Many will wonder why it has taken Roger Waters, co-founder of the legendary band Pink Floyd, over a decade since he first became one of the staunchest advocates for Palestinian rights to collaborate with Palestinian musicians. This week, Le Trio Joubran, three brothers from Nazareth who are all oud masters, released their sixth studio album, The Long March. Waters contributed to two of the tracks that were intended to be part of the final track list.
As it turned out, only one track on The Long March features lyrics and music by Roger Waters: “Carry the Earth”. It is one of the strongest – and, at over six minutes in length, longest – compositions on the album. It also features Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the indie band Lucius, two singers currently touring with Waters on his “Us + Them” tour.
“Carry the Earth” is dedicated to the four children from the Bakr family – Mohammad Ramiz Bakr, 11, Ahed Atef Bakr and Zakariya Ahed Bakr, both 10, and Ismail Mahmoud Bakr, nine – who were murdered by Israeli forces on a popular stretch of beach in Gaza during Israel’s deadly assault on the enclave in the summer of 2014.
It marks the second Trio Joubran song that Waters has contributed to. The first, “Supremacy”, was meant to appear on the album without Waters in its original incarnation, but Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December gave the track new relevance.
It was originally a composition that featured the voice of the late Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s national poet and close friend of the brothers, reciting his poem, The “Red Indian’s” Penultimate Speech to the White Man, recorded over a decade ago during a recital Darwish gave while touring with the Trio.
Le Trio Joubran received the first mix of their album the day after Trump’s pronouncement and the brothers were struck by the poem’s chilling relevance to what had just had happened. Adnan Joubran, the youngest brother in the band, described in a face-to-face interview in July the impact that Trump’s declaration had on him.
“For me I believe that we belong to cities, it’s not cities that belong to us,” he explained. “So, ‘I’m from Nazareth’, ‘I’m from Manchester’, ‘I’m from London’ – this is how we say things. I belong to this place. Places don’t belong to us; they stay there, we die. So how on Earth can one guy come and say this place belongs to these people and not to other people? And what difference does it make if the capital is Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, or Nazareth or Gaza? Who cares, as for naming it? You have a capital – so it’s only to provoke the street, the people and politicians, and to show his power.
“Those words by Mahmoud, that time will pass, and you will take over everything, you will turn the sacred places into desert and make your path… and then what? Before then we will defend everything. And who are you, white master?”
Adnan immediately called his eldest brother, Samir, and said that they needed to “sacrifice one track from the album and release it” as soon as possible. Samir agreed, but they would need it sung in English to make it as widely accessible and relevant as possible in order to “involve people in what we feel today.”
The brothers decided that the best artist to get its message amplified worldwide would be Roger Waters. “It was clear to us that it had to be Roger,” said Adnan. Waters agreed.
“[The poem] is about Native Americans and their betrayal by successive soldiers, sailors and government officials in North America who consistently broke every treaty they made with them and continued to hound them mercilessly,” Waters told me over the telephone. “So [Darwish] obviously felt something for them and the Trio Joubran gave me the text and asked could I fit it over some music they had written and performed.”
Waters and Le Trio Joubran met days later at Abbey Road Studios in London and, shortly thereafter, the track and video were released with widespread coverage in the music press in the West.
The physical absence of Mahmoud Darwish does not diminish the huge influence he has had over this artistic collaboration and the albums The Great Journey and the highly regarded 2017 solo album Is this the life we really want? by Waters.
Le Trio Joubran’s album now opens with an excerpt of Darwish reciting his Penultimate Speech poem in Arabic. Each track is titled after words from the same poem, and the cover artwork features lines from the poem in Darwish’s handwriting. The album, says Adnan, “is a whole combination of statements and feelings, and is all combined between Le Trio Joubran, Mahmoud Darwish and Roger Waters.”
Indeed Waters’ last album featured a single track called “Wait for her”, inspired by a composition by Le Trio Joubran of the same title, which featured Darwish reciting his poem, Lessons from the Kama Sutra.
Waters gave a detailed explanation of the poem: “My interest in the song was to some extent started by and guided by a romantic attachment to a woman, and I’ll go no further down that road. However, it became clear to me that the powerful feelings and emotions that one can feel when involved in romantic love can spill over into other parts of life and can, in fact, trigger the capacity that I might have or anybody might have of reaching the place inside where empathy resides.
“So the love for one particular woman can spread into a more general empathy for other human beings and even the human beings that I don’t know, that I’ve never met. It can engender the possibilities of becoming more understanding, more empathetic, about the worst of the human race, certainly towards all people who are being aggressed and not getting the things that Mistress Liberty promised us all in 1789 in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which were reiterated again in 1948: that all human beings, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality or religion deserve basic human and civil rights.
“When I do it live, I do it in three parts, with ‘Wait for her’ as the first song, the end of which is: ‘And as the echo fades from that final fusillade/Remember the promises you made’ and proceeds into ‘Oceans apart’. It’s remembering the love and carrying it forward, into the next part of the song, ‘Something in me died’, which is all of the negative aspects. It’s got nothing to do with Darwish’s original poem; this is something that led me to this path of self-discovery, if you like. But at the end it comes full circle and in that song it ends: ‘Bring me a bowl to bathe her feet in/Bring me my final cigarette/It would be better by far to die in her arms than to linger/In a lifetime of regret’.
“It’s really ‘Mistress Liberty’ who I’m talking about: the regret to not discover within your breast your love for all of your fellow human beings would be the greatest regret that is probably possible for anyone to have – that is what I believe.”
Waters has for many decades had strong political messages in his song writing, with Pink Floyd (The Wall and The Final Cut come to mind foremost) and as a solo artist (particularly his current solo album). His work to promote Palestinian human rights through the Palestinian-called boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign over the past 13 years has been unparalleled and critical to its prominence, and has seen him targeted relentlessly by pro-Israel individuals and groups internationally attempting to brand him as anti-Semitic in order to silence him.
He has also been a strong critic of the fascistic, racist and misogynistic statements and policies of US President Donald Trump. “The Trump administration has been monumentally unhelpful in the progress of our work in BDS, except maybe not. Maybe his appalling policies and the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and the cutting of the funding to UNRWA and the rest of it, and John Bolton’s pronouncements on the subject, will only serve actually to trumpet the disaster that is the neo-con dream of global empire. The reason that BDS is making great strides all over the world is largely because both the Israelis and the Trump administration are trumpeting their infamy at the tops of their voices: because they have become over-confident, and think that their racist, apartheid policies have been, and will continue to be, accepted by global civil society as a whole, and by world leaders. I think they’re wrong about that, but we will see.”
Waters pulls no punches in his criticisms of Israel and its chief ally and protector on the global stage, and clearly sees the dangers of the current unchallenged assault on Palestinians and their rights. “In their current predicament, [Palestinians] have people like Netanyahu and Trump stressing that they are really no more than animals and that they should be eradicated. It is so heinous of those two men to even think such things, let alone to allow their policies to be defined by those insane beliefs and to act upon them.”
He is equally critical of the hypocrisy of other international leaders whose silence of Israel’s policies grants Israel impunity. “None of the leaders we could all name, and particularly in the US and British politics, which I know more about, have any interest in human rights; they say they do, but their actions do not speak to the truth. They don’t promote human rights at all; they promote commerce and war. They love a good war.”
Perhaps this collaboration will be the first of many between Roger Waters and Palestinian artists – and other Western artists with their Palestinian counterparts; Le Trio Joubran also collaborated with Brian Eno recently on a track called “Stones”. For Waters, it is clearly a labour of love, joy and obligation.
“Certainly in terms of what the work I do with Le Trio Joubran, it is about love, and none of them – none of the Trump crowd, Jared Kushner or the awful Trump children – will ever have the faintest idea what love is. They’re not even capable of coming close to understanding it. But Darwish is, and Le Trio Joubran are, and I am, and so are hundreds of millions – billions – of people around the world. We need to wrest the power from the minority – and they are a minority – of monsters who are running the show, trying to destroy this beautiful world that we all live in.”