by Francesca Nottola
For those of you who do not know Roxanne de Bastion yet, let me briefly introduce her to you. De Bastion is an eclectic singer and songwriter from Berlin, based in London since 2007. A favourite of BBC Radio6, BBC Introducing and XFM, she performed on the Glastonbury acoustic stage in 2016 and had a showcase at Folk Alliance in the USA. She has opened for the likes of Martha Wainwright and Thea Gilmore. Her first album The Real Thing, released on her own label Nomad Songs in April 2013, and her EP Seeing You (2014) have received critical acclaim from The Sunday Times, R2 Magazine and, in Germany, FAZ and Intro Magazine. After touring extensively for years in the UK and overseas, Roxanne is finally getting the attention she deserves.
Not only is she committed to create quality, non-mainstream music, Roxanne de Bastion is also a champion of the rights of independent musicians and, more specifically, non-male musicians, hoping that we can soon get rid entirely of the label ‘female’, for example, and just call artists of all genders just ‘musicians’. She has researched and experienced herself appalling sexist discrimination in the music industry and has started a very interesting initiative to raise awareness of discrimination against female artists and to work at ways of addressing and solving this issue. In 2016, she has organised ‘From Me To You‘, a one-day conference involving independent musicians in order to bring them together and strengthen their network.
I have had the pleasure to see her live in Manchester a few months ago, and I believe that she has one of the most delightful voices around. Despite being most commonly classified as a folk songwriter, de Bastion’s music defies labels and she is also a queen of infectious pop songs such as Red and White Blood Cells or Indie Electro Pop. My favourite song remains the melancholic keyboard- and strings-led ‘Rerun‘, enhanced by a hypnotic geometric animation video by Graeme Maguire.
Despite the bright side expressed in her pop tracks, her contagious smile and entertaining personality on stage, De Bastion’s music and lyrics are also imbued with the themes of fear and escape, such as her latest single ‘Run’, which explicitly references the dramatic experience of her family and, specifically, her grandfather, Hungarian pianist Stephen de Bastion (Istvan Bastyai von Holzer), who emigrated in 1947 and relocated to Stratford-upon-Avon following Nazi persecution and then the Soviet take-over of the country. Despite the lack of despair in de Bastion’s music, and the relisience expressed by her own and her family’s experience, it is obvious that her grandfather’s miraculous escape from concentration camps first and forced labour in Ukraine later have been deeply traumatic for Mr Istvan’s family members too, leaving them with the often cited guilt and shame of Holocaust survivors. That same unbearable guilt and shame which led Primo Levi to commit suicide many years after WW2, to mention one of the most well-known and dramatic cases.
De Bastion’s new work is very timely, and it is depressingly ironic to observe that, while during WW2 the United Kingdom shined for its generous welcoming of hundreds of thousands of refugees, and especially Jewish citizens fleeing persecution on the European continent, today’s Britain, which can boast one of the most beautifully diverse and culturally rich societies, denies its noble tradition and chooses instead to embrace racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia against its own citizens, xenophobia against the many foreign workers who make the country function and a repulsive indifference if not plain contempt towards those refugees who are desperately trying to survive by escaping the bombs (and legalised terrorism) that their own governments and their Western allies drop over hospitals, schools and families.
The new single ‘Run‘ addresses directly the issue of Jewish lists. In the 1930s, in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (and other European countries) all Jewish citizens were tracked down and added to lists of people to be deported to concentrarion camps, to deprive them of their properties and jobs, to be removed from telephone directories, to be dispossessed of their businesses and homes. I have seen those archive documents in which the Italian government ordered all local authorities to compile these lists from 1938 onwards and I have read the chilling indifferent responses with which local officials executed those orders. Genocide was carried out in a bureaucratic fashion with the crucial support of common people, civil servants, citizens who happily reported Jewish families and sent them to certain torture and death.
As we are witnessing today following the resurgence of right-wing and fascist movements all over the world, these human beings who seem to lack moral values and empathy entirely are proliferating and have become extremely powerful. Also for this reason, the work of artists like Roxanne de Bastion matters a lot. It’s not time to despair, it’s time to be alert, be active and unite against fascism, racism, xenophobia, violence and all forms of hatred.
Roxanne de Bastion’s new single ‘Run’ (and previous work) is available on her website: http://www.roxannedebastion.com/ and her new album ‘Heirlooms & Hearsay‘ will be out next year.
Support independent artists, and especially those who try to make a difference. Roxanne de Bastion is one of them. Also, don’t be racist and call out those who are.