Music Collective ‘Megative’ Dubs Out the Negative

Arts, Civil Society, Global, Headlines, Health


Even as their income dries up and their touring opportunities disappear because of the Covid-19 pandemic, some artists are using their work to call out injustice, criticize inept leaders and spark social change. The members of Megative - a Brooklyn-based, reggae-dub-punk collective - are among those aiming to fight negative global currents, and they’re doing so through edgy, scorching music.

The members of Megative, with Gus van Go (far left).
Credit: Daviston Jeffers

PARIS, Sep 2 2020 (IPS) – Even as their income dries up and their touring opportunities disappear because of the Covid-19 pandemic, some artists are using their work to call out injustice, criticize inept leaders and spark social change.

The members of Megative – a Brooklyn-based, reggae-dub-punk collective – are among those aiming to fight negative global currents, and they’re doing so through edgy, scorching music.

“I think activism is the most important thing we have right now in 2020. It’s do or die right now for humanity. The injustice absolutely must end, and it will not end with silence,” says music producer Gus van Go, leader and co-founder of the group.

In a year of uncertainty and division, Megative stands out for its multicultural composition as well as its fusion of styles and thought-provoking lyrics. This past July, watching the incompetence of certain heads of state in the face of the pandemic, the group released the song The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum, a cover of the Fun Boy Three hit from the early Eighties, combining dub and punk music.

The original was a critique of the Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher era, and Megative thinks the track is just as pertinent in 2020, with the current presence of problematic leaders on both sides of the Atlantic.

“We still believe the message is important, and it’s almost more relevant now,” van Go told SWAN in a telephone interview from Montréal, Canada, where he grew up, and where he has a studio along with one in Brooklyn.

The group was due to take their songs on the road – scheduled to perform at “five or six festivals” in France, for instance – but the pandemic has caused all these events to be cancelled. The musicians now find themselves, like so many other artists, struggling to maintain an income and to keep their overall work going.

“I think Covid-19 is exposing something that I’ve always thought about in the music industry,” said van Go. “So much inequality. We’ve always had this one percent of artists who have been insanely rich … and the rest of us are working our asses off, in order to eke out a living.”

“The universe took away the one single piece of the pie that the artist still had. All of a sudden, nearly every single musician cannot make a cent. One day, the universe just said ‘no you cant have that’. There is no income for all these artists. You see how dangerous it is to have just one source of income? Do we not need music in this world?

He explained that with the massive decline in album sales over the past decade, musicians had turned to touring in order to “just barely make a living – travelling together in a shitty old van”. But now even that has dried up with the global health crisis.

“Covid has shone this giant light on it,” he added. “The universe took away the one single piece of the pie that the artist still had. All of a sudden, nearly every single musician cannot make a cent. One day, the universe just said ‘no you cant have that’. There is no income for all these artists. You see how dangerous it is to have just one source of income? Do we not need music in this world? What if Covid continues for two or three years, what if this goes on for multiple years?”

He said it’s time for artists to band together and demand change – in their industries, communities and countries. “Megative supports activism,” he declared.

Discussing the origins of the group, van Go said the idea for the collective grew out of an overnight drive from New Mexico to California that he took with fellow musician Tim Fletcher 10 years ago. There were only two CDS available in the car – Combat Rock by The Clash, and More Specials by the 2 Tone and ska revival band The Specials, both English. The sounds got van Go thinking about the “conscious lyrics” and the history of the musical styles and their influences.

“We have a love for Jamaican reggae and dub culture of the early Eighties with bands like Steel Pulse and The Clash. But reggae in North America, where we are from, is associated with vacation spots, coconut trees and irie vibes. We were lamenting the darker reggae of the early Eighties. Our Clash discussion morphed into how a reggae band would look in 2018,” he said.

Back in New York, they invited a producing-engineering duo called Likeminds and Jamaican MC Screechy Dan to join the conversation. The enthusiasm for the project was so strong that they recorded three songs which almost immediately led to a signing with Last Gang Records and the subsequent release of their debut album in summer 2018.

The collective now brings together disparate artists including the Grammy-nominated Likeminds (Chris Soper and Jesse Singer); Jamaican-born singer, MC and dancehall veteran Screechy Dan; singer-guitarist and punk rocker Alex Crow; percussionist-DJ-singer JonnyGo Figure; and the rising Brooklyn drummer Demetrius “Mech” Pass.

All the members have their own individual projects but contribute their respective skills to create the Megative sound – a fusion of UK-style punk, Jamaican dub and reggae, and American hip-hop. The music is a response to today’s world, to everything that’s happening including the “hyper-noise of incessant information”, according to the collective.

The overarching theme is existentialist angst amidst precarious conditions. Tracks such as Have Mercy, Bad Advice and More Time call upon listeners to take control and rely on their own sense of what’s right, with lyrics set against dub beats and a punk vibe, and skilful singing mixed with mindful rapping.

For van Go, born Gustavo Coriandoli in Argentina and raised in Canada, the historical alliance between punk and reggae was central to Megative’s formation. He recalls growing up in Montréal in the late 1980s and early 90s, when the “punk rock movement was taking hold” among the youth.

“The shows had trouble finding venues, so they always tried to rent space … and sometimes that would be at Jamaican community centres. All these punks would be at these shows, but also the Rastafarian community. So, dub music was playing. I was 16, had never heard dub, had never been been to a punk show, so it fused in my brain,” he told SWAN.

Similar congregations or collaborations in the UK had led singer Bob Marley to release Punky Reggae Party in 1977, a reflection of the bridging of cultural divides; and punk-dub pioneer Don Letts wrote about the movement in his 2006 autobiography Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rockers.

“It’s all about social message – in punk and reggae, so they’re natural allies or they should be,” said van Go. “There’s a positivity but also a dark side. I love the energy that this creates, in punk and reggae and in early hiphop.”

When asked about Megative’s views on the current discussion around cultural appropriation in the arts, van Go answered: “This is an ongoing discussion with us, and we really encourage dialogue on the subject.” He added that the group takes a multicultural approach to creating music, as can be seen from their output so far.

Regarding the future of the collective, van Go said Megative planned to continue producing music with a cause, and to get back to touring when possible. They are currently “writing new material” but aren’t certain in which format(s) it will be released.

“Like nothing else can, I think music can definitely help heal,” van Go told SWAN. “We have to topple these terrible people who are in power right now. We have to find concrete ways to end systemic racism. Music has to play a part as it did in the Sixties. It needs to.”


Art Helping Women to Highlight Gender-based Violence at ICPD25

Africa, Arts, Conferences, Education, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Ann Kihii (25) spends time with other young women from poor communities in Nairobi and use embroidery to create images that tell a story about the daily challenges they face. They also get a chance to discuss the issues among themselves in a safe space. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 14 2019 (IPS) – While women find it hard to talk about their painful experiences, some have found a way of expressing themselves through art. Women, trained as artists, from Nairobi’s informal settlements Kibera and Kangemi, have produced a beautiful quilt that tells stories about their daily challenges.

Displayed at the Pamoja Zone of ICPD25, the quilt is used to lobby delegates to rally behind girls and women by ensuring that they enjoy sexual reproductive rights and end gender-based violence.

Being able to express yourself through art

While the embroidered quilt is a beautiful piece of work, each square that forms part of it it is sewn by different women who are expressing their sad experiences.

“I live in a community where violence against women is the order of the day,” she told IPS. “Unfortunately, women find it hard to talk about it.” Ann Kihiis (25) is one of the young women who have turned out to be a fine quilt maker. Using small square pieces of fabric, she sewed an image of a woman who was experiencing violence in her marriage.

In the same image, there is a shadow which she says symbolises the anger and hurt that an abused woman carries with her all the time unless she is able to talk about it and heal from the experience. Although she has never been in an abusive relationship, she said observing it from a young age in her family and community has traumatised her.

Ann Kihii showcases the quilt that she contributed in making where she designed an image of a woman in an abusive relationship who always carries the anger and hurt. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

“I love art and this is a way of creating awareness about gender-based violence and letting people know that it’s okay to talk about it,” said Kihiis.

She said she is aware that women who are abused end up believing that they do not deserve to be loved, something that is not true.

Art brings women together

On the same quilt, other artists made images depicting crime, drugs and teenage pregnancy. For example, there is an image of a young girl who is sitting on a desk with a baby on her back. This, according to Bobbi Fitzsimmons, a quilter from the Advocacy Project is the story of a young girl who was abandoned by her father after falling pregnant. When she fell pregnant for the second time, she decided to take control of her life and returned to school even if it meant studying with much younger learners.

Bobbi Fitzsimmons, a quilter from The Advocacy Project, trains women groups across the world to express the challenges they face by using embroidery, painting and applique to raising awareness so as to get support in addressing gender-based violence and sexual reproductive health rights. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

“Art is a very effective way of expressing oneself,” she said. “What’s more, the women came together while working on the quilt and discussed their issues, in what was a safe space for them to talk.”

The Kenyan women artists are trained by the Kenya Quilt Guild under Fitzsimmons’ directorship.

The United National Population Fund (UNFPA) funded The Advocacy Project to train the women. They also funded the exhibition of quilts from women in other parts of the world. For example, there is a quilt from Nepal on display with squares of paintings through which a group of women from the Eastern part of the country expresses themselves after they were treated for uterine prolapse, a painful condition affecting 600 000 women in Nepal. Another quilt donning the walls of the Pamoja Zone is one from survivors of sexual violence from the Democratic Republic of Congo, while another depicts child marriages in Zimbabwe.

In total, 18 quilts are on display at the exhibition, where delegates are fascinated by the stories.

Karen Delaney, the deputy director of The Advocacy Project believes that through this initiative, women do not only come together to talk about their issues but they also get a lifetime skill for income generation. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

In making the quilts the artists are trained to use the following skills: beadwork, painting and applique.

“Apart from the opportunity of bringing together the women, they gain skills that they can use to generate income for the rest of their lives,” said Karen Delaney, the deputy director at The Advocacy Project.


Festival Pays Tribute to Singer, Civil-Rights Icon Nina Simone

Active Citizens, Arts, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations


LONDON, Aug 29 2019 (IPS) – It must be a daunting prospect to sing songs made famous by the incomparable Nina Simone, but performers Ledisi and Lisa Fischer brought their individual style to a BBC Proms concert in London, honouring Simone and gaining admiration for their own talent.

The show, “Mississippi Goddam: A Homage to Nina Simone”, paid tribute to the singer, pianist and civil rights campaigner – a “towering musical figure” – at the Royal Albert Hall on Aug. 21, more than 16 years after Simone died in her sleep in southern France at the age of 70.

This was a celebration to recognise her “unique contribution to music history”, according to the Proms, an annual summer festival of classical music that also features genres “outside the traditional classical repertoire”.

The concert’s title refers to the song that marked a turning point in Simone’s career, when she composed it in fury and grief following the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, and the deaths of four African-American girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

Performing the song at the tribute, New Orleans-born vocalist Ledisi held nothing back. She put all the anger and anguish that the lyrics required into her rendition, creating one of the high points of the concert.

The composition stood out particularly because of the contrast between the lyrics and the rhythm, and Ledisi – who’s also an actress and writer – emphasized this disparity. While the “tune has an almost fun-filled, pulsating vibe” (as conductor Jules Buckley put it in his written introduction to the show), the message itself is uncompromising.

“It speaks of murder, of dashed dreams and severe inequality, and it shattered the assumption that African-Americans would patiently use the legislative process to seek political rights,” Buckley wrote. Listeners got the full context, and they were reminded that some things have not changed much in the United States.

Conducting the Metropole Orkest, whose members played superbly, Buckley said that in putting together the programme he wanted to shine a light not only on Simone’s hits but also on a “few genius and lesser-known songs”. With the sold-out concert, he and the performers succeeded in providing the audience a clear idea of the range of Simone’s oeuvre.

The concert began with an instrumental version of “African Mailman” and segued into “Sinnerman”, the soulful track about the “wrongdoer who unsuccessfully seeks shelter from a rock, the river and the sea, and ultimately makes a direct appeal to God”, to quote Alyn Shipman, the author of A New History of Jazz who compiled the programme notes.

The orchestral introduction paved the way for Lisa Fischer’s arresting entrance. With her shaved head and flowing black outfit, she moved across the stage, singing “Plain Gold Ring” in her inimitable voice, evoking the image of an operatic monk. The two-time Grammy winner displayed the genre-crossing versatility for which she has become known, using her voice like a musical instrument and hitting unexpected lows before again going high. The audience loved it.

Fischer introduced Ledisi, who wore a scarlet gown (before changing to an African dress after the intermission), and the two women then took turns singing Simone’s repertoire, expressing love for the icon as well as appreciation for each other’s performances.

They both kept topping their previous song, and the temperature rose with “I Put a Spell on You” (Ledisi), “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (Fischer), “Ne me quitte pas” (poignantly rendered by Ledisi) and “I Loves You, Porgy” (memorably delivered by Fischer).

Then there was, of course, “Mississippi Goddam”, which followed a haunting, syncopated “Dambala”, a song made famous by Bahamian musician Tony McKay aka Exuma, who inspired Simone. Fischer performed “Dambala” with the requisite mysticism, getting listeners to shake to the beat.

Back-up vocalists LaSharVu, comprising three powerhouse singers, also contributed to the energy and success of the concert. Two of them joined Ledisi and Fischer for an outstanding and moving presentation of “Four Women” – Simone’s 1966 song about the lives of four African-American women that has become an essential part of her artistic legacy.

For other songs, LaSharVu teamed up with the orchestra to provide “percussive accompaniment” through clapping, and the orchestra’s skill on moving from reggae (“Baltimore”) to gospel underpinned the overall triumph of the show.

The concert ended with an encore, as Fischer and Ledisi performed “Feeling Good” to a standing ovation, and to comments of “fantastic”, “fabulous”, “amazing” and other superlatives.

The show was not the only part of the homage to Simone. Earlier in the day, the BBC’s “Proms Plus Talk” programme had featured a discussion of the “life, work and legacy” of the singer, with poet Zena Edwards and singer-musician Ayanna Witter-Johnson interviewed by journalist Kevin Le Gendre, author of Don’t Stop The Carnival: Black Music In Britain.

During this free public event, held at Imperial College Union, the three spoke of the impact Simone has had on their work and recalled her style and performances. They also discussed the abuse she suffered from her second husband and the painful relationship she had with her only daughter, Lisa, whom Simone in turn physically abused.

Witter-Johnson said that Simone had inspired her to feel empowered in performing different genres, so that she could sing and play music across various styles. “Her courage, outstanding musicianship and love of her heritage will always be a continual source of inspiration,” she said later.

In response to a comment from an audience member, a publisher, that Simone had been an extremely “difficult” person, Edwards stressed that Simone had been a “genius” and could be expected to not have an easy personality. Le Gendre meanwhile pointed to the difficulties Simone herself had experienced, with relationships, record companies, and the American establishment, especially after she began defending civil rights.

In an email interview after the tribute, Le Gendre said Simone’s music had had a “profound effect” on him throughout his life.

“There are so many anthems that she recorded it is difficult to know where to start, but a song like ‘Four Women’ can still move me to tears because it is such an unflinchingly honest depiction of the black condition that African-Americans, African-Caribbeans and black Britons can easily relate to,” he said.

“The way she broaches the very real historical issues of rape on a plantation, girls forced into prostitution and the internal battles based on skin shade affected me a great deal because, having lived in the West Indies and the UK and visited America several times, I know that what she is talking about is simply the truth,” he added.

“There is a war within the race as well as between the races, and we will only move beyond self-destruction if we firstly recognise these painful facts. I continue to be inspired by her ability to ‘keep it real’ as well as her great musicianship. Above all else she has made me think, as well as listen and dance.”

The BBC Proms classical music festival runs until Sept. 14 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. A concert on Aug. 29 features “Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music”, with conductor Peter Edwards, pianist Monty Alexander and tap dancer Annette Walker.

(This article is published by permission of Southern World Arts News – SWAN. You can follow the writer on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale)