Claire Diterzi: Rosa La Rouge

It looks a bit indigestible at first: an album of songs from a stage show about the Marxist philosopher/activist Rosa Luxemburg. Since this is Claire Diterzi, though, it makes sense.
Although foremost a musician/songwriter, Diterzi has a long-standing association with other strands of the arts. She’s composed for modern dance, film (2007’s Requiem For Billy The Kid) and has also soundtracked visual art exhibits. Her 2008 album ‘Tableau de Chasse’framed her stage shows subsequent to its release. But whatever the themes or chosen medium, Diterzi is about the music.
However, Rosa Luxemburg probably didn’t have music on her mind. Of Jewish descent, she was brought up in Poland and from around age 15 was involved in left-wing politics. After fomenting a general strike, she fled for Switzerland at 18 (the other organisers were executed) and then settled in Germany. A prime mover in the Social Democratic Party (SDP), she was well known for her words, both written and orated. Often imprisoned, she predicted the forthcoming First World War and argued that workers should rise in a general strike to prevent it. When war came, the SDP struck a no-strike deal; Luxemburg organised anti-war demonstrations and split from them to form Die Internationale, which evolved into the Spartacist League. She contributed to illegal anti-war pamphlets, was imprisoned again and following her 1918 release was seized by Germany’s Freikorps and shot. Her body was thrown in a Berlin canal.
Despite the raw material, Diterzi’s creation is no po-faced litany, but instead a vital body of music and lyrics that engage with the subject as though its ebb and flow was positive, uplifting even. She had been approached by Argentinean stage director Marcial Di Fonzo Bo with the idea of a show based around Luxemburg after he had seen her on stage. He’d been impressed with her full-on approach and, equally, she has engaged head on with his idea, creating ‘Rosa La Rouge’.
The album opens with a chorale, glitchy sounds and birds tweeting – ‘L’Eglise’. It sets the scene for the remarkable ‘Je Touche La Masse’, where a Luxemburg speech is pitched against almost-R&B electro that could be Britney Spears circa ‘Toxic’. Diterzi partially sings in English (very rare that) and insinuates Arabic-style melody lines (a typical touch – beautifully realised on ‘Tableau De Chasse’ as well). As ‘Rosa La Rouge’ unfolds, it’s obvious Diterzi isn’t on a lecturing trip. The title track’s Russian-sounding chorus mixes with her treated, squeaky voice and upbeat electronics. Yet, ‘L’Arme, A Gauche’ is a virtually straight balled with a yearning and affecting melody, and lyrics that evoke the idealism behind the idea of forming a people’s army. ‘Aux Marches Du Palais’ plays with light opera – another typical Diterzi touch. She’s previously recast musics from the past: ‘A Geboux’ from the 2005 album ‘Boucle’ could have been sped-up Arletty.
Heard without any concept of how this extraordinary music might be staged, the album stands on its own: accessible, but imbued with meaning. ‘Rosa La Rouge’ is a remarkable creation by a unique artist.
© Kieron Tyler