B-A-G-D-A-D: For those besieged by U.S. imperialism
WW music review
Published Dec 2, 2007 10:39 PM
As a person who has primarily been exposed to the culture of Black people, it
would appear difficult to review an album from outside that world. When it is
classical music, then, one would think it an even more profound dilemma. It is
difficult to write well about something that is distinctly different from what
one is accustomed to.
However, when songs are purposely connected to the struggle against
exploitation, war and imperialism, then a music that intellectuals may describe
as heady becomes beautiful and accessible.
Milos Raickovich is a Belgrade, Yugoslavia, born, world renowned classical
musician and composer. His newest album, “B-A-G-D-A-D,” has an
explicit purpose. The cover art itself, done by Raickovich’s daughter,
illustrates the greatest tragedy of this imperialist war—what becomes of
children faced with constant death and destruction, in whose ears alarms will
forever sound. The name, the spelling in many languages of the capital of Iraq,
is the title of the anchor of this collection of nine compositions.
The anchor piece is an “ode to the ancient city,” according to
Raickovich. “B-A-G-D-A-D” was composed as a piano piece in
September 2002 before the war in Iraq started, and is made of six notes,
starting with B-flat. There are three different versions in the collection, one
a piano piece, another with a harp and the third with a string quartet.
The piece is reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “Alabama.”
“Alabama” begins melancholic, symbolizing the place and time, then
strolls like life, never free from the struggle as the theme returns and
continues until percussionist Elvin Jones’ drums roll in—the dawn
that can’t be held back, like the struggle of the oppressed.
Raickovich’s “B-A-G-D-A-D,” while somber too, builds more
slowly. As an ode to an ancient city, it takes its time because it has a longer
history to reference. It ends on a melancholic tone, an allusion to the tragedy
of U.S. imperialism and what it has done to a people, their culture and their
The second piece is composed of chanting done at an anti-war demonstration in
Washington, D.C., in January 2003. Raickovich says, “This piece is a
testimony to the courageous people in the U.S. who are struggling to stop the
“Alarm,” the third piece, was the first one composed as an anti-war
statement. It was written in 1999 after Yugoslavia had been bombed for 78 days
by the U.S. and NATO. Raickovich was inspired to write the piece after he heard
a woman scream during a protest in New York City: “Her sliding, falsetto
scream sounded like sirens in Belgrade.”
The cello and violin are used to great effect to symbolize the sound of sirens;
in between the sirens the thoughtful and haunting piano playing continues,
hearkening to the human tragedy. One is left to imagine the space between the
sirens, until they reach a cacophony when there is no space. It is jarring and
disorienting, but Raickovich finishes with the sad melody, symbolizing what is
left when the sirens cease.
For someone who has never appreciated classical music, or for anyone,
“B-A-G-D-A-D” is a surprising collection. It is a statement;
further evidence of a culture other than that of the ruling bourgeois class; an
expression of the hopes, desires and frustrations of the oppressed and
exploited. It is a piece in solidarity with those besieged by U.S. imperialism.
It translates well and this reporter is honored to have had the opportunity to
appreciate and review it.
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