Mandoki Talks to NEWHD

Morning has broken – with challenges that were predicted by many, but for which few were prepared. Rising to these challenges will define who we are. My plea for solidarity exhorts us to become the group that stands together, making new and necessary connections despite any rifts and divisions.  

We are learning day by day, again and again. Here in Germany, we have a history that teaches us what happens when racism horrifically poisons a society, killing a once vibrant and diverse culture by breaking the most fundamental rules of civilization. Of course, we have not learned this lesson perfectly. Even as I contemplate the bleakest aspects of today’s headlines, my heart pushes toward an optimism rooted in one of our world’s great unifiers: music. 

Bringing our music back to socio-political relevance lets us play for cohesion and against division. 

Musicians often think with our hearts. Our songs are created with an unwavering belief in the connecting power of music to change the world.  Walking in the footsteps of the Woodstock generation allows us to mount a new challenge to the world of similar proportions. 

I’m calling my music business peers to help our artist colleagues, struggling for their existences. The paradigm shift in the recording industry has made building careers harder than ever for young and innovative artists who don’t fit neatly into mainstream commercial categories. Culture needs diversity, and it would be disaster if thinned out by the corona crisis, so only established artists are able to survive. My colleagues and I hold the megaphone calling for support for promising artists who are the future of the artistic soul of our society.

My Mandoki Soulmates’ double album “Living in the Gap & Hungarian Pictures” was written to express this ideal of old rebels and young upstarts coming together to fight for unity and against division in our society.  

To live our passion for life with our audiences, I quote a song from my Soulmates’ album Aquarelle, “I am not young enough to know everything.”

We must come together, and make sure everyone feels they’re being heard. 

We must bring the discourse of differing views (no matter how extreme) to society, both to learn and to hold them accountable. 

Here in Germany, we ask why so many people express their fears in the form of conspiracy theories. We need to listen attentively to them to present a cogent and robust opposing point of view, based on respect and knowledge rather than fear. The resilience of our pluralistic, democratic society will grow if we can endure a diversity of dissent in ways that escape filters and rumors of our current chaotic public discourse. 

The massive threat to life from the coronavirus crisis, combined with concurrent crises—world finance, refugee, globalization, fake news, conspiracy theories, as well as—are what existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre would’ve called “de trop,” or “too much.” The only way out of this storm is through visionary leadership—political, cultural, and artistic. I call on my friends in prominent positions to lead from the front, not from political calculations based on polling. Leaders use these crises, together, as opportunities to fight for unity, not division. 

We can’t forget that the coronavirus crisis has provided a painfully hard-won opportunity to re-evaluate who and what is really, systemically important in our society, and to create new criteria for evaluating who creates added value, cohesion, and solidarity. At the same time, we must take a hard look at those who profit when our society is in crisis.

We failed to root out the causes of the 2008 financial crisis. Thus, uninhibited speculators shamelessly profited from the schadenfreude of short selling in this coronavirus crisis. Let’s turn the corner to build a community held together by humanity, which will stop financial markets from determining the course of events.

Due to the coronavirus, I was isolated in my recording studio in Bavaria, Germany, prior to the outbreak of protests in response to the killing of George Floyd. I hoped the enforced hiatus could give us the space for new thinking and policies to grow. Now there’s no time to wait.

Let us make sure that mindfulness triumphs over greed, and humanity over indifference. It’s only with a unified effort that we can overcome these challenges. Together, we must imagine and create a new world of equality. So, let’s take a breath for a better world!

–Leslie Mandoki was born in Budapest, witnessed the 1956 Hungarian uprising as a child, and escaped to the West in the 1970s, eventually becoming a household name as a musician and public intellectual in his adopted home of Germany. With his band, Mandoki Soulmates, he has made music with many of his childhood idols, who spurred him on to his flight to freedom. Their new two album collection is called “Living in the Gap”/”Hungarian Pictures.” His duet with Ian Anderson, #WeSayThankYou is a tribute to workers on the frontline during the pandemic, including his wife, Eva, a doctor working as a first responder. 

Zach Martin

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