Chumbawamba is a rock band that started with humble beginnings in 1982. Dedication to quality pushed their music to the front of the room coupled with a message of anti-consumerism, anti-war, animal rights, human rights and anti-government, or at least smaller and more responsible government.
Success risked destroying everything they stood for since many fans in the genre considered the message more important than the music and expected band members to live a certain lifestyle. It is hard to be true to yourself when so many want to mold you in their image.
The musicians that comprised the band came from an anarchist-punk band background. The flavor never left their music over the years. Yet, Chumbawamba never was a pure anarchist group, sometimes called peace punk.
Their music was always hard to categorize. Folk music plays a serious role in a large percent of their songs. Chumbawamba could go from soft pop rock to hard rock on a single album (Swingin’ With Raymond) or offer a complete album of enjoyable folk music (A Singsong and a Scrap).
The irreverent was always present in Chumbawamba’s work and on full display on their Shhh album. Shhh was not the only album to contain the irreverent, by the way. If you are sensitive to foul language and difficult topics you will be challenged when listening to Chumbawamba.
Anarchist-punk was never known for its general audience appeal. Often, the music of the sub-genre was rough to the ears of most people, again, with more value placed on the content of the message and even the way the musicians lived. Chumbawamba rose above these limitations, producing music at the highest level.
As the years went on they honed their artistic skills. Message was always important, but now they could reach a wider audience. Sending a strong anti-Nazi message when a Nazi apologist was elected in Australia, Chumbawamba released Enough is Enough, their first single to chart. Chumbawamba followed with The Day the Nazi Died, sung a capella, as a warning that insanity is never fully defeated as it threatens to rear its ugly head again and again.
Lifestyle is an important part of the anarchy music culture. Edgy music can gain an ardent, yet limited, following. Chumbawamba broke the rules and had a difficult choice to make if they were to remain relevant.
Popular vs Good
Chumbawamba had music too good to leave unheard. They also knew if their message was important it was better to be heard than to stick to genre norms. Such thinking also risked alienating current fans. It was a risk.
Big name record companies wanted a piece of the up and coming Chumbawamba. EMI Records, a previous target of Chumbawamba criticism, signed the group. With a connected record label Chumbawamba was ready for prime time. Very prime time.
Fans immediately reacted negatively. But Chumbawamba answered with their only Top 10 hit, Tubthumping. Soon sporting events around the world could hear fans chant:
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never going to keep me down
This was the moment where the members of Chumbawamba were going to have their real moral test. Would they stay true to their message or take the money and run? Would they sell out? Is it okay to have money and still have a minimalist, frugal, anti-consumerism message?
This blog firmly believes in having financial wealth while clinging to a lower impact consumer lifestyle. We believe more stuff does not buy happiness. We do not believe success is selling out to our message. And Chumbawamba might be our edgy alter ego.
How did Chumbawamba respond to success?
Five years after they became a household name they were offered up to $100,000 from GM to use Pass It Along from their WYSIWYG album. Chumbawamba donated all the money to an organization that used the money to campaign against GM. It seems like their anti-consumerism message was intact. Fans forgave.
In 2007 they released their Un album with a massive anti-consumerism message. They even had a song for Buy Nothing Day (traditionally the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.) called, you guessed it, Buy Nothing Day. And it is a pretty good song too. Of course, Chumbawamba and EMI had separated company by now.
And to cap off the moral fiber of Chumbawamba, they turned down $1.5 million from Nike to use Tubthumping.
Be True to Yourself
You might be tempted to think Chumbawamba’s behavior is new or uncommon. Well, it is uncommon, but has been going on for thousands of years.
The Stoics from the early years of the philosophy were generally rich people. Don’t confuse this as stoicism only appealing to the rich. What comes down to us in history also involves some survivor bias. Common people with the same philosophy generally did not write about their personal thoughts. Most couldn’t write or read at all.
Still, all those rich guys had something important to add to living a quality life. Rich as they were, they still practiced poverty, our version of anti-consumerism and frugality. And fully understood life is short. If money doesn’t leave you, you eventually leave the money for an apartment six feet under.
Another important point is that it is harder to walk the talk when you have serious money. It is easy being frugal when you are poor since it is forced upon you. But gathering financial wealth and still understanding how easily it can be lost is another thing. It is hard, as most modern people know, to say no to what is so easy to buy.
Fame and fortune are fickle beasts. Still, there is nothing wrong with acquiring wealth when opportunity offers. Chumbawamba did not sell out. They produced beautiful (and fun) music and made nice money in the process. They still criticized a consumer lifestyle and any behavior that put down the common man. They lived by their principles.
For 2,000 years and more the Stoics reminded us it is okay to have wealth as long as we don’t let our stuff own us. Showing off wealth usually indicates a poor relationship with money. The endgame often is really bad. Take your lesson and learn.
The Price of Principles
Chumbawamba wanted to get their message out. They did.
Chumbawamba members wanted to earn some coin from their work. They did, in an honest way without sacrificing their principles, regardless what detractors said.
But principles have a price.
In a documentary on Chumbawamba several band members were interviewed. It became clear some band members hoped they would be more than a one-hit wonder.
For people with high principles there still exists a deep desire to be successful. Like Chumbawamba, bloggers and other authors spreading the word of frugal living, minimalism and early retirement, desire recognition for their efforts. The work is hard, yet fun. Still, at the end of the day, it is the sound of applause that motivates more than anything else.
Chumbawamba had a short moment in the sun and made enough money to spend the rest of their lives comfortably if fortune favors them. Yes they still clung to their message while supporting the working people of our communities. Their support for the working class never dimmed and their disdain for the upper crust never waned. It’s in their music from day one to the finish line.
What About You
What are your principles? Do you live a financially responsible life, even if you are now flush with financial wealth?
The temptations of financial wealth are relentless. Demanding attention and adoration from those “beneath you” seems all too common among the financially wealthy. Have you risen above that kind of behavior?
I listen to Chumbawamba music often on Youtube. For the record, they give all their music away free on Youtube. Another form of living their philosophy. The message is more important than one more dollar.
I laugh while enjoying Chumbawamba music. They really sing some wild material. Often they make me think, too.
Financial wealth is easier today than at any time in history. We are fortune in so many ways. Gratitude must be a primary attitude.
And we can stay true to ourselves and beliefs while acquiring and possessing wealth, even massive amounts of it. Use the gifts for good. (And go play some Chumbawamba on Youtube. It is fun music and what your favorite accountant listens to while working numbers.)