Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Gastarbeiter – Roy Paci & Aretuska


Caught between the devil (Britney Spears) and Gordon Sumner, the idea that an artist can reflect their politics in music has become a largely discredited notion. When putting their minds towards defeating Thatcherism artists like Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and the Communards produced arguably some of their worst material – they may have won your respect for actually working for change, but they didn’t necessarily make their way onto your mid-’80s turntable or proto-i-pod (walkman).

From the late ’80s onwards affiliation became the watch-word. Bono was committed to changing the world and played concerts left right and centre for organisations like Amnesty international, but after the success of Achtung Baby wouldn’t be caught dead actually singing about social issues (given some of his earlier attempts, it was no loss). Springsteen followed suit – though always slightly prone to falling off the wagon and on to his pedestal.

Springsteen is interesting, given his propensity to drop the big-band sound of the E-street band whenever he feels like getting serious. His rule of thumb being should you wish to tackle social issues head on, you need to don Woody Guthrie’s cap and stool yourself with an acoustic guitar.

Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that approach – but it ain’t gonna get you dancing, and we’re firmly with that famous Canadian anarchist Emma Goldman on this: if I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution.

Roy Paci’s Aretuska then is the musical equivalent of the holy grail of the snack industry – a slice of genuinely tasty sugar-free chocolate. It’s political (without shouting about it, a la Skunk Anansie), social, and committed without making your feet yawn.

In Roddy Doyle’s The Committments the theory was proposed that the Irish were the blacks of Europe, and hence the proud possesors of soul. An interesting proposition, and on face-value one that stands up, certainly when comparing the music that’s come out of Dublin compared to that of either London or Berlin. But put your average Irish band – say, for argument’s sake Bell X1 – up against this Sicilian outfit, and there’s no competition. Their ska/rock sound may come from the mediterranean, but it’s roots radical and real.

And what are the politics on display? SImple really. In an increasingly anti-immigration Europe, Paci and his pals remind us that the Southern Italians (and by extension Irish, and others) just a generation or two ago were considered the illegal immigrants that powered the German post-war industrial boom. Gastarbeiter or Guest-Worker was a term used for Italians first, and then later, after the establishment of the EU, for the Turks.

A timely and rythmic way to dance out of the anti-this, anti-that doldrums.

Of course, there’s no video available for this, the best song on the outstanding Parola d’onore album, so to give you a sample we’ll take a hop, skip, and shuffle to the also splendid Todo Joia from the Suonoglobal album (featuring Manu Chao – for whom Paci played trumpet in the Radio Bemba Soundsystem)


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