in the early protests that lead to the formation of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees – when he first heard about a "free, anti-Nazi league carnival" taking place in the North of England. At the time, the overtly racist British National Party were gaining electoral successes in the region, and support in Glasgow too. Kiernan recalls the BNP creating "a horrible, hostile environment for asylum seekers in Sighthill." The "fascists were a threat," and he knew right away that the carnival, as part of a wider anti-racism movement to beat the BNP, was "absolutely crucial to support."
Almost two decades on and Kiernan remembers the day of the carnival, now known as the first big Love Music Hate Racism concert, as something of a turning point. "It was a phenomenal day," he says of the festivities in Manchester's Platt Fields Park, headlined by Doves and Ms. Dynamite. "It was a music festival – people sitting in the park, enjoying themselves, communities mixing together, families, activists, music fans. To see how music can bring people together and also have this strong focus on anti-racism – that was a total game-changer for me." He returned to Glasgow soon after and started organising with the newly formed Love Music Hate Racism local group. Music, he realised, was emotive, joyful and unifying – it could be a powerful weapon in the fight against bigotry.
It's been 18 years since Kiernan stepped into that park to attend the first national Love Music Hate Racism carnival, and he's been involved in the Glasgow branch ever since. He sees the campaign as an "extra string to the anti-fascist movement's bow." In Glasgow, LMHR events are as fun and as raucous as any night out, but there is a political undercurrent to the partying. Gigs are often organised around national days of action, such as the UN anti-racism day; between musical acts and DJ sets, audiences are signposted to upcoming marches and meetings and urged to get involved with grassroots anti-racism groups.
The Glasgow branch has seen an influx of new members over the last couple of years – many young, local musicians themselves – and instigated a prolific period of activity in 2019, organising numerous gigs, a Scottish mini-tour for the rapper Lowkey and a three-day stage at Doune the Rabbit Hole festival. In early 2020, they set their sights on making an album, a tangible manifestation of the energy, spirit, ethos and variety of their live gigs. They titled it The Beautiful Resistance.
Now, The Beautiful Resistance is complete and last month was released into the world. The finished product is a concoction of music, sonic art, spoken-word poetry and excerpts from speeches by Black Lives Matter and Stand Up To Racism activists.
Musically speaking, the album has something for everyone. Chris Bainbridge of Man of Moon, RAZA, Jill Lorean, The Kidney Flowers and Bee Asha Singh of The Honey Farm have all contributed – there are also some standout tracks by newer voices on the Scottish music scene, too. Tabby Detroit's bluesy, Amy Winehouse-reminiscent Trouble in Paradise; The Positive Experience's lyrical, earworm of a rap Coffin; and 2019 Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Stage winner Djana Gabrielle's soulful, meditative That Very First Day all prove that these artists are ones to watch.
Never straying far from the politics at its centre, many of the tracks on the album tackle issues of identity and belonging. Gabrielle's That Very First Day is about "having a hard time finding your place, a sense of belonging somewhere." "I thought [this song] could be a perfect fit for the LMHR album, as it could resonate with a lot of people," explains the French-Cameroonian singer-songwriter, "especially those living in a foreign land".
For Bulgarian singer Vanya Semerdjieva, who performs under the moniker Loznitsa, the inclusion of her performance of the anti-war song Molam Seh represents an "accidental" fall-back into music that began only two years prior. In 2018, she had been living in Glasgow for seven years when her friend, an LMHR organiser, heard her singing a traditional Bulgarian song at a party. She persuaded Semerdjieva to sing at an upcoming LMHR gig.
Semerdjieva found the experience of performing music in her own language to a Scottish audience – the same country where she had felt compelled to use her partner's Scottish last name when booking tables in restaurants – intensely moving. She reflects on experiences with xenophobia in Scotland that ranged from big to small, systematic to personal, including being unable to work for six months when she first arrived due to anti-Bulgarian UK regulations, and the various times her last name provoked bewilderment and derision from locals.
"It sounds small, but it got to the stage where I felt like I was trying to ease everyone's discomfort by almost apologising for the inconvenience caused by my name," says Semerdjieva. "I was seriously considering using a made-up, easily digestible name." In this context, performing Bulgarian music to a rapt audience hanging onto every word felt empowering, particularly at a time when there was "so much hatred from the media towards immigrants."
From there, she began experimenting with the choral arrangements of traditional songs she had learned at school, teaching the songs phonetically to backing singers and performing them at LMHR gigs in and around Glasgow. "I always had a slight tendency to put my background aside and try to fit in and integrate," she explains. "LMHR facilitated a space where I could embrace my culture, show it to other people and teach it to other people. Through music... I reclaimed it."
The Beautiful Resistance is out now, available to buy and stream via Bandcamp
Follow Love Music Hate Racism Glasgow here