Solidarity forever: Making Music in Harmony

Solidarity Tapes is the London-based DIY cultural project making explicit links between music and activism.

Community is no longer just our next-door neighbours – it’s the people we connect with around the world through shared identities, values and interests. In our new series Community Curators, Politics Editor Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin meets the individuals & organisations changing lives through community action.

Music has long played a key role in social activism, from countless folk songs drawing attention to economic inequalities and a lack of cultural awareness, and jazz increasing social consciousness around the ways Black people were mistreated by society, to punk representing and demanding freedom to exist outside of society’s normative pressures and expectations. Yet, perhaps partly due to the increased commercialisation of artistry and a de-prioritisation of authentic individual voice by the industry, this is an overlap that now is best observed in independent spaces. Thus, it seems apt that within London’s blossoming DIY scene sits a beautiful melding of the independent music and grassroots community organising spheres – Solidarity Tapes.

Founded and run by musicians – and brothers – Josh, Toby, and Aidan Evans-Jesra, Solidarity Tapes “is a cultural project aiming to make explicit links between music and activism”. Through events that bring together musicians and community organisations, fundraising ventures, and zines, they take direct action not only to educate their networks and beyond, but also to build community and re-centre joy as part of resistance. Brimming with familial love and collaboration, Solidarity Tapes reminds us that solidarity is not a noun, but rather a verb – and that kinship extends far beyond the bounds of blood or borders.

We could say that to be in solidarity with someone is to love them, as we would love our brothers. And if we focus on our collective struggles against oppressive structures, we see that this love is expansive – that we can love strangers and experience a reciprocity in that love. Although originally hypothesised within the context of highly-gendered misogynistic power dynamics in heterosexual relationships, Simone de Beauvoir’s understanding of “authentic love” comes to mind when I consider what solidarity can teach us. This reciprocal love, which is “founded on mutual recognition of two liberties” and “always freely chosen and sustained”, allows each individual to be “more audacious”.

Thus, true solidarity can allow us to be the best versions of ourselves – to be braver and bolder in our pursuit for a better today and tomorrow. When with liberation of one comes liberation of many, wouldn’t we be stronger, wiser, and happier if we could learn and draw from one another in the process? From supporting those resisting war in Ukraine to those resisting genocide in Palestine, solidarity across borders understands that all our oppressions are linked, and that our resistance is strongest when we stand together. When we sing together.

Music not only holds lyrical keys to increasing awareness, but can also drive movements through the joy that it unlocks, and the community and cohesion that it inspires. For example, take the Singing Revolution, a four-year series of protests that involved mass singing demonstrations across Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia between 1987 and 1991, eventually leading to their independence. As Audre Lorde wrote in her 1978 essay, The Uses of the Erotic, “In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change.” Creative outpourings – such as music, dance, and art – are such sources of power. They not only channel our joyful energy with focus, but also bring people together and unite them through a common goal – even if that is to create melodic harmony. And this sense of community-building is even reflected in our physical response. Research has shown that choir singers’ heart-rates synchronise and that musicians playing the same riffs have brain patterns that are virtually identical.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that two of the Evans-Jesra brothers, Josh and Toby, also play in multiple bands together – namely, Speed Training and Leather.head – often using their music as a form of activism. Leather.head’s most recent song, Hordes, includes lyrics by Toby that are, in his words, about borders, apathy, and the violence of the hostile environment. At a time when migrant and refugee rights are especially precarious in the UK – with the Nationality and Borders Bill in its final stages – LGBTQIA+ rights are being rolled back in countries across the world – from Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill to Hungary’s anti-LGBT laws – and climate change is leading to catastrophic disasters, extinctions, and an uncertain future, it’s more important than ever that we come together to act in solidarity with one another.

We spoke with the team behind Solidarity Tapes to find out more about their actions and intentions.

Prishita: Could you tell me a little bit about Solidarity Tapes? What’s the need in society for your initiative?

Solidarity Tapes: As three brothers who have one foot in local DIY music scenes and the other in activist circles striving for migrant, climate, and social justice, we feel that there is sometimes a lack of overlap between the two. We raise funds and awareness about grassroots struggles through live events, compilation albums, and a zine (our first volume was Solidarity Tapes Vol. I:End the Hostile Environment). We’re striving to create spaces where musicians, artists, and activists can stand in solidarity with groups marginalised by white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism.

P: What does community mean to you?

ST: Some words that come to mind are: care, solidarity, collective experience, people power, and mutual aid. Maybe it’d be easier to describe what community means to us by thinking about what it’s not. For us, the opposite of community would be atomised individuals existing without spaces for collective experiences, and without a sense of care for those going through struggles different than their own. Unfortunately, this is what a lot of modern society feels like. But, however hard those in power try to weaken communities, they always find ways of emerging – whether it’s through mutual aid groups, community-run pubs (check out the campaign to turn the Ravensbourne Arms into Lewisham’s first community run pub!), anti-raids networks, waste-food communal dinners, or queer and PoC spaces, like Decolonise Fest or Queer House Party.

Maybe it’d be easier to describe what community means to us by thinking about what it’s not. For us, the opposite of community would be atomised individuals existing without spaces for collective experiences, and without a sense of care for those going through struggles different than their own.

 P: I love this explanation! What’ve been some of your favourite moments since setting up Solidarity Tapes?

ST: Our recent Migrant Solidarity Fundraiser at the Ivy House [London’s first community-owned pub] was the first live event we’ve done since the pandemic and since releasing our first volume. With no idea how it would go, we were blown away by the turn out, by the incredible sets from SUEP, For Breakfast, and Lust Lobby, and by people’s engagement with the speakers from different migrants justice groups – such as Lewisham Anti-Raids and Watch the Channel. Curating the zine was another real highlight. We felt very honoured to receive such beautiful stories, poems, art, and other contributions from artists and activists, and from those with lived experience of violent borders. We also felt really blessed to have contributions to our first tape from the likes of Big Joanie, Goat Girl, PVA, Italia 90, Jelly Cleaver, and more. 

P: This all sounds incredible! What do you hope to achieve through this initiative?

ST: We hope – in some small way – to raise awareness about the violence of modern society, and to show ways in which people can resist it and stand in solidarity with each other. But also we want to provide opportunities for collective joy and community building. 

We hope – in some small way – to raise awareness about the violence of modern society, and to show ways in which people can resist it and stand in solidarity with each other. But also we want to provide opportunities for collective joy and community building. 

 P: And what’re your hopes for the future – both for your initiative and for wider society?

ST: In terms of the project, we’re hoping to put on a series of live events over the coming months. We’re planning for our next one to be a Palestine Solidarity Night with – fingers-crossed – some pretty exciting live acts to be confirmed. Going forwards, we’d like to put out a Vol. II tape and zine later in the year. Here, we’re looking to focus on abolition with regards to borders, prisons, and police, but also explore what we’d want to abolish in the arts, in schools, in society, and what we’d want to replace them with. It’s tentatively going to be called ABOLISH EVERYTHING. Our hopes for the future of wider society are that we recognise how interconnected our struggles are, and use the strength of communities to support each other and to resist the rich and powerful.

Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin
Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin

Our Politics Editor, Prishita (they/them) is a writer, editor, and LGBTQ+ community organiser. They’re currently a Trustee with Voices4 London and sit on the Advisory Board for Split Banana, a social enterprise redesigning relationship and sex-ed by bringing in the perspectives of groups traditionally excluded from the curriculum. Prishita has been published or featured in METAL, gal-dem, Hunger, and Dazed, amongst others. They also featured in ‘Soul of a Movement’, a film by British creative directors Carson McColl and Gareth Pugh that documents some of the British LGBTQ+ activists, artists and allies carrying the revolutionary fire of the Stonewall Uprising today.
Prishita‘s writing is represented by The Good Literary Agency, and they’re also a signed model and social human with CRUMB.

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