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O Magazine
2015-2017

OPEN MIC: FROM THE STAGE TO A SEAT IN PARLIAMENT

 by David Saavedra

Open mic: from the stage to a seat in parliament – O Productora Audiovisual

From Andrew W.K. to Morrissey, from Bez to Labordeta, from Jello Biafra to Aviador Dro, many musicians have been tempted, in theory and practice, to declare their candidacy to the local or presidential elections. Some were even close to succeeding: would you have voted them?

“Ya no quedan más cojones, Eskorbuto a las elecciones” [There’s no balls left, Eskorbuto to the elections!], the band from Santurtzi sang in 1986, threatening to carry out the idea. Iosu Expósito and company never ended up running in the elections, so we’ll never know what could have happened: would our political history have given a 180-degree turn? Would the band’s self-destructive process have accelerated? Or would it all have ended up as a second-rate joke starred by four loonies? Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

A little further, but only a little, went Aviador Dro two decades later. The band lead by Servando Carballar was characterised from the start by playing around with avant-garde and utopian movements; writing manifestos that they still throw to their audiences, in the shape of photocopied pamphlets, during concerts; giving speeches, and waving flags. For that reason, no one thought strange the fact that, in 2007, they recorded a whole album, called Candidato futurista, in which they conceptually fantasised with presenting a political programme for Madrid’s City Council. Titles such as ¡Vive futurista!, Libertad, igualdad, electricidad or their version of the Sex Pistol’s Anarchy in the UK, Anarquía en el planeta, give us an idea of the nature of a project that only failed in one thing: that they actually never presented themselves to the elections. Almost a decade before the appearance of New Politics, a campaign with Aviador Dro fighting the boredom installed by Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón, Miguel Sebastián and Ángel Pérez would have given, at least, some colour to our lives.

A few months ago, even Morrissey became a current issue for political reasons. The ex-leader of The Smiths didn’t found his own party, but seriously thought about trying to become Mayor of London with the Animal Welfare Party. Should that have happened, I’m sure the musician would have granted the animalist party a huge boost in media visibility. Although, taking into account the polemic drive and exacerbated misanthropy of the author of Meat Is Murder, it could also have been quite counter-productive…

However, there are many musicians who have actually run in the local or even national elections. More recent news: Do you remember Andrew W.K.? This US citizen, perennially sporting a white T-shirt, was a hype in 2001 and 2002 with I Get Wet, a thunderous, extra-extrovert and hyper-party-loving punk-pop-rock first album that sounded as though Meat Loaf was doing a Ramones cover album away with it on MDMA and speed. Songs such as Party Hard, It’s Time to Party, Fun Night or Party til You Puke might well give us an idea of his obsessions. The thing is that his impact as a pop star collapsed, but he gained notoriety hanks to what he seemed better at: self-help and motivational talks, always with parties as therapeutical axe. We recommend you to follow him on Twitter, where up to very recently he devoted himself to giving invaluable party advice, but which has derived towards the promotion of… yes! The political party he has founded, and in a very witty pun, he has christened in the only way he could have thought of: The Party Party. And, although you might think otherwise, this is no joke. While dozens of pop and rock stars show Bernie Sanders their support -or, the other way around, he has introduced many artists playing host in Coachella-, Andrew W.K.’s party seems to take quite seriously its attempt to fight the two-party system and defending cohabitation, respect, social justice and public and inclusive politics. The main lines of his programme aren’t too different from those of Podemos. And, besides, their logo (a heart with the US flag) is quite catchy. Some reasonably doubted that this would ever amount to anything, but it seems that now the Party Party is gathering signatures to be able to run in the elections. On the other end of the spectrum, the Tea Party have counted among its affiliates on Maureen Tucker, ex The Velvet Underground drummer, a revelation that left many of us, their fans, completely flabbergasted.

Another one of the greatest pop party animals ever is Bez, the guy with the funny face that danced wildly in the Happy Mondays concerts and music videos playing the maracas. Mark Berry, that’s his real name, has declared his candidacy to Salford’s City Council, a city close to Manchester, with We Are The Reality Party. It’s a left wing, ecologist and social party, which acts locally but thinks globally. Currently, their Facebook page is crowned by the slogan ‘Don’t bomb Syria’ and, among other things, they oppose fracking, the TTIP and the EU, and they defend social salaries and active politics against inequality.

Going back to other historical examples, the most exemplary one might be Jello Biafra‘s (with the permission of another election joker, Iceland’s Jón Gnarr). The ex leader of the Dead Kennedys initiated a long political career in 1979, when he declared his candidacy to become mayor of San Francisco. In his programme, he included such inventive norms as making businessmen dress as clowns, building a statue of Dan White (Harvey Milk’s murderer and mayor of George Moscone) and allowing the selling of eggs and tomatoes nearby so people could throw them at it. He also proposed the prohibition of traffic, the legalisation of squatting in properties owned by tax fraudsters or that the neighbours of each district democratically elected policemen. Biafra ended up being fourth, with a 3,79% of the votes. In 2000, he run for the presidential elections with the Green Party, although the candidate finally elected was Ralph Nader. He’s still very implied with the same party, and in later years he became very critical towards Barack Obama. The musician currently supports Bernie Sanders.

Rubén Blades, on his part, gained 18% of the votes when he declared his candidacy to become president of Panamá in 1994. Ten years later, Martín Torrijos awarded him with a consolation prize by designating him Minister of Tourism. Youssou N’Dour lived a similar experience. His candidacy to become president of Senegal was rejected due to irregularities with the signatures gathered (a pity, since his charisma among his fellow countrymen and his activism on the defence of human rights might have made him go quite far), and had to resign himself to being Minister of Tourism and Culture in 2012 and 2013. Many years earlier, in 1979, the other great African musical leader, Fela Kuti, founded his own party, the People’s Movement, and run for the presidency of Nigeria with a controversial ideology: he defended socialist pan-Africanism, influenced by the US Black Power, and ancestral traditions of his continent, such as polygamy. His candidacy was rejected.

Thinking about Ireland, one is surprised by the fact that Bono has never run for the elections. However, who actually did was Dana, a successful Christian music singer who won the Eurovision Contest in 1970, had unexpected hits in countries such as Mexico, and in 1982 devoted a whole album to Pope John Paul II, entitled Totus Tuus. In 1987 (the year of The Joshua Tree, when Bono was more popular that Jesus, and probably more than God), Dana declared her independent candidacy for Ireland’s presidency and ended up in third position. Her political career lasted until very recently, and she even held a seat in European Parliament. Ideologically, you can imagine: against abortion and beyond.

Another failed attempt was Wyclef Jean‘s, who tried to become president of Haiti in 2010. His ideas weren’t bad: he tried to become the candidate of choice for young people and immigrants with party Living Together. He defended five basic points that were maybe a bit too general: quality education, employment, agriculture, citizen’s safety and health. In any case, his candidacy was never accepted due to a small basic problem: he had lived in the US all his life, and to become president of Haiti he should at least have lived there five years minimum. Funnily enough, who ended up winning the elections was his friend Michael Martelly, another well-known singer.

The thing is that although we might believe that most musicians who run in the elections do so to increase their popularity, or exalt their ego, or as an inevitable consequence of our show business society, some of them have actually won, and have performed their job, for better or worse. At the end of the day, if mediocre actors such as Ronald Reagan (catastrophically) ended up becoming what they did, why not trusting much more coherent alternatives, such as Gilberto Gil as Minister of Culture in Brazil under Lula da Silva? Well, that, in fact, wasn’t as well received by citizens as one might have thought. The tropicalista musician hadn’t participated in the elaboration of the cultural programme devised by Lula’s party, and, even worse, his salary was deemed far too high. When it comes to an exemplary instance in our country, we have José Antonio Labordeta, well-known singer-songwriter and backpacker, who held his seat in Parliament with the Chunta Aragonesista between 2000 and 2008 and left us several unforgettable moments. And we should also mention Lluís Llach, author of L’estaca, who last year decided to declare his candidacy for the Catalan Parliament as head of the Girona list of Junts Pel Sí. He’s a Member of Parliament since last October. Compared with him, the simple mentioning of the Eurovision contestant and Operación Triunfo jury Nina, who declared her candidacy for CiU in Lloret de Mar in 2003 is a bit more of an anecdote than the one of Josep Nadal, singer of band La Gossa Sorda and number 3 for Compromís in Alicante. But let’s go back to Labordeta to try and come full circle with the beginning of this article, opened with Eskorbuto, and let’s pronounce a thunderous ‘Go to hell!’ Who will be the next candidate? The mic is still open, and so are the ballot boxes.

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