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Spanish Bombs 

A Spanish Civil War poster

New compilation documents the idealistic protest songs of the early Franco era

In a valiant attempt to combat the rising tide of fascism under General Francisco Franco, the Communist International issued a call in 1936 for volunteers to fight for the preservation of democracy and make "Spain the grave of European fascism." A year earlier, Mussolini had invaded Ethiopia. Italy, along with Germany and Portugal, lent their support to Franco's Nationalists while the United States and Great Britain sat out, claiming neutrality. (France, perhaps anticipating the Third Reich's plans and not wishing to jeopardize their relationship with Britain, also banned the sale of war materials to Spain.)

While seemingly abandoned by the international community, an estimated 35,000 people from more than 50 countries and colonies, including over 3,000 from the United States, did answer the International's call for help. These volunteers included members and sympathizers of the Community Party as well as the American Left.

This David-versus-Goliath struggle also attracted and inspired artists such as Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson, as well as populist folksingers like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. While the Popular Front and the volunteers with the International Brigades ultimately failed to thwart Franco's rise to power, the songs they sang on the frontlines or to honor fallen comrades outlasted four

`Lila Downs'` appearance here fully illustrates the vocal talents of this amazing woman.
decades of Fascist rule. More importantly, their idealism and dedication to a just cause in spite of rising odds - expressed verse by verse - still reverberates with freedom fighters and progressive thinkers today.

Spain in My Heart: Songs of the Spanish Civil War (Appleseed Recordings), a collection of 17 new recordings of songs inspired by the Spanish struggle for freedom, pays loving tribute to those compositions, and the people in whose company they were sung.

The disc opens with a little bit of history. Between stanzas of "Jarama Valley," a commemorative anthem eulogizing what became a particularly devastating battle, Pete Seeger gives a little backstory on the songs of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and how they managed to survive - in Spain - under Franco's rule. This is followed by the first of two tracks sung by Michele Greene, whose dynamic, emotionally expressive voice and Mexican/Nicaraguan and Anglo background invite comparisons to Lila Downs.

Lila Downs, who delivers one of the highlights on Spain in My Heart (courtesy photo)

Downs appears on this album as well, and her appearance here fully illustrates the vocal talents of this amazing woman. The child of a North American father and Mixtec Indian mother, Downs established a name for herself in the '90s with songs chronicling the lives of those who attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. On this disc, she performs a flamenco-tinged version of "El Quinto Regimiento," a tune easily recognized by the repeated cries of "Venga Jaleo, Jaleo," issued as a call to resist.

The inclusion of songs like "The Bantry Girls' Lament," a traditional Irish tune dating from a much earlier struggle, sung by Aoife Clancy, and the haunting "Peat Bog Soldiers," taken from an anonymous German concentration-camp prisoner, here interpreted by Laurie Lewis - as with the contributions from Spanish, Anglo, Chicano and Latin American folk artists - serves as a reminder of the truly international composition of the Brigades. You get East L.A. band Quetzal saluting Brigade soldiers with "Viva La Quince Brigada," and Joel and Jamaica Rafael trading English and Spanish lines in "Los Cuatro Generales."

Folk and roots music aficionados will appreciate this disc, as will Nueva Canción enthusiasts. For decades after the Spanish Civil War ended, these songs of the International Brigades continued to inspire hope among the people of Spain oppressed by Franco's rule. With Spain in My Heart, a contemporary international brigade of musicians has revisited those songs, so that they may continue to inspire people of conscience and those who dream of a better world. •

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More by Alejandro Pérez

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