The best way that we can appreciate the present is to look back towards the past occasionally. Not just so that we can comfort ourselves that things are somehow better, but also to understand that just because something is no longer at the forefront of our attention, it doesn’t mean that human issues end with the cessation of political and/or military involvement.
It’s been a long time since Kosovo was mentioned in the news, or indeed anywhere. The World’s youngest country is Europe’s poorest. The violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia has left its citizens without an economic infrastructure, and this will take a long time to turn around. That the citizens of Kosovo actually have a country however is a fragility worth having and building upon for the future. It’s wonderful to see a fledgeling nation find its feet, but it needs help in order to do so.
Manchester Aid for Kosovo (MAK) was formed one evening in a pub, and within a fortnight, 300 tons of aid was on its way from Manchester, and Manchester Peace Park now stands in the town Podujevo (the scene of horrendous ethnic cleansing during the conflict) as a permanent reminder of the tragic events of the past and a public monument to the collective hope of the nation. Ten years ago, a charity compilation called Cohesion, featuring many of Manchester’s established and upcoming talent, united in the aim of raising aid for the then-UN Protectorate. A decade on, and Elbow and Doves return to contribute to a new album fittingly entitled Ten to celebrate the work done so far and to remind us that much still needs to be done.
The compilation itself reflects the City’s current wide-ranging tastes and talents – the riproaring Nine Black Alps storm through Heavier than Water, followed by Keith’s reflectively Radioheadesque Don’t Want to be Apart and Doves’ polished, thumping 10.03. Joanne Oniyama pitches in next with the quirky Fun in the Dark (a co-write with Ed Harcourt), one of a fine bunch of singer/songwriters on offer here such as the folky Liz Green, heartwarming Gideon Conn, thoughtful Stephen Fretwell and the experimental Sam and the Plants.
This latter artist’s psych/pop oddness is the cue for a gently odd midsection of the record, with Silverclub, Magic Arm and Jim Noir (who pops up again at the end with The Beep Seals) bringing a DIY pop ethic to the table, full of breezy 1960s melodies and retro electronica.
It’s hard to not mention every single act and song on here as they are all worthy of attention – established and establishing acts rub shoulders without ego or competition, somewhat at odds with the usual perception of all things Mancunian as being in sole possession of little more than an arrogant swagger; the spotlight is shared equally and without fuss, and when evidence of having a few quid to splash out on getting a few chums in the room (as with Elbow’s Some Riot, enlisting the BBC Concert Orchestra on backing duties) it’s still done with a sweary charm and Snug-based cameraderie.
In a week where Manchester’s musical heritage is combed over once more thanks to tabloid rumours intruding on a family funeral to falsely speculate on on a Stone Roses reformation, the words of Elbow’s Guy Garvey in the accompanying promos for this CD are very prescient: “MAK Events are always a document of the times” – showing that Manchester doesn’t need a look back at former glories to state its case as a movement in very rude health.
Manchester and Kosovo are now inextricably linked thanks to the work of MAK. Jehona Bogujevci was evacuated from Kosovo to Manchester in 1999 after being severely injured in an atrocity that saw eight members of her family killed. She recovered from her injuries and is now a graphic designer and illustrator after completing a University course in her new home city. Her artwork fills and completes this compilation, and it was the ideas of her and her cousins (also medically evacuated to Manchester) that saw the building of the Manchester Peace Park in the town that saw such personal tragedy for her. That’d be inspiration enough for anyone without even having heard this record. And then after listening, it’s obvious that each contributing artist is doing this not to plug their wares but to be a part of something rather brilliant, on so many levels.
For info on the album and what it will mean, please visit http://www.makonline.org