Hello, everyone! Jorge Arevalo Mateus of Hurdy Gurdy Songs here!
I came to Radio Free Brooklyn through Lisa Levy’s (Dr. Lisa Gives a Shit) husband Phil, whom I knew from my work at the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives. As curator for the Guthrie Archives, I helped Phil when he was working on the publication of his photography book Wardy Forty (2014). When I became aware of Lisa’s program, I decided to propose my own show to RFB. My aim was to bring some radio activism, resistance and cultural politics to the roster — but mostly, I was motivated to create a progressive program of music and socio-political context largely in response to the political malignancy in the U.S. “Casa Blanca.” My first show was on May 28, 2018. I’ve been with RFB just over two years and I’ve been doing the show live from the Bogart Street studio all along, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — practicing the studio’s safety measures and maintaining social distance, of course.
People sometimes ask, “Why do you call your show ‘Hurdy Gurdy Songs’ ”? The hurdy-gurdy has a centuries-old tradition in entertainment and activism. It is a stringed musical instrument with a hand-turned wheel, and a sound similar to a violin. Wandering troubadours from the Middle East to Eastern Europe and beyond played it for the common folk — bringing entertainment and delivering news. Hurdy-gurdy men and women were the truth-tellers of society, speaking truth to power in the communities they traveled through. So, I use ‘Hurdy Gurdy’ as a metaphor for the music and songs that continue a long-revered tradition of truth telling and emotion.
When I started Hurdy Gurdy Songs, I was concerned that the kind of songs and songwriting needed to underscore the radio activism and political engagement the show advocates for (no surprise that it follows Democracy Now!) was limited. Instead, I found it staggering that with Episode 100, I have only barely scratched the surface of the number of hurdy-gurdy songs out there. I would submit that the show has shown that musicians are profoundly political in their creatively delivered statements — regardless of genre or affect.
Although HGS was initially conceived as an act of cultural protest and resistance through internet media, and its format has remained generally the same, the show has definitely evolved. As social, political, economic and health landscapes have changed so rapidly and dramatically, “culture” at large has been altered in radical ways. The heart and poetics of hurdy-gurdy has always been the “Song” and artists’ responses to current, drastic circumstances have been nothing short of phenomenal — and more necessary than ever — with new and powerful statements from voices that need to be heard.
Our 100th Episode on September 15, will feature many friends and colleagues, including the Grammy-nominated Sonia de los Santos, legendary punk rock activist Bill Collins and Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie. Artists from across the country and around the globe have submitted their #1 Hurdy Gurdy Song (if possible), along with a description and commentary, for a very special — and celebratory playlist.
I hope listeners of Hurdy Gurdy Songs’ 100th — and all episodes — gain some political insight and awareness that increases their activism and engagement. I want listeners to learn something new about the songs featured (vis-a-vis history, musicology, cultural context and meaning). Most of all I hope they are entertained and are willing to take the journey with me.
Tune in to Hurdy Gurdy Songs Tuesdays at 2:00pm.