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Unsongs

June Fourth 1989: From the Shattered Pieces of a Stone it Begins

This place begins to cave.
These are a madman’s days.
A trembling land must play a murderer’s game.
The blind man’s flickering eyes.
A flame as black as night.
The unborn children die before me now.

But from the soldier’s broken bones,
from the mothers’ silent song,
from the pieces of a shattered stone it starts.

We learn and then forget
the screams and silhouettes.
In time you’ll find we’ll make the same mistakes.
So ruins are reborn,
an ever blood-red dawn.
The palm-lines turn to cracks beneath our feet.

But from the silence of the tombs,
from the broken, barren wombs,
from the pieces of a shattered stone it starts.
From the parted lovers’ lips,
from the nailless fingertips,
from the whispers of a silenced voice it starts.

Written by Chinese poet, writer and activist Liu Xiaobo. English lyrics by Pål Moddi Knutsen and Maren Skolem, based on translation from Jeffrey Yang. Music by Pål Moddi Knutsen.

A Matter of Habit

Learning to kill is a matter of habit,
the more you have done it the better you’re at it.
It starts in the alleys of Sechem at night.
The borderlines blur in the evening light.

A rifle butt bangs on an old, rusty door,
‘Where is your father? Get down on the floor!’
Soon it gets serious. A curfew’s declared.
The city falls silent, there’s death in the air.

Cocking his weapon with shaking fingers,
grits his teeth as he’s hugging the trigger.
Young blood rushes, his heart pounds.
He knows it gets easier the next time around.

They’re just objects and shadows, not women and men.
Learning to kill is a natural thing.

Learning to fear is a matter of habit,
the more you have done it the better you’re at it.
News from above reaches the street.
There’s no hope of living, the end is so near.

Tidings of terror, a raven’s crow:
Shutter your windows, lock up your homes!
We’re just a handful, a tiny country
surrounded by evil. They won’t let us be.

They have hate in their hearts and in all that they bring.
Learning to fear is a natural thing

Cruelty is a matter of habit,
the more you have seen it the better you’re at it.
Every boy has a tyrant’s desire.
Hands behind the head, legs spread wide!

These are times of danger, times of despair.
No room for compassion, a soldier can’t care!
Our neighbours are vermin; they’re used to the blood;
how can they feel pain when they live in the mud!

Through cruel routine a soldier is born.
Ignorance soon turns to evil in war.
Israel’s land is for Israel’s kin.
Cruelty comes as a natural thing.

Learning to love is a natural thing,
it will find a way if you just let it in.
It’ll be strange at first, but then you will see it,
that learning to love is a matter of being

Being human is a matter of habit,
a few baby steps, then you get better at it.
To be for one minute, just now, just recall
the opposite side of the towering walls.
But our hearts have hardened along with our skin.
We live in a bubble and let no one else in.

We’ll be staring in wonder as the angel falls,
then being human will be a matter of course.

Written by Israeli author Alona Kimhi and musician Izhar Ashdot. English lyrics based on the official translation by Udi Henis. Listen to the original here.

Punk Prayer

Prayers crawl towards the cross,
golden marks upon their frocks.
Freedom’s ghost has left these lands.
Help us if you can!

KGB have turned to saints.
Gay parades sent off in chains.
Blessed limousines congest the streets
to hail their saint-in-chief.

Holy Mary, drive Putin away.
Drive away this darkness from your halls.
Drive away the ungodly souls.
Our Lady tear the eagle off your walls.

Father Gundyayev pays back
from his bag of holy crap:
‘Woman, keep quiet and love your man
your fate and fatherland!’

Holy Mary, be a feminist.
Pray not for the mighty but the meek.
Drive away the lies that they speak.
Our lady, hear our prayer unto thee.

Gundy never cared for God.
All that dickhead wants is power.
Mary, your belt should bring us hope
now it’s used as rope.

Damn their lies, deliver us!
Pry the copper from the cross!
Mary, our hands are tied in prayer.
Help us if you’re there!

Holy Mary, drive Putin away.
Drive away this darkness from your halls.

Lyrics by Pussy Riot. Listen to the original version here. Translated by Pål Moddi Knutsen and Maren Skolem. Music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, new arrangement by Pål Moddi Knutsen.

Open Letter

What’s the point waiting for the doorman to drop the key?
You’ll be gone long before this evil falls asleep.
What’s the point waiting for a better day to come along?
They will bow to their dogs before they see our reign come.

First the French decamped and left us with the garbage.
Then our flag was dyed with Islam and Arabic.
They forgot to whom this country once belonged.
There is always someone here to take the throne.
Traitors, traitors, traitors.

Did you believe that they would listen just because they said they would?
How naïve! They’ve always been too righteous for their own good.
For you know, power is addictive to the one it wields.
They have sown with evil hands and harvest our tragedy.

First the French decamped and left us with the garbage.
Then our flag was dyed with Islam and Arabic.
They turned a blind eye to Algeria’s free men.
We could have it all but were enslaved again.
Traitors, traitors, traitors.

All the same we will never let them have their filthy ways.
We remain! These are our mountains; this is our place.
We will break through the the door and have what’s ours all along.
For without us Algeria is suffering on her own.

So come the rain, come the wind come the hunger.
We won’t sit and wait for freedom any longer.
We must sacrifice the arm to save the heart.
We will split the land before it falls apart.

First the French decamped and left us with the garbage.
Then our flag was dyed with Islam and Arabic.
But our roots go deep and our will is strong.
We will cling onto the land where we belong.
Traitors, traitors, traitors.

Written by the Algerian-born Kabyle singer, poet and freedom fighter Lounes Matoub. Translation by Pål Moddi Knutsen and Maren Skolem. The melody is based on the Algerian national anthem.

Army Dreamers

Our little army boy
is coming home from B.F.P.O.
I’ve a bunch of purple flowers
to decorate my daddy’s hero.

Mourning in the aerodrome,
the weather warmer, he is colder.
Four men in uniform
to carry home my little soldier.

What could he do? Should have been a rock star,
but he didn’t have the money for a guitar.
What could he do? Should have been a politician,
but he never had a proper education.
What could he do? Should have been a father,
but he never even made it to his twenties.
What a waste – army dreamers.
What a waste of army dreamers.

Tears over a tin box.
Oh, Jesus Christ, he wasn’t to know.
Like a chicken with a fox
he couldn’t win his war with ego.

Give the kid the pick of pips,
and give him all your stripes and ribbons.
Now he’s sitting in his hole.
He might as well have buttons and bows.

What could he do? Should have been a rock star,
but he didn’t have the money for a guitar.
What could he do? Should have been a politician,
but he never had a proper education.
What could he do? Should have been a father,
but he never even made it to his twenties.

What a waste – army dreamers.
What a waste of army dreamers.

Written by Kate Bush.

Our Worker

Our labourer who art beneath the dark sky
Thine is the toil, the peril and despair
You who can tame the forces of the river
You who can shape tomorrow with your hands

Our labourer who art among your brothers
Thine is the day, the power and the soil
Glory be sown, and harrowed be the acres
Reach out your hand to see a new day grow

Lead us not to misery, deliver us from domination
Kingdom of fairness and justice for all, kingdom come
Blow like the wind through the blossoming quebradas
Scour like the fire from the mouth of my gun

Finally, your will be done in factories and farmyards
Give us this day the strength and the courage to fight
And blow like the wind through the blossoming quebradas
Scour like the fire from the mouth of my gun

Our labourer of quarries, quays and chimneys
Reach out your hand and see a new day grow
We’ll go together, this is the blood that binds us
for ever and ever till death do us apart

Amen!

Written by Chilean musician and theatre director Víctor Jara. Translation by Pål Moddi Knutsen and Maren Skolem.

Parrot, Goat and Rooster

My parrot, my goat and my rooster,
the finest of pets that you’ll find.
With them I bring joy wherever I go
and make some to make things go round.

To New Mexico and Arkansas
and even to Illinois’ shores.
I sell off my kids to the highest bid
and then I return home for more.

I grew up to thrive among horses,
and I do not deny I was poor.
Now my name is known throughout the plains
and among the gueros in the north.

Death rides ever by my side
and the high lords far behind,
for where there’s will there’ll be a way
and my ways are hard to find.

Money’s a treacherous companion,
and that’s why I spend mine with ease.
On women and friends, to smoothen the bends,
I keep just the little I need.

They say that my pets bring but pain and regrets,
and then they ask me to pass them a booster.
It’s the greatest of men who come again and again
to my parrot, my goat and my rooster.

Written by Mario Quintero, originally performed by Mexican norteño group Los Tucanes de Tijuana. Translation by Pål Moddi Knutsen and Maren Skolem. New melody by Pål Moddi Knutsen.

The Shaman and the Thief

Frost in the air. Northern lights brought me here.
Where I walk, God walks with me.
I only eat what the earth has offered me.
No one owns the berries or leaves.
Now you’re in my house, and you call me a thief?

You don’t understand
what it means to be of this land.
You have to learn how to read marks on the trees,
for the laws that you know, they don’t apply here. 

Such mighty words!
Are you God? I hadn’t heard.
Are you the one who made the wind blow?
You must be great! A creation that can create?
The grass isn’t yours, and you don’t make it grow.
You are a sham.

Don’t you know who I am?
I do not fold my hands.
I’ll never pray to your precious God.
All that I need
are ways to feed your greed;      is earth beneath my feet,
to have it all.                        to have it all.
Shaman, you’re a fraud!

So leave and leave me be, I’ll drive you away.
So leave and leave me be, I’ll drive you away.
So leave and leave me be, I’ll drive you away.

Shaman, old fool.
Times change and so shall you.
They will burn your house down and spit at your name.

But thief beware: My song will linger here
and in time you will be sorry you came.

My friend, save your breath. You’re chanting in vain.

Traditional song, written down by Jacob Fellmann (app. 1830). English lyrics by Maren Skolem, based on translation from Harald Gaski. Melody by Pål Moddi Knutsen.

Eli Geva

The dogs of war are loose again
Cold blows the wind to me
And widows weep for fallen men
for fallen men they weep again
Cold blows the wind to me.

Again the ravens rule the skies
Cold blows the wind to me
With hacking beaks and hungry cries
With hungry cries they wheel the skies
Cold blows the wind to me.

We heard the march of army boots
Cold blows the wind to me
Until they stopped outside Beirut
Outside Beirut we heard them shoot
Cold blows the wind to me.

But then up spoke a colonel bold,
the finest in the land
Said: ‘If orders come to take the town
I cannot obey their command,
I cannot follow them.’

So when at last the order came
Cold blows the wind to me
The world knew Eli Geva’s name
The world knew Eli Geva’s name
stood up against that cold, cold wind
come blow his name to me.

Written by Richard Burgess, originally performed by Birgitte Grimstad. New melody by Pål Moddi Knutsen.

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit.
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south.
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth.
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh.
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
for the sun to rot, for the trees to drop.
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Words and music by Abel Meeropol.

Where is my Vietnam?

My Vietnam, I have known you for so long.
Lately I’ve become aware of all your sorrow.
People are hungry and afraid, while hundred miles away,
their leaders pig on pork chops and champagne.

My Vietnam, there is rust upon your star,
and your wealth is with those who are in power.
They have betrayed your mountains and your rivers.
They have all failed you and sold your land away.

Where are you now, my Vietnam?
Where are your daughters and sons?
You must wake up and raise your voice as one.
And though we deal but little strokes, in time we will fell great oaks.
Who’s with me now? Ask “Where where is my, where’s my Vietnam?”

My Vietnam, how many young and brave
must sleep beneath the waves, must fall before the cannons?
On Paracel and Spratly’s bloody shores our name will stand or fall,
a thousand years of darkness still remain.

Our own have invited China in,
they are cowards and lackeys of Beijing.
Where are the heirs to your mountains and your rivers?
They will be here when they hear your call to arms!

So where are you now, my Vietnam?
Where are your daughters and sons?
You must wake up and raise your voice as one.
And though we deal but little strokes, in time we will fell great oaks.
Hold your fist high, together we’ll fight for a new Vietnam.

Written by Viet Khang. Translation by Pål Moddi Knutsen and Maren Skolem.

Oh my father, I am Joseph

Oh my father, I am Joseph,
one who walks upon the earth.
I am hated by my brothers,
they throw stones and spiteful words.

They have robbed me of my vineyards
and have set my fields afire.
They would rather see me hanging as a saint
than by their side

for I saw eleven stars, the sun and the moon
kneeling before me, my lord.

Oh my father, I am Joseph
just the way you had me made.
Heaven’s birds rest on my shoulders
and the wheat bows my way.
And for being like you made me
they have thrown me in the well.
For the dreams that I’ve had lately
seem too real not to tell

that I saw eleven stars the sun and the moon,
kneeling before me, my lord.

What did I ever do? Did I displease you?
What have I got into and why me?

Tell me what have I done? Did I upset you?
Did I do someone wrong when I said…

Words by Mahmoud Darwish. New melody by Pål Moddi Knutsen.

Album credits.