Benjamin Blower has been a Sputnik favourite since before Sputnik even existed (technically impossible I know, but I think you understand the sentiment). I have not come across many Christian artists who have thought through their practice so carefully so as to match their medium to their purpose, and I find Mr Blower to be a very helpful challenge and provocation to me both as an artist and also as a follower of Jesus. He also makes some great tunes, which is always handy as well!
Therefore, it was with some delight that I heard last week that he was dropping a new album totally out of the blue. Welcome the Stranger was released yesterday and you can pay what you want for it (through the Minor Artists shop or just through his band camp). I messaged him last week to see if he could give us a bit of a lowdown and he kindly obliged…
Let’s start with a quick introduction…
My name is David Benjamin Blower and I’m a musician and a writer from Brum.
I’ve put out a number of records, between rap and junk-folk, always very apocalyptic, sometimes with a loose knit protest collective called The Army of the Broken Hearted.
I’m very inspired by the biblical prophets, who didn’t politely pop their music up on soundcloud and carry on. They jarringly interrupted public space and public life with their often shocking work. So the Army of the Broken Hearted was pulled together to bring radical faith art into public space, and to integrate our work more and more with movements of protest and redemptive change.
My first book Kingdom vs Empire came out 2013: a sort of modern apocalypse of British life.
It’s been almost 3 years since ‘Kingdom vs Empire’ though. What have you been working on in that time?
I recorded almost nothing the whole time, oddly. I’ve had a daughter, renovated a house and begun making pallet crate furniture. I’ve written a second book which should come out late summertime. And I’ve written a lounge-folk musical about Jonah and the Whale. Hoping to do a living room tour with that later on this year.
The new album focuses on the refugee crisis. What is it about this particular situation that led you to build this project around it?
I was talking with a friend a few months back, who’d been spending time in the refugee camp at Calais. She was describing and showing photos of the scenes from February 29th this year, when French riot police tear-gassed the camp to get people out of the way, before bulldozers came and destroyed half of it. They made thousands homeless, including women and children, hundreds of whom have now disappeared to goodness knows where. After this, a number of Iranians – mostly Christians – sewed each others’ mouths shut and went on hunger strike, demanding humane treatment for everyone in the camp.
No doubt I began, like everybody, with a feeling for peoples’ suffering, but this crisis is also something more. It’s revealing something about us. Who are we, if we tolerate this? Who are we, if we just “keep calm and carry on” now?
Many people I know, who’ve been spending time volunteering in the refugee camp at Calais, have the air of pilgrims. They go to help, of course, but they also go to recover their humanity, love, truth, the image of God. They come back more sorrowful and more human than when they went.
On the other hand, I know others who want the refugees gone. We’re used to seeing refugee camps on television, in far away lands, but there’s a rising panic at seeing the world’s “problems” making their way across Europe, all the way to our borders… panic that we can no longer keep re-arranging the world “out there” in order to maintain ourselves “in here.” Everything’s changing.
So I think we find ourselves at a fork in the road, and an identity crisis. Who will we be in this emerging future?
The first half of the record simply tells people’s stories – true stories – of people in Iraq, crossing the Mediterranean, slumming in Calais.
The second half of the record is theological, partly because I think the voice of Jesus speaks more forcefully into this question than anybody’s, but also because I think Christian communities in particular need to have this discussion, because, as Bonhoeffer’s famous quote goes, “silence in the face of evil, is evil itself.”
“Keep calm and carry on” is a charming mantra of defiance when a hostile enemy is bombing your country. But when traumatised and homeless people are slumming on your borders, while you, and everyone else, bomb their countries back home, “keep calm and carry on” becomes the mantra of diabolical evil. I made this record around the refugee crisis, because everything is changing and we need a new mantra.
Well, nothing else for it but to go and buy it! If you want to hear more of BB’s reflections on the refugee crisis, this insightful article is a good place to start. If you’d like to hear more about the man himself, one of the more junior members of our team interviewed him in a bit more detail a few years ago and you can find that interview here and here.
Oh, and one last thing. If you’re at the Catalyst Festival this year, Benjamin Blower will be performing on Monday afternoon. If you’re not at the Festival, it’s another reason why coming along may not be such a bad idea. Just saying 😉