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Paredon Records

Paredon Records
Songs, music, poetry, speeches, documents of class struggle, national liberation, women's emancipation and democratic rights
When Paredon Records was founded in the early 1970s, great changes were taking place all around the world, including here in the USA. Paredon set out to amplify the voices of artists and activists that were full of hope and sometimes desperation, voices that expressed the struggles and victories of people standing up for peace and social justice.

The Story of Paredon Records

Over its 15 years of active production, Paredon released 50 albums. Its Co-Founder, singer Barbara Dane, actively sought out music from people’s movements around the world in order to tell their stories. Paredon filled a need for the U.S. public to be able to hear from all sides of relevant contemporary struggles. The label's first four 1970 issues were Canción Protesta: Protest Songs of Latin America, Angola: Victory Is Certain, FTA! Songs of the GI Resistance, and Huey Newton Speaks. This group of releases signaled the breadth of what was to come, not only for music but also for spoken word albums of important historical movement figures.

Both Dane and Co-Founder Irwin Silber were connected through their work to politically active artists and musicians as well as progressive organizations. Barbara networked with artists she met while participating in events against the Vietnam war and other issues of the day, both at home and abroad. Her active involvement in these movements gave her the ear and the inside perspective to know which voices would be historically significant, such as Bernice Johnson Reagon, who started with the S.N.C.C. Freedom Singers and went on to found Sweet Honey in the Rock; Suni Paz, Silvio Rodríguez and several other nueva canción artists; as well as live recordings of speeches by revolutionary leaders such as Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara.

Dane was inspired to form Paredon after a pair of visits to Cuba in 1966 and ’67. The first visit came at the invitation of Radio Havana broadcaster Estela Bravo, who wanted to continue diplomatic relations between the people of the two countries, despite the US government's disapproval of the recent revolution. Barbara sang before huge crowds of students and workers all over the country as well as on national TV and Irwin spoke to gatherings of cultural leaders and intellectuals. The following year, Bravo organized a gathering of international musicians who were involved in worldwide political movements to gather and share their songs and politics. This historic meeting, held at the Casa de las Américas, was called the Encuentro de Canción Protesta and inspired Dane and Silber to create a record label in order to make heard the voices of the very people who lived these songs. (For a more detailed account, see “Reflections on 50 Years of Paredon.”)

Video - 2007 Barbara Dane Interview, Part One

A Closer Look at Paredon Records

What will you find on Paredon Records? First, notice that much of the music comes from great women, including Bernice Johnson Reagon, Beverly Grant, Suni Paz, Estrella Artau, Judith Reyes, Barbara Dane, Flora Santiago, and the New Harmony Sisterhood. Many shapes and colors of songs come from the mouths of American dissenters who are serious patriots; they want to see the country live up to the promises made by founding fathers as disparate as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine and give life to the dreams of those who have been in the thick of the struggle for justice. Vietnam-era GIs rally under the cry of “FTA!” ("Free" The Army), and Air Force guys formed the Covered Wagon song group as a part of their effort to slow the bombing of Vietnam. You can examine the wide variety of voices whose songs paint a world grounded in contemporary reality as you make your way through the three issues of What Now, People?, a song magazine on a record. And don’t miss the album A Grain of Sand, the first ever to give voice to young Asian Americans claiming their identity, their history, and their culture.

Many of the voices you will hear rise up from the streets and fields of Latin America, where the winds of change were storming. Uruguayan Daniel Viglietti, lamenting the poverty and oppression in his home country, asks, Whose land is this anyway? (and demands, “Let’s cut the barbed wire!”). Quilapayún, exiled Chileans, are armed with folk instruments banned by Pinochet’s junta. Traditional Cuban sonero Carlos Puebla joyfully chronicles the ground-shaking changes in his country during the revolution, while young Cuban poet Silvio Rodríguez wishes for a hurricane to sweep away all remains of the decaying past. Andrés Jimenez, Estrella Artau, and Roy Brown in Puerto Rico and Pepe y Flora in New York bring you into the circle of their Independence movement, and the Dominican youth of Expresión Joven sing of people living in cardboard shelters ("Casas de Carton") but determined to make things better. Finally, Haitians sing songs of love in Creole—not just the love between man and woman but the love between friends and neighbors who struggle to survive under the harsh repression of the Duvalier regime.

Perhaps Paredon’s most highly regarded artist worldwide is the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, an antifascist activist since the days of the Nazis. We recorded him presenting nearly two hours of songs clandestinely composed during years of strict house arrest—from which he had only recently been released—by the then-current junta. From elsewhere in Europe, activist/educator Sandro Portelli presents Avanti, Popolo!, showing two sides of contemporary Italy: the ancient songs of feudal life next to modern-day songs from workers’ movements. From the UK, Leon Rosselson sings with grace and humor that the British monarchy is outdated and useless on That’s Not the Way It’s Got to Be. Two recordings depict an Ireland in painful conflict. These clandestinely produced albums, by artists whose names are still unknown, were passed along to Paredon by Ewan McColl, one of England’s most influential musical voices.

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From the Far East, we gathered the music of Caravan, a young, democratic Thai rock group, as it fled the king’s attempts to jail them. Hand-carrying two albums, we managed to bring home the beautiful instrumental music enjoyed by the North Vietnamese under the American bombs. Our most ambitious issue was the entire soundtrack of the epic revolutionary opera The East Is Red, which we produced with the help of New York–based Chinese activists from the group I Wor Kuen; it depicts Mao’s revolution with all the important songs that accompanied it, and included an ample explanatory booklet.

From the Middle East, Promises of the Storm presents stirring music by the great Lebanese oud master and activist/composer Marcel Khalife, which reminds us of the region’s wide support and sympathy for the struggles of the Palestinian people. Another important statement in song and text called Palestine Lives! was constructed from materials gathered from various sources by producer Barbara Dane, who didn’t have the means to travel to the region. She managed to issue it despite threats from Zionists in NYC.

From the African continent, Angola is best represented, with two albums. Victory Is Certain!, recorded amidst the anticolonial insurrection under difficult circumstances, voices the trauma of war and the dream of liberation. Angola: Forward, People’s Power! is a joyous affirmation of the country’s African roots and modern sounds emerging throughout the continent.

Paredon’s catalog also features some of the most significant political voices of the era. A rare recording of Fidel Castro’s 1962 delivery to the United Nations of the world-changing document known as the Second Declaration of Havana is presented with an accompanying booklet containing a full English translation side-by-side with the Spanish transcription. Several key speeches by Che Guevara, along with field recordings of a few personal interactions plus songs dedicated to him by young Cuban singer-songwriters, reveal the human behind the myth. The 1950 speech by leading champion of Puerto Rican independence Albizu Campos, commemorating the 1898 Grito de Lares is here loud and clear. The voice of Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton, speaking from solitary confinement in 1970 after two years of imprisonment, expresses the freedom of his ideas, unfettered by prison bars. Nothing Is More Precious Than Independence and Freedom presents Ho Chi Minh’s writings, poems, and speeches in the voice of a Vietnamese patriot residing in the USA, along with songs in tribute to Ho from around the world.

All of Paredon’s releases include an extensive booklet with complete song texts, translations, information on the musicians and speakers, in-depth background on the social context of the recordings, and solidarity resources. Smithsonian Folkways has provided full access to these liner notes on the website, where you can also hear samples from all these worlds of music.

We believe that you will find inspiration as you take in these powerful expressions. You will have experienced some of the joy and fulfillment that comes with the way so many people around the globe work together, sing and dance, dream and struggle together. Those feelings will help to see you through the difficult times that we often face—and offer you opportunities to join in the chorus of voices sounding the future. We are so glad we have found each other, and welcome you to stay as long as you like.