Video: Sarah Gillespie Plays Her Song About Shaker Aamer, “How the West Was Won,” Live in London (with Gilad Atzmon)


So I count myself fortunate to live in the same neighbourhood as Sarah Gillespie, a wonderful singer/songwriter whose latest album, “In the Current Climate,” features a song about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Sarah and I met a few years ago, when she let me know that she wanted to write a song about Guantánamo, and last February she came to see a screening at the BFI of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which tells the story of Shaker Aamer (as well as Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes, two other British residents released from Guantánamo), and which contributed to the creation of “How the West Was Won,” Sarah’s song about Shaker Aamer. Sarah’s review of the film is here.

Unlike far too many musicians, Sarah is not afraid to be politically aware. She is also articulate, as can be seen from her material, her political writings, her gigs for Palestine, and her choice of musical partners — she works with the Israeli-born British saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, who is one of the most sustained critics of Zionism in the world.

Below is the blog post that Sarah has just published (and Gilad’s cross-post is here), introducing the song. Also included is a superb live version of the song, recorded in April at the Vortex in north London. Enjoy! And if you like it, please share it — and buy “In the Current Climate.”

“How The West Was Won” — A Song For Shaker Aamer
By Sarah Gillespie

Over a year ago I went to see Andy Worthington and Polly Nash’s brilliant documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” I wrote a paper about it here. It is the kind of film you can’t shake off. It leaves you with a lingering sense of what it might mean to be arbitrarily captured, tortured, humiliated and left without any plausible hope of reprieve. It evokes the cataclysmic trauma and despair, the heavy grief of all those stolen years. One British resident still flounders in this zone of no jurisdiction. He is Shaker Aamer. There is no legal reason for his continued incarceration. He has never been charged with a crime and there is no reliable evidence against him. After seeing Andy and Polly’s film I was haunted by Aamer’s plight, by the suffering of his wife who still lives in Battersea where she has been repeatedly hospitalized with nervous breakdowns — and by the awareness that, while I look forward to going out for dinner tonight in London, Shaker Aamer is still in Guantánamo.

I wrote this song in his honor. It is not explicitly about him, but it is for him. The imagery in the song mocks the islamaphobic motifs of “oppressed” burqa-clad women, opium trafficking warlords, violent husbands and clandestine plots to enrich uranium. Pondering on this picture it is clear Aamer is one of countless souls enduring hell for our so-called freedom. When I wrote this song, it struck me that this is nothing new. What we refer to as “the Enlightenment” always flourished at the expense of others. European nation states were built on the backbreaking toil of nameless foreigners. Still today, the so-called equality, individualism and liberty we are encouraged to celebrate, invariably relies upon someone else, somewhere else being denied it. In this case, it is Shaker Aamer.

How the West Was Won
(a song for Shaker Aamer)

They said they saw me coming
down the foothills of my mountain,
where the women just drink the poison
and the men just kick your jaw in,

where the wells are jinxed with ginseng
by warriors doped up on opium,
where the law men are fictitious
and our desperation gets ridiculous

You’re only just when you
pull me down down down
a peg or two
If you’re honest to God and men
I’d bend my back in two
to defend you my friend

They mocked me in my chamber
with the women there licking peaches
for boys hell bent on parading me
in my maniacals and my britches

They said, “Son you must be putting me on.
You know I can get heated.
I’ll just make you like your uranium:
vicious and depleted.”

You’re only just when you
pull me down down down
a peg or two
If you’re honest to God and men
I’d bend my back in two
to defend you my friend

So I won’t be back this summer
’cause the militiamen got my number
They recorded it to the letter
I sing, “mama, mama make it better.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

12 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Gone Picnic wrote:

    Quality music coming out of the horror and sickness of Guantánamo.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Exactly. Great to hear from you.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m definitely sharing this now.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. I’ve been watching some of the BBC’s broadcasts from Glastonbury, which has been OK, although very little of anything I’ve seen has been at all political (Elbow being an exception, through Guy Garvey’s evident humanity, if nothing else). Certainly Sarah and Gilad’s intervention would have been more than welcome …

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Christine Casner wrote:

    Thanks, Andy, Shared!!!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Monique D’hooghe wrote:


  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Chris and Monique. Good to hear from you.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:

    WOW thanks! For some reason Shaker Aamer has always been more on my heart than anyone else. I don’t know why – but he has – I make duaa for him a lot.. and his family. I just pray he’ll be released. I don’t understand why he’s still there honestly – I know he has been influential, good in handling issues between staff and other detainees – but for God’s sake… let the man go home!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ghaliyaa. As I’m sure you know, there are many of us here in the UK who think regularly about Shaker, whose case is not only an indictment of Obama’s behavior (as with all 171 prisoners), but also of the British government, which insists on claiming that it cannot secure his return, despite the strength of the “special” relationship between the US and the UK. I also think about the others held, like Shaker, away from the general populatiion — a handful of others regarded as significant not because of anything they did before Guantanamo, but because of the influence they are perceived to hold within the prison.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Thank you, Andy. Waking up people to think for themselves is the hardest work you do. I am so grateful to you for your constant work to remind the world about the gross legal miscarriage of justice regarding the Guantanamo prisoners. Sharing, of course.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    And thank you, Dejanka. That’s a very lovely and encouraging message!

  12. joe kane says...

    Gilad Atzmon is also an anti-semite.

    See anything on Tony Greenstein’s Blog about Atzmon and his attacks on Palestine solidarity and his on-going campaign to have people excluded from organised solidairty campaign simply for being Jewish. He’s a gift to zionists.

    Here Tony Greenstein’s latest post on Atzmon’s anti-solidarity activities –

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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