British musicians mark 100 years since 1918 through the marginalised stories of war

BANGLADESH, DHAKA – JUNE 17 : The capital city of Dhaka. Textile factory in Savar, in the suburbs of Dhaka where work about six thousands employees. Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh in June 17, 2015 in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo by Frédéric Soltan /Corbis via Getty Images)

100 years since the 1918 armistice was signed, is remembering the First World War still important? Does a conflict still hold a significance for a society with no living memory?

To anyone with an interest in history, the answers to both questions will invariable be yes. But why should a bygone war be worth a second though for a society which is facing sizeable problems now? These issues are tackled head on in Cause and Effect, which has commissioned music and moving image works from young British artists to explore the contemporary relevance of the Great War’s legacy.

Led by The Roundhouse and 14-18 NOW, Cause and Effect is as much about respect as it is frustration, as it investigates the complex, fractured relationship between WWI and young people in Britain today.

All artists were paired with a filmmaker to bring their story to life and worked alongside historian and broadcaster David Olusoga to provide contextualisation for their bespoke works. The result is a very modern and relevant response to war, offer new perspectives that draw parallels with struggles today.

Between Akala, Amy True, Awate, Bridget Minamore, GAIKA, Hollie McNish, Lowkey and Nibahah Iqbal, stories and themes explored include: the post-war growth in women’s suffrage and today’s continuing fight for gender equality; the rise of the labour movement in the 1920s and the struggle for workers’ rights in the 21st-century gig economy; and the marginalisation of soldiers from the British colonies compared to the recent Windrush scandal.

Below we’ve selected three standout pieces, from Ninja Tune’s Nabihah Iqbal, spoken word poet Hollie McNish and rapper/producer AWATE, who also answers some questions about his work.

Nabihah Iqbal

If I Survive, I Will Tell You Everything‘ retells the horrors of war, composed from the letters of non-white men forced to fight for the very people oppressing them.

Hollie McNish

War’s Whores‘ pulls back the curtain on hidden histories and contributions of women’s work in WW1

AWATE

Askari‘ slams the white-washing of WWI history and who it excludes many narratives.

Why did your chosen topic particularly resonate?

The first thing is that my country was colonised by Italy and the person I was named after was an actual Askari of colonial soldier in Eritrea. He was the most famous Eritrean ever, maybe and I also know that some of my family were also Askari, which makes the First World War and the sides that the soldiers were on seem even more like a game of chess with poor people being the pawns.

Why is highlighting this effect of WWI so relevant for contemporary society?

Because there’s no honour in only remembering some of the dead. It’s shameful that films and media don’t depict who really fought for, with and against this country.

Why did you choose to work with filmmaker Holly Lucas, and what did you want them to portray in the visuals that accompany the track?

She had a treatment which captured the feeling of estrangement and damaged memories I was trying to evoke in the music, both my lyrics and mix of the instrumentation which my producer, Turkish, did a great job on, along with the band (Gabriel Ryder, Collin Hills and Akeba Fridye). I’m more about feeling than flash when it comes to videos and the song is dealing with issues of PTSD so the video needed to express that.

Your participation in this project shows you feel strongly about the power of remembrance and learning lessons from the past.

I don’t know about remembrance as that word has been sort of co-oped by a lot of pro-military groups around November, but definitely learning about the past can inform situations today. Knowing a people have suffered contextualises their current condition and collective consciousness. The more you know the full story, the less you can be conned.

What would you say to the argument that, once the centenary has passed this year, WWI remembrance in the UK should be scaled back to the level of other historical wars?

It should all be scaled back! The current corporate climate means that this time of the year is used to make money for arms manufacturers and get army recruitment drives up. Until that happens, at least teach the full story and include the entire globe in it, because that’s the real history.

View all the eight works and the stories behind them at causeandeffect.today.

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