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October 25, 2004

'Axis of Evil' Lullabies: A Nod to Peace

Washington Post:

Never mind the Bruce Springsteen-led Vote for Change movement, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, punkvoter.com or even the two "Rock Against Bush" albums. The most thought-provoking musical statement made this election year just might be a CD of heartbreakingly beautiful songs for babies.

Due in stores today, "Lullabies From the Axis of Evil" (and surely this has to be the only collection of lullabies with the word "evil" in the title) brings together women from Iraq, Iran and North Korea, has them sing traditional lullabies of their lands, and pairs them with Western women performers who offer translations of the songs. The CD also features songs from other countries and territories that have a prickly history with the United States, including Syria, Cuba, Afghanistan and Palestine.

Erik Hillestad, a veteran Norwegian music producer, conceived the album when he heard President Bush's 2002 State of the Union speech. "What I really wanted to do was try to speak to these people behind this curtain, this enemy line, and learn more about people in these countries," he said. "I chose to use lullabies because they are the most opposite kind of rhetoric to the words of power that Mr. Bush and his colleagues use."

With the help of friends, colleagues and journalists, Hillestad made contacts with singers -- some professional, some amateur -- in the aforementioned countries, and late in 2002 he set out to meet the women and record their songs. For a studio producer used to fancy gizmos, Hillestad traveled light. He took just two microphones and a small DAT recorder to the women's homes and recorded a cappella versions of the lullabies.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the project for Hillestad was finding Western artists, particularly Americans, to add their voices to the songs. Many were asked, he says, but either didn't respond or said through their management that the album was too politically risky in those days leading up to the war in Iraq.

On "My Tulip, My Pearl," Fremerman and Iranian singer Pari Zanganeh -- who alternate verses, as do most of the "partners" on the disc -- are accompanied by the Washington National Cathedral's girls choir. Hillestad says he was intrigued with the idea of using a choir from what he described as the official center of religious life in the United States. Greg Rixon, a spokesman for the Washington Cathedral, shies away from any symbolic inference. "We didn't see it in political terms at all," he said. "This project is rather universal in that the suffering that the whole world endures during war is most poignantly felt by women and children. And we believe it is that sentiment that is reflected in this disc."

Hillestad hopes the sentiments expressed in this song and the others will help humanize the "axis of evil" countries. "When the Western world is writing stories about these countries, they only write about just a small elite or a little group that has seized power," he said. "But most of the people there are just like most of the people on the planet." More

Posted by acapnews at October 25, 2004 10:33 PM