The Conch - musicians aiming to change the world

By Scott Lewington & Jo Williams

Melbourne-based band, The Conch, is an 11-piece outfit, formed in 2004 when US President George Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard were re-elected amid a climate of warmongering and racist xenophobia against the Muslim peoples of the Middle East. From the outset, the idea behind the band was to make great music that was explicitly political and aimed at supporting movements and campaigns for progressive social change.

The Conch seeks to use its music to inspire struggles and the thousands of individual activists who, every day, do something to improve the world. Our music comes from anger and from love and we use it to educate, agitate and help organise.

Music has historically played an important role in social change, just as the movements of social change have influenced music and its place in society. Like all expressions of culture, music both encompasses the old and the past and can open the road to the future and the new.

We seek to use our music to express all the suffering and the joy of the past and to inspire those in struggle with stories of victories, lessons of defeats and the passion of the everyday lives of struggle that working people lead.

We know, too, that without these heroic everyday struggles our music would struggle to reach beyond the mundane and ordinary. Music without the momentum of struggles may at best soothe, like religion, but it will not inspire the extraordinary acts that we need to change this world — not even the acts that can make a single life something more special.

The sort of music we want to make is music that can only come from a permanent dialogue with those in struggle.

We know that to be part of this dialogue we cannot do it from the outside, with occasional visits to the poor, dispossessed and disempowered. We have to be part of it — not from the alien stage above, but from within and among all those in struggle.

As part of the movements for progressive social change, we want to be involved in the thinking and discussion that goes on. We want to inspire and raise consciousness and be a platform for all those who want to make music and art for the revolution.

As the name suggests, The Conch is a conscious project, and we actively seek out possibilities and openings in politics and attempt to bridge the gap between these and art.

In a different world, with our creative capacity unleashed, we could all be making the most amazing music, in all forms and with an infinite content. Until then though, music — however as with all other forms of artistic expression — needs to be at the centre of the struggle for a socially just world.

For us in The Conch, it is not a question of “doing both” a seamless interweaving results not only from conscious and deliberate intervention into political movements and discussions, but from something that’s less conscious, something imposed upon you, the weight of the movement, of history! As grand as that may sound, and with all the challenges it brings, that’s the task we’ve set for ourselves in The Conch.
Since we began, we’ve partnered with others to organise cultural actions, worked to develop and build a network of radical artists and performers across Melbourne and beyond, and released an album of original political songs.

We’ve done regular benefit gigs for campaign organisations and political events across Victoria, such as Friends of the Earth, the Refugee Action Collective, Nuclear Free Australia, the Australian-Venezuela Solidarity Network, the Council of Single Mothers and their Children, the John Cummins Memorial Fund, the Melbourne Social Forum, and many others.

Gig highlights have included playing on the back of a truck in Melbourne’s Federation Square to 50,000 workers coming out of the MCG at one of the Your Rights at Work rallies, and playing to a packed local hall in the small Victorian rural township of Forrest, in the Otway Ranges, in support of the Gellibrand Clean Water Group.

Our album reflects a diversity of musical styles including Latin American, funk, hip hop and African grooves. It includes an epic anti-war ballad about the destruction of the Iraqi rebel city of Fallujah by the US occupation forces in 2004; an energetic tribute to the heroic struggle against apartheid in South Africa; and, undoubtedly our most popular tune of 2007, an anti-tribute to then-PM John Howard. Plans are underway for a second album.

You can listen to our music and get in touch with us at http://www.theconch.org