Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of seeing PJ Harvey perform. Her most haunting song was probably “Dollar dollar”, a song about a boy begging at traffic lights in Kabul. It wells up out of an experience that clearly moved this thoughtful singer deeply when she was collaborating with photographer Seamus Murphy. But for me, standing under London sky pregnant with thunder, it was a song about Nairobi. I could feel my low grade irritation with matatu drivers rising; I could feel my foot hovering over the brake of my tiny (tinny) Jimny jeep; I knew that I hated being confronted with hungry kids with no prospects in life and with a pot of glue hanging from their top lip; and I knew that I hated myself for hating it.
It reminded me that music can prompt emotions (and express injustices) that are at once so universal and so deeply personal. The very emotions that swept me when I first saw the Grand Union Orchestra performing Undream’d Shores, and that led to the Song of Contagion collaboration.
Think we should invite PJ Harvey to contribute some disease music to Song of Contagion?
(Originally published by Elizabeth Pisani on June 13, 2016)