“Espana Dividida” by Oscar Seco, acrylic on canvas, 2007
In July of 1936 in Spain, right-wing Nationalist generals decided they’d like to overthrow the democratically-elected, left-leaning Spanish Republic. The coup didn’t quite work, but the generals, led by one Francisco Franco and aided by other infamous dictators, refused to take no for an answer and proceeded to wage the bloody, three-year-long Spanish Civil War. Eventually the Nationalists won but, not to be outdone, the Republic’s defenders organized the International Brigades, a massive group of volunteers from over fifty countries. Venturing to Spain to fight fascism, the Brigades included 2,800 Americans who came to be known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade – the first American military force to integrate blacks and whites equally.
81 years later in NYC, the Brooklyn-based band Barbez released a collection of songs paying homage to the Lincoln Brigade entitled For Those Who Came After: Songs of Resistance from the Spanish Civil War. Described on their website as “a haunting mosaic of avant-rock, old-world cabaret, Eastern European folksong, and contemporary classical music,” Barbez is guitarist Dan Kaufman (Rebecca Moore), clarinetist Peter Hess (Philip Glass Ensemble), theremin virtuoso Pamelia Stickney (David Byrne), marimba and vibraphone player Danny Tunick (The Clean), violinist Catherine McRae (The Quavers), bassist Peter Lettre (Shearwater), and drummer John Bollinger (Sway Machinery). As if that’s not enough schizomusical energy, For Those Who Came After also features actress/singer Velina Brown as lead vocalist on each and every track (except the instrumental “No Pasarán”).
The album leads off with “Viva La Quince Brigada,” the unofficial anthem of the Lincoln Brigade. Besides showcasing the eclectic ingredients of the Barbez brew, the song features snippets of an interview with Brigade veteran and activist Abe Osheroff. “Venga Jaleo” (roughly translated as “Let’s Rampage”) follows, its lush guitars giving way to a sweeping flamenco-fest. A throbbing, “Heroes”-style beat and eerie theremin introduce the socialist anthem “L’Internationale,” Brown’s operatic voice rallying the comrades into a frenzy. Arise ye prisoners! Other highlights are the bouncy “Si Me Quieres Escribir” (“If You Want to Write to Me”), the simple but dramatic march “Song of the United Front” (sung in several different languages – now that’s pretty damn united), and the lovely, waltzy “Los Cuatro Generales” (“The Four Generals”). The album’s closer, “A las Barricadas” (“To the Barricades”), features another Lincoln Brigade veteran, Del Berg, in excerpts from an interview conducted at Berg’s California home the year before he died. Many of these songs were first introduced to American ears by Lincoln Brigade supporter Pete Seeger on his 1944 album Songs of the Lincoln Battalion.
Back to the war, General Franco held control of Spain until his death in 1975 – after which a certain satiric news segment reported him as “valiantly holding on in his fight to remain dead.” And as far as we know he’s still hangin’ in there.
“Victoria Total” by Oscar Seco, acrylic on canvas, 2006
Images courtesy oscarseco.com, barbez.com, albavolunteer.org