For my second examination of the use of poetry within modern music I will delve into two albums by Eliza Carthy.
Last year, Big Machine – a storm of an album by Eliza Carthy and The Wayward Band – won awards and was performed at festivals and venues up and down the land. Outside of The Wayward Band was another contributor, Dizraeli aka Rowan Sawday. I remember when I first saw Dizraeli and The Small Gods at the Beautiful Days festival perhaps ten years ago and I was struck by Dizraeli’s fusion of politics and rhythm and The Small God’s fusion of rap with reggae, folk and Balkan music. For someone who is a mix of many things, it was inspiring to see.
Dizraeli is a rapper and poet from Bristol in the South of England. He moved to London to seek his fortune, and brought out his first solo album in 2009. He joins the bombastic Big Machine album to rap over Eliza Carthy’s vocals and the band’s instruments on the track You Know Me. You Know Me is about the UK’s strong tradition of hospitality – do we extend it to people fleeing conflicts? The refrain of the song, “the fruit in our garden is good” is a reference to Jesus’ words about the people who follow him. Eliza Carthy said that You Know Me reminds her of her great- grandmother’s quoting of the Bible, when Jesus said we are to serve others and in doing so, we won’t know it, but we may have been serving angels disguised as humans in need.
On the second CD of Big Machine, all the music is stripped away and allows us to hear Dizraeli the poet. He recites Aleppo As It Was. He reminds us that Syria was a thriving and wealthy nation with computers and all the trappings of modern life, with citizens who were friends who worked in their professions and welcomed each other in the cafes. And then Dizraeli reminds us that the way these people are described by our politicians in their hour of need is dehumanising. These people were referred to as insects, cockroaches, so that people like you and me would not view them as fellow human beings who deserve a safe place to sleep. Dizraeli, in pausing the music on Big Machine, makes us pause and reflect on our own lives and responses to people in need.
Big Machine is not the first album by Eliza Carthy that uses spoken word. Dreams Of Breathing Under Water, which was released in 2008, includes the track Mr Magnifico. I love this track for its mariachi-style music, but also for the ironic verses spoken by Tim Matthew of Lau that are interspersed by Eliza Carthy singing choruses. Mr Magnifico is a comical story told in a straight way about a man who thinks he’s all that, but he ain’t. Tim Matthew’s thick Scottish accent sits perfectly with the Mexican-style music and Eliza Carthy’s scathing choruses.
Eliza Carthy is an incredible artist, performer, singer, violin player, song writer and interpreter of traditional music who has worked with Salsa Celtic (a Cuban-Celtic band), Imagined Village (an Indian-British folk band), The Rat Catchers (who all went on to become major artists in their own right) and has produced several solo albums as well as performing on albums with her family – the world renowned Waterson:Carthy. As a perpetually exciting and evolving artist, it is no surprise that Eliza Carthy would feature poetry and rap on her albums and collaborates with someone of Dizraeli’s musical and performance background.
If you are into collaborative music and finger on the pulse alternative music, Tim Matthew, Dizraeli and Eliza Carthy are people to follow closely.