Dave Randall has toured the world as a guitarist with the band Faithless as well producing some of his own, criminally underappreciated, music under the band name Slovo (seriously, do check it out). His latest work has taken him from the stage to the page with a book which fuses his two great passions. Sound System: The Political Power of Music examines the rich history of politics and music and how they have been entwined for centuries. Randall was speaking about his book at Greenbelt, a festival of music, comedy and ideas held in the stunning grounds of Boughton House in Northamptonshire. He said his own political awakening came through music that he heard at Greenbelt as a teenager. "I was listening to the crowd singing 'Free Nelson Mandela' by The Specials. At that time I had no idea who Nelson Mandela was, but by the end of the first chorus I knew that I wanted him to be free. It was that experience that awoke my interest in global politics. It made me realise the future isn't written and ordinary people have a say in what happens next."
However he got to see a different perspective on the role of music and power in South Africa when he was touring there with Faithless in 1997 after Mandela had become president. "I saw our tour as an expression of solidarity with a newly liberated rainbow nation," he said. "But I learned that our tour was heavily branded and sponsored by Camel cigarettes. At one event I spoke to a woman from Camel who, when I asked what she did, said 'my job is to get 18 to 24 year olds to smoke'. I realised then we were a trojan horse for the corporate takeover over a troubled country. Ever since then I've wanted to unravel the complex relationship between music and politics."
The challenge to powerful elites was also to be found at Greenbelt in the form of Christian Aid's Big Shift campaign which aims to get UK banks to stop using our savings to prop up polluting fossil fuel projects and switch to investing in clean, renewable energy instead. In recent weeks with storms battering the Caribbean and floodwaters swamping South Asia - for which the charity has launched an emergency appeal to help the 40 million people affected - the reminder of the impact of climate breakdown is once again on our TV screens. Key to preventing global warming is the decarbonisation of the global economy and UK banks hold the key to this as they manage trillions of pounds of our money. You might do your bit to reduce your environmental impact or ensure you don't own shares in fossil fuel companies. But the money in your bank account is not sitting there idly, the banks are investing it around the world including a host of coal and oil projects which are undermining our efforts to tackle climate change. At Greenbelt Christian Aid was asking people to sign their campaign to the UK's big banks urging them to make the shift from dirty energy to clean.
The same spirit of standing up for social justice was present in the discussion of Black Lives Matter in the tented Amal venue which was showcasing Muslim artistry, ideas and conversation. Rozella Haydee White, a Lutheran Minister from Houston, said that the refrain 'All Lives Matter' thrown at BLM protestors was sadly a fallacy used to divert attention from the injustice taking place on American streets. She said: "Of course all lives matter. My faith tells me that. But the ways that we live out our lives and what we've seen happening on the ground shows that it is not true. We've seen that anti-blackness is a thing." Alongside her was chaplain and author Eric Leroy Wilson, who said that the human figure of Jesus gave him inspiration. He said: "I have a really high cosmic view of Christ. He is the meaning of all meaning, the logos that holds all things together. But there's something to be said for looking at his historical context. This is a middle eastern refugee under the oppression of empire. He lived his life as a critique of empire. I'm amused when I go to church and hear people saying his parables are cute stories. This is fire! This is revolution! It's about radically changing ourselves and changing empire."
Tickets for Greenbelt 2018 are on sale at www.greenbelt.org.uk.
To donate to Christian Aid's South Asia Emergency Appeal and sign the Big Shift campaign visit www.christian-aid.org.