Eighty years ago, the "alt-right" proudly called themselves by a different name: fascists. The first war they launched was in July 1936, when right-wing Spanish military generals attempted to overthrow the democratically elected, left-leaning government of the Spanish Republic. The coup initially failed, but the generals, aided by Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini, transformed their effort into the bloody three-year long Spanish Civil War, a dress rehearsal for World War II. Though the Republic ultimately lost the war, its defenders organized a response that will endure forever as a testament to solidarity: the creation of the International Brigades, tens of thousands of volunteers, from more than fifty countries, who journeyed to Spain to fight fascism. These included 2,800 Americans who came to be called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
On October 6th, sui generis Brooklyn-based band Barbez, in collaboration with singer Velina Brown, release a remarkable tribute to those volunteers called For Those Who Came After: Songs of Resistance from the Spanish Civil War. These inventive and moving new renderings of the indelible protest songs of the International Brigades will be released on the pioneering Boston-based label Important Records. The album was recorded live at the Japan Society, in 2016, at the annual reunion of veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an event that has been held in New York since the 1940s. The highlight of the reunion has always been the singing of these songs, which were led on several occasions by Pete Seeger, a lifelong friend of the Lincoln veterans, who recorded many of them for his iconic 1944 album, Songs of the Lincoln Battalion.
Barbez draws on avant-rock, contemporary classical and folk music styles such as cumbia and flamenco to reinvent iconic songs like “L’Internationale” (The International) and “Viva la Quince Brigada” (Long Live the Fifteenth Brigade) for a new generation of listeners. The album features the group’s stellar musicians: clarinetist Peter Hess (Philip Glass Ensemble), theremin virtuoso Pamelia Stickney (David Byrne), marimba and vibraphone player Danny Tunick (the Clean), guitarist Dan Kaufman (Rebecca Moore), violinist Catherine McRae (the Quavers), bassist Peter Lettre (Shearwater), and drummer John Bollinger (Sway Machinery); with vocalist Velina Brown (San Francisco Mime Troupe) and special guests Dafna Naphtali on background vocals and Sebastiaan Faber on trumpet. It’s the first Barbez record since 2013’s acclaimed Bella Ciao (Tzadik), which was inspired by ancient Roman Jewish melodies and the Italian Resistance during World War II. Like each of the group’s previous five albums, For Those Who Came After was mixed by the incomparable Martin Bisi (Swans, Sonic Youth, John Zorn) at his legendary B.C. Studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Live engineering was performed by Damon Whittemore (Paul McCartney, Andrew Bird). Released on vinyl and CD, the album also features extensive liner notes by award-winning author Adam Hochschild, who recently published a groundbreaking history of the Spanish Civil War.