Music Notes – October 2014

2 Oct

Talib Kweli

U.S. musicians respond to racist shooting

American musicians joined in the condemnation of the August 9th slaying of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by white police officer Darren Wilson. In a Huffington Post interview, prominent Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli (pictured above), on the front lines in Ferguson after the killing, responded sharply to efforts by authorities to diffuse the justified anger of the town’s black community. “We’re getting killed out here in the streets,” he said. “We cannot afford to put peace above justice. We work towards peace, that’s the end goal, but it’s about organization, it’s about strategy, it’s about tactics. It’s not about calming down.” Outspoken R&B singer Lauryn Hill responded to the killing with a new song, “Black Rage”. The song takes the melody of the Rogers and Hammerstein standard “My Favorite Things” but replaces the sugar-coated lyric with a bitter satire that evokes Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Radical singer-songwriter David Rovics also responded. “His Hands Were in the Air” is a typically hard-hitting Rovics broadside. These are only a few of the many interventions by musicians in the Michael Brown case.

Standing on the edge of a revolution?

Nickleback is one of the most successful rock bands in the world. The slick quartet from Alberta has sold more than 50 million records and raked in a slew of music industry awards, all despite receiving mostly hostile reviews from rock critics. They’ve been derided for their overuse of that most time-honored of rock themes: sex, drugs and rock & roll. While occasionally the band engages social issues (e.g. spousal abuse), they’ve steered clear of political commentary. However, in a surprising turn this summer, Nickleback released Standing on the Edge of a Revolution – a single from their upcoming new album No Fixed Address. In the video, we find the band in a dimly-lit classroom, performing before adolescent students, with a succession of protest images and slogans projected on a screen behind them. They incite the kids with references to the privileges of Wall Street banksters, domestic spying by the NSA & CIA, and images of the occupy protests. As the kids grow increasingly angry and start overturning desks and throwing paper in the air, the band leads them in a call-and-response chant for revolution. Sadly, it’s a little deflating to see the students, fists in the air, defiantly repeating that pathetically unspecific advertising slogan: “We want change!”

British musicians support BDS

While supporters of the cultural boycott of Israel failed to persuade North American rocker Neil Young to sign on this summer (he canceled his Tel Aviv concert for ‘security’ reasons), the BDS campaign continues to attract prominent musicians in Europe. On July 25th, during the IDF assault on Gaza, the U.K. Palestinian Solidarity Campaign delivered an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for an end to Britain’s arms trade with Israel. Visiting Canadian rock star Bryan Adams was among the signatories, who also included Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack. Speaking of Massive Attack, the popular English band headlined Ireland’s Longtitude 2014 music festival earlier that month. Their spectacular evening concert displayed pro-Palestinian LED solidarity messages. On July 27th more than 50,000 people attended a Gaza solidarity march in London. Speakers included composer Brian Eno and guitarist-producer Dave Randall (of Faithless and Slovo fame). Irish singer Sinead O’Connor sent greetings and added her name to the ever-growing list of musicians who have pledged not to perform in Israel until justice for Palestine has been realized. For more info: http://refrainplayingisrael.blogspot.co.uk/.

Native rapper takes on sports mascots

Sports fans are often attached to the symbols associated with their favorite team, but too often they are oblivious to the racist implications of those symbols. In recent years, Native Americans have stepped up their fight to compel offending teams (e.g. Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Black Hawks) to acknowledge the pain that abuse of their identity as sports mascots has caused. At the centre of the controversy is the team with what may be the most egregious name: the National Football League’s Washington Redskins. The campaign picked up steam in August when CBS and NBC sports broadcasters Phil Simms and Tony Dungee declared that they will no longer use the word “Redskins” on the air. On September 2nd the sports network ESPN dedicated an episode of its show “Outside the Lines” to the controversy. It opened with a performance by the popular 25-year-old Native American rap star Frank Waln (from the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota) and his band Nake Nukla Waun (“I am always ready, at all times, for anything”). A podcast can be accessed at the ESPN website. For info about Frank Waln check out an interview with him at www.peoplesworld.org and look for his outstanding video “Hear My Cry” on YouTube.

Art and Energy: How Culture Changes

29 Sep

Art and Energy

Art and Energy: How Culture Changes

by Barry Lord, AAM Press 265 pp.

People’s Voice – Sept 15-30, 2014

Barry Lord’s new book Art and Energy: How Culture Changes is about the influence of changing sources of energy on aesthetic culture, as well as the influence of aesthetic culture on the pace of adapting new energy sources. While sources of energy from earlier eras are still necessarily with us (firewood, coal, wind, etc.), there is always, he says, a cutting edge source of new energy that transforms the social-economic environment and the resulting cultural values.

Hearth & Forge

Commenting on the Greek poet Hesiod’s description of Zeus’ rage after learning that Prometheus had given fire to human beings, Lord writes, “such a god’s-eye view of the fires of many communities gives us a glimpse of the prehistoric and ancient world’s primary cultural centre, the hearth”. Fire allowed humans to gather together in the evening to tell stories, invent songs and dances, and reinforce their values. The use of tallow lamps enabled the astonishing cave paintings found in Africa, Spain and Southern France, painted by artists some 30 millenia ago.

The kiln was a further application of fire, fostering the craft of pottery. Later came the forge, which introduced bronze and iron, transforming the weapons of war and the tools of agriculture, and harnessing animals for domestic use. In a vivid passage, Lord contrasts the tamed animals depicted on the walls of Egyptian tombs with the energetic animals of prehistoric cave artists.

Co-operation & Slavery

Lord asserts that co-operation in the workforce is also a source of energy, with the earliest co-operation being the division of labour between women and men. Once the advantage of co-operation was understood, collective identity followed, and the acknowledgment of individual leaders. Large-scale collective labour made it necessary to store and distribute surpluses over a wide area, making armed guards necessary, as well as taxes, marketplaces, and writing.

Slavery became a vital source of energy in the ancient world. Total control of agricultural labour gave economic and military advantages to slave society elites. This mode of production made standing armies possible, as well as a leisure class that engaged in philosophy and literature, and invested its surplus in ambitious works of architecture, and monuments that served to proclaim and maintain its dominance. Slave artisans were disciplined to provide exquisite pieces of jewelry, furniture, bronze, ceramics and glass.

Wind Power

In the period of European civilization known as the “Renaissance” cultural change was powered by technological developments in sailing. New methods of rigging made it possible to harness wind energy to explore the globe and exploit other peoples and resources. Human energy was organized for the exchange of surplus, an activity that required the invention of an abstraction: the international exchange rate.

Lengthy trading expeditions were risky and expensive affairs (as Shakespeare dramatized in The Merchant of Venice). To spread the risk, joint stock companies were formed, followed soon after by stock exchanges. The age of sail coincided with the growth of competition between merchant empires. Artists began to celebrate heroic individuals and wealthy patrons, rather than religious themes. A new individualism emerged in the arts with the rise of genres like portraiture (Rembrandt), and the novel (Cervantes, Defoe).

Coal: The Culture of Production

The decline of the age of sail was precipitated by an energy crisis in Europe. By the 18th century, many countries were experiencing deforestation. The solution to the crisis was found in the “underground forest”. Coal emerged as the cutting edge energy. It reorganized workplaces and concentrated a growing population into cities. Coal stoked the industrial revolution, fueling steam engines, cotton mills, and railroads. It made overnight postal service and daily newspapers possible, and global mass markets for cultural works, like the phenomenally popular novels of Dickens and Hugo.

Some artists, like the poet Baudelaire, responded to the new mass culture by embracing alienation. Others, like the painter Van Gogh, gave a new dignity to industrial and agricultural labourers. More radical new ways of seeing were pioneered by Turner and the impressionist painters, with their interpretations of the steam and smoke of the industrial environment.

Electric Transformations

In Lord’s scheme of energy transitions, electricity is an anomaly. It is an application, rather than a source of energy. Electricity brought about qualitative change. The culture of production was transformed by power grids and circuits. Electrical appliances changed the nature of housework and the role of women, and the phonograph, cinema, and radio transformed social and cultural awareness.

During the age of coal the industrial proletariat became aware of itself as a class and launched its epic struggle for workers rights. However, it is arguably the coming of electricity in the late 19th century that inspired mass socialist and communist parties and the world’s first socialist revolution. Lenin famously said that “communism will be the Soviets plus electricity.” But while working class organizations grew rapidly in this era, artists too, felt that they could change the world.

Electricity inspired international modernism, a movement for the transformation of art and society that included the architecture and design of the Russian constructivists, the Bahaus school, the cubism of Picasso, the epic theatre of Brecht, the abstract music of Schoenberg, surrealism and the anti-art of Dada, the revolutionary muralists of Mexico, and the cinema of Chaplin. It was an age that favored innovation over imitation.

Oil & Gas: The Culture of Consumption

Since 1900, the internal combustion engine has driven an era of oil and gas, transforming landscapes into highways and parking lots, and leaving behind an ever-increasing carbon footprint for subsequent generations. Ford’s offer of a Model T on easy credit to his workers dramatically enabled consumer culture. In the mid-20th century, working-class solidarity countered consumerism, but neo-liberalism, symbolized by Thatcherism in the 80’s, partly succeeded in replacing the social identity of unions with that of the individual consumer. Contemporary governments continue to promise high consumption levels, whatever the cost.

Post-modern philosophy corresponds to consumer culture, as opposed to class identity, in that it offers a “marketplace of ideas,” and eschews “grand narratives”. Artistic disciplines are characterized by a smorgasbord of alternative styles and meanings. Artists themselves are encouraged to develop their art as a brand. Ubiquitous corporate sponsorship imposes brands on cultural institutions and festivals. Large-scale international art fairs like the Venice Biennale confirm the culture of consumption and the growing wealth and power of the top-tenth of art dealers and auction houses.

Nuclear Energy: The Culture of Anxiety

Nuclear power was the first energy source to arrive as a weapon. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as well as the application of industrial methods by Nazi Germany to exterminate Jews, Roma and other peoples) caused many artists and intellectuals to re-evaluate their ideas about the nature of humanity. Borrowing from a popular 1947 poem by W.H. Auden, Lord characterizes this phenomenon as “the culture of anxiety.” The mood was expressed after the war by absurdest writers like Camus, Ionesco and Beckett, and filmmakers like Resnais and Antonioni.

In recent decades, new causes of anxiety have emerged with fear of nuclear meltdowns and global warming. Fears actively fomented by governments in the metropolitan centres of capitalism include growing anxiety about “security” and “austerity”. Lord provides examples of the efforts of several contemporary multi-media artists to warn of the corrosive effects of this culture of anxiety.

Renewable Energy: The Culture of Stewardship

Some contemporary artists, reacting to the wasteful and environmentally destructive culture of consumption, are reflecting a “culture of scarcity.” They advocate impoverished art, made from discarded or low-cost materials. But, says Lord, this “frightens the haves and discourages the have-nots.” He names his vision of the emerging sustainable world “the culture of stewardship”. Its key values are storage, access, and sustainability.
Lord rightly celebrates electronic archives (libraries and museums) as creative cultural and media centres, but his description of digital data as “congealed energy” calls out for fuller explanation. When he writes approvingly of new museums designed by architects with sustainability in mind (living green roofs, geothermal wells), and art galleries that offer immersive experiences, one might well ask, who is this for? Where are the visions of sustainability for the 99%?

While he argues that digitization has weakened the collective identities that formerly supported transformative causes, he nevertheless concludes on an optimistic note, predicting that the time will come when the culture of consumption will be a distant memory. But we can’t build a sustainable future on hope alone. Where is the human agency to bring about these changes?

These criticisms aside, Art and Energy is thought-provoking and highly readable book.

Barry Lord and his partner Gail Dexter Lord are international museum consultants. Together they’ve published a series of widely-used manuals for museums, as well as an important contribution to cultural theory: Artists, Patrons, and the Public: Why Culture Changes (2010).

Music Notes – September 2014

25 Sep

Naivelt Peace Tea 2014

Camp Naivelt celebrates Pete Seeger

Camp Naivelt, perched between a golf course and a conservation area on the Credit River just west of Toronto, has long been an incubator for progressive, grassroots culture. The camp, run by the Toronto chapter of the United Jewish People’s Order, has been at this location since 1935. Over the years, it’s nurtured popular musical groups like The Travellers and Sharon, Lois and Bram, and it’s hosted some of the most important progressive artists of our times, including Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, Phil Ochs and Leon Rosselson. Cultural programming at Naivelt has always combined respect for the heritage of people’s culture with a determination to pass the torch to the next generation. Events at the camp this summer demonstrate that this tradition is alive and well.

This writer had the opportunity to participate in a week of musical activities at Camp Naivelt, culminating in three special events on the Civic Holiday weekend. It began with the annual week-long music camp, led by two outstanding musician-educators: clarinettist Martin Van De Ven and blues/folk singer Faith Nolan. Under their tutelage, instrumental musicians and singers of all ages and levels were brought together to experience the joys of music-making in a nurturing, non-competitive atmosphere. They showed their stuff at a joyous Saturday evening concert of klezmer music, folksong and other musical delights.

The next day Naivelt welcomed hundreds of visitors who came to remember Pete Seeger. The ceremonies began with the annual Peace Tea, held on the lawn in front of the Lazowsky Centre (the camp’s hall). Writer and activist Ronnee Jaeger explained the origins of this annual event, at which the camp observes the anniversary of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Guest speaker George Auerbach, a native of New York City, paid tribute to that exemplary peace activist and teacher, Pete Seeger. Faith Nolan led a spirited singalong, and was joined at the end of her set by B.C. banjoist-folklorist Danny Bakan, and Sharon Hampson & Bram Morrison (of Sharon, Lois & Bram fame).

In the evening, the atmosphere inside the Lazowsky Centre was festive, as a capacity crowd assembled for the gala Pete Seeger tribute. The hall was decorated with flowers, banners, and a special motif for the occasion: dozens of cut-out banjos (template compliments of cartoonist and Naivelter Mike Constable), all uniquely painted by young and old, and symbolizing the unconquerable justice-seeking spirit of Pete Seeger. Performers included Toronto folk-revival trio Where Have All the Folksongs Gone?, Neil Sharp & Hugh Hunter (from the nearby Brampton Folk Club), Safety in Numbers (Naivelt’s own community band), a trio consisting of trumpeter David Buchbinder, jazz pianist Dave Restivo and vocalist Roula Said, and the aforementioned Faith Nolan, Danny Bakan and Sharon & Bram.

As the concert drew to a close, Sharon & Bram led a singalong of “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and performed Sally Rogers’ eloquent 1995 Seeger tribute “Pass Them On”, before stepping back and introducing a recording of an elderly Seeger singing his 1958 tribute to departed friend John T. McManus: “To My Old Brown Earth”. (To my old brown earth/And to my old blue sky/I now give these last few molecules of “I”/And you who sing/And you who stand nearby/I charge you not to cry). Following this poignant moment, all of the performers, accompanied by the camp children’s chorus, returned to the stage to lead the house in rousing versions of “We Shall Overcome” and “Goodnight Irene”.

Met Opera unions fight cutbacks

Unions at New York’s Metropolitan Opera could be hitting the bricks any day now. Met General Manager Peter Gelb is demanding that the opera’s workers accept a 17% cut in pay and benefits. He’s threatening to impose a lockout and file for bankruptcy if the unions don’t cooperate with his plan to eliminate a $2.8 million deficit. Unions involved include the American Guild of Musical Artists, AFM Local 802, and IATSE locals 1 (carpenters & stage hands), 751 (ticket sellers), 764 (costume shop workers), 794 (broadcast technicians), 798 (stylists) & 829 (artists & designers). They’re charging the Met with bloated management salaries and repeated cost overruns, citing as examples Gelb’s pay and compensation ($1.8 million last year) and the $169,000 spent on painted poppies for a recent production of Borodin’s Prince Igor. Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi estimates that non-pay demands by management (i.e. health insurance & work rules) translate into actual cuts for orchestra members of 25%-38%. At press time the dispute is in mediation. The Met’s 2014-2015 season is scheduled to begin on September 22nd, and its popular HD simulcast series is scheduled to begin on October 11th.

Noteworthy new songs for Palestine

Two of the finest radical English-language singer-songwriters have contributed timely new songs in support of the struggle of Palestinians for peace and justice: Leon Rosselson’s The Ballad of Rivka and Mohammed and David Rovics’ Gaza (from his new album Falasteen Habibti) can both be found on YouTube.

Music Notes – August 2014

23 Sep

Charlie Haden

 Charlie Haden RIP

The great jazz bassist Charlie Haden died in Los Angeles on July 11th after a prolonged illness. He was 76. In the late fifties Haden was an member of the revolutionary Ornette Coleman Quartet. The group’s music led a “free jazz” revolution that shook up the jazz world and exerted a lasting influence on subsequent generations of musicians. Haden was to go on to explore diverse musical paths that invariably combined his ever-evolving aesthetic preoccupations with his progressive political and social beliefs. The latter were most definitively realized in the Liberation Music Orchestra, an intermittent project that was essentially a collaboration between Haden and pianist-arranger Carla Bley. In 36 years, the Liberation Music Orchestra released just four albums, but each one is a creative venture into a musical world where avant-garde jazz meets revolutionary people’s music. They remain statements of and for their time, protesting the war in Vietnam, lamenting the death of Che Guevara, opposing U.S. intervention in Central America, and finally saying “Not In Our Name” to the post 9/11 wars of the Empire. Charlie Haden left a legacy of beautiful and relevant music for subsequent generations to discover.

Quebec musicians break with AFM

Quebec musicians have voted to disaffiliate from the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and its Toronto-based branch, the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM). In a referendum held June 2-8, members of the Guilde des Musiciens et Musiciennes du Québec (GMMQ) voted 53.3% in favour of the break. About 70% of the union’s 3,000 members cast ballots. Guitarist Luc Fortin, President of GMMQ, declared on June 11th that the results confirm “a majority of Québec musicians no longer have faith in the current model of affiliation with the AFM, and want a stronger association of Québec professional musicians that can represent them effectively and be fully empowered to negotiate working conditions adapted to Québec’s reality”. The AFM’s response came the next day with a letter from the International Executive Board (IEB) in New York informing Fortin that a member of Montreal Local 406 has filed charges against him for abuse of power. Fortin replied that according to AFM rules, charges must be brought before Local 406’s executive, not the IEB. Among the contentious issues is the matter of affiliation fees and subsidies, especially in light of the union’s obligations under Québec’s Status of the Artist Act. The transition could be challenging for the GMMQ. Many agreements with cultural institutions will have to be renegotiated. For more info: http://www.gmmq.com/en

Music teachers fired for joining union

Two music teachers at a non-profit community centre in Toronto’s Jane-Finch area are taking their employer to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Ruben “Beny” Esguerra and Omar Sanchez say they were fired for joining a union that had been formed last October to represent the 20 workers of the non-profit San Romanoway Revitalization Association (SRRA). The musicians allege that the shutting down on April 30th of the SRRA-managed Palisades Media Arts Academy (PMAA), where they taught music and recording skills to Jane-Finch youth, was a consequence of the unionization of the parent organization. The SRRA argues that the money (a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation) ran out, but lawyers from CUPE, who are representing Esguerra and Sanchez, point out that the Trillium grant was for three years, while the program only commenced two years ago. The OLRB hearings begin in September. Meanwhile residents of the neighbourhood have launched a campaign to reopen the PMAA. The closing of the program, which provided free music and art classes to youth of ages 14-29, leaves a void in the lives of many young people in this poor and stigmatized neighbourhood. For more info: http://www.savepmaa.wordpress.com.

Young’s Tel Aviv Gig cancelled

After a world-wide campaign by cultural boycott supporters, large protests outside his concerts, and an impassioned open letter from musical peer Roger Waters, Neil Young ended up not playing his controversial July 17th concert in Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, it was the Israeli promoter who cancelled (blaming Hamas rockets), and not Young. After the cancellation the singer had an opportunity to condemn the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, but chose to remain silent. His only message came indirectly from a spokesperson who lamented that “tensions” had “rendered the event unsafe at this time”. The statement, in effect, echoes the official Israeli position. It’s hard to believe that Young, who garnered accolades for supporting First Nations struggles against tar sands development, and who once took a stand against the Vietnam and Gulf wars, is unable to see the parallels between the struggles of North America’s First Nations and the Palestinian people. One can easily imagine the pressure that the Israeli regime and its supporters apply to artists who might consider supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. But in his silence Neil Young is unfortunately complicit in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

Music Notes – July 2014

3 Jul

FINAL_poster_May_2014_tickets

Historic solidarity concert in Toronto

Toronto’s Common Thread Community Chorus joined forces on May 31st with local Chilean musical ensemble Proyecto Altiplano for two performances of the Cantata Santa Maria de Iquique by the composer Luis Advis (1935-2004). The 1969 work, composed for the reknowned Chilean group Quilapayún, uses classical forms and indigenous folkloric traditions to tell the story of a nitrate miners’ strike in the northern Chilean province of Iquique in 1907. The dispute led to the massacre, by the Chilean army, of more than 2,000 workers. In preparing for the concerts the organizers worked closely with two Canadian mining justice organizations: Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and Mining Watch Canada. Approximately 75% of the global mining industry is based in Canada. It is therefore fitting that speakers from these groups were invited to address the audience. Congratulations to all of the participants for an inspiring use of culture to build awareness and solidarity with exploited communities throughout the world. For info on mining justice visit http://www.solidarityresponse.net/ and http://www.miningwatch.ca/.

Musicians unite to save Alaska salmon

The campaign to protect Alaska’s salmon fisheries from the devastating effects of the proposed Pebble Mine has achieved real success in the past year. Notably, on February 28th, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will protect Bristol Bay, using its authority under the Clean Water Act. A significant role in achieving these positive results has been played by Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay (MUPBB), a resourceful solidarity group whose public face is the American folksinger and organizer, Si Kahn. This spring MUPBB released its annual report. It’s an inspiring catalogue of movement tactics, including: booking concerts and workshops by members at all Alaska folk festivals; organizing booths and workshops at national and regional folk festivals; soliciting and publishing songs on the struggle; recording and promoting Si Kahn’s best-selling Cd “Bristol Bay”; sponsoring a contestant in the 975-mile “Mushing for Bristol Bay” wilderness race; plus numerous TV and radio appearances and print media stories. More than 400 musicians have joined the campaign including two well-known artists from western Canada: Connie Kaldor and Maria Dunn. The fight to protect Bristol Bay is being won, but it’s not over. Unless it’s declared a federally protected area, the EPA decision can be undermined by a future federal administration. For more info visit http://musiciansunited.info/.

Anti-Flag on Justice for Cecily McMillan

Justin Sane, co-founder and lead singer of the popular punk rock band Anti-Flag, released a YouTube statement in defence of activist Cecily McMillan on May 19th. McMillan, 25, was arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park on March 17, 2012. She was accused of elbowing a police officer who, she claimed, had grabbled her breasts from behind while police were clearing the park of protesters. The farcical trial resulted in McMillan being sentenced to 90 days in prison and a five-year probation for giving the officer “a black eye.” She was also ordered to undergo mandatory mental health evaluation and treatment. Since the altercation McMillan, a socialist activist with a demonstrated commitment to non-violence, has lost not only her freedom, but school, work, friends, and family. Justin Sane, in his statement, noted that her case highlights the problem of police brutality and the injustice of a legal system that is set up “to protect the powers that be and trample on the rights of anyone that questions their authority.” It illustrates, he adds, “the way in which the police, and those who command them, use intimidation to create a chilling effect.” For more info on the Cecily McMillan case visit http://www.justiceforcecily.com.

Seeger’s FBI files to be released

The death of Pete Seeger on January 27th was followed by a flood of requests for his FBI files from journalists, researchers, and the the general public. Now, thanks to the sheer volume of Freedom of Information Act applications, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has announced that thousands of Seeger files will be released online. They’re thought to total 2500 pages. NARA spokesperson Miriam Kleinman said in a May 27th interview that the archive is waiting for a review to be completed, adding that it will publish the documents “as soon as possible.” As is usually the case with Freedom of Information requests, documents will be screened for information that is “exempt from disclosure” (i.e. redacted). NARA was initially going to release individual files on request, for a hefty and prohibitive “administration fee” of $2000. FBI and CIA files on Pete Seeger go back to the 1940s and never really stopped. Redacted or not, it should be interesting to find out what nefarious behaviour of Seeger’s the FBI snoops were monitoring. So far, my own search of the NARA website has not come up with any FBI documents on Pete Seeger. For the source of this story visit http://www.america.aljazeera.com.

Music Notes – June 2014

6 Jun

David Rovics

David Rovics planning fall Canada tour

Negotiations are underway to bring renowned singer-songwriter and activist David Rovics back to Ottawa next October for a fund-raising concert to send an Ernesto Che Guevara Work Brigade volunteer to Cuba. Now, in a recent announcement to supporters, Rovics has outlined a “crowd sourced plan” for a fall tour of the USA and Canada. He’s hoping to hear from at least 30 individuals or groups who live in the USA, or anywhere in Canada within 200 miles of the US border, and who are willing to commit to organizing a concert. By late June he’ll begin mapping out a continent-wide tour. Other artists use similar methods to organize tours, but what’s striking about Rovics is his enduring and seemingly tireless commitment to the life of a radical grassroots troubadour, and his ability to bring first-hand reports of local struggles from around the world to each community that he visits. For access to his music and information on how to organize a David Rovics show scroll down to the bottom of his website (www. davidrovics.com).

Folk Alliance abandoning principles?

Folk Alliance International (FAI), the umbrella group for the North American folk music community, has come under scathing criticism from two prominent members who accuse it of abandoning its principles. Music critic Dave Marsh, a life member and former director, lashed out in a special issue of his newsletter Rock Rap Confidential, taking aim at the group’s recent embrace of Al Gore, who was invited to give his presentation “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change” at the annual FAI conference in Kansas City in February. Marsh observes that Gore’s approach to solving the environmental crisis privileges venture capital firms like AOL, Amazon and Google, as well as companies he himself owns. “It’s just the liberal version of the conservative lie that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Marsh writes. “It never asks whether everybody has a boat, or whether the boats we do have will carry all the people now living, let alone coming generations”. Shortly after the conference, FAI co-founder and board member Art Menius resigned, lamenting the board’s endorsement of Gore’s “faux-progressive platform”. He criticized the board for drifting toward a business and entertainment model and forsaking its mandate to educate the public about the core values of the folk music movement and its identity as part of the left.

‘Seeger Fest’ to be held July 17-21

Since Pete Seeger’s death on January 27th, people across this continent have organized scores of song circles, concerts, and film screenings in his honour. Now, the Seeger family and friends have got in on the act with a series of commemorative events. “Seeger Fest” is a free five-day festival from July 17-21, celebrating Pete and his partner of 70 years, Toshi Ohta Seeger. It begins Thursday evening with a screening of the 2007 documentary Pete Seeger: The Power of Song at Pier 46 on the Hudson River. Next day, there’s a memorial gathering at Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie, NY. On Saturday, there’s a square dance at the Ashokan Center (in the Catskills Mountains), a song circle/potluck in the couple’s hometown of Beacon, NY, and an exhibit of their film-work and photography at El Taller Latino Americano in Manhattan. On Sunday, there’s a concert in Damrosch Park (next to Lincoln Center) with Tom Chapin, Guy Davis, Holly Near, Peter Yarrow, & Emma’s Revolution. Finally, there’s “New Songs of Justice”, a concert in Central Park on Monday evening, featuring Amanda Palmer, Anti-Flag, Steve Earle and Rebel Diaz. It’s all free! Check the website for details (http://www.seegerfest.org/).

Fred Ho 1957-2014

Saxophonist, composer, bandleader, writer and activist Fred Ho died on April 12 after a long battle with cancer. Of Chinese descent, Ho was born Fred Wei-han Houn in Palo Alto, California. He changed his name in 1988, after establishing himself as an outstanding baritone saxophonist and revolutionary cultural worker. Ho is often linked with the avant-garde jazz world and the Asian American jazz movement, but though his work resonated with those influences, he rejected the use of the term ‘jazz’, because he believed it was a pejorative term used by white Americans to denigrate African American music. Nevertheless, much of his work fused the legacies of traditional Asian and African music with what many people would call jazz. Ho’s music was vibrant, uncompromising, and uplifting. He recorded 15 acclaimed albums as a leader and wrote or co-edited several books on music including Legacy to Liberation (2000), in which he described his personal aesthetic vision, calling for an art based upon “imaginative critical realism”. Fred Ho wrote several books about his struggle with colorectal cancer, including Diary of a Radical Warrior: Fighting Cancer and Capitalism at the Cellular Level. Watch the trailer of the documentary “Fred Ho’s Last Year” at http://discoverfredho.org.

Music Notes – May 2014

1 May

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Breakthrough JUNO for A Tribe Called Red

 

Mainstream media coverage of the JUNO Awards usually dwells upon best-selling icons of pop culture like Drake, Arcade Fire, and Teagan and Sara. There’s plenty of celebrity gossip too. Will fans boo Justin Beiber? Will Robin Thicke show up? For this writer, however, it’s the less hyped recipients who really deserve the attention. These would include 2014 Contemporary Jazz Album winner Christine Jensen (Habitat), World Music Album winner David Buchbinder (Walk to the Sea), and (most notably), Ottawa-based electronic DJ crew A Tribe Called Red. The latter took home the award for Breakthrough Group of the Year at the gala ceremony, broadcast from Winnipeg on March 30th. Although they didn’t get to perform, it was gratifying that their win was shown on the national telecast. A Tribe Called Red is a powerful supporter of the Idle No More movement. In 2013 they were voted best group by the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, and their second release, Nation II Nation, was voted best album. Their hard-driving ‘pow-wow step’ music and brilliant video productions challenge and subvert the ideology of the Canadian settler state. You can download their eponymous first album (it’s free) and view their videos at http://www.atribecalledred.com.

 

Calls for Neil Young to Honour BDS

 

Petition campaigns have been launched to persuade rock superstar Neil Young to withdraw from a concert scheduled for July in Tel Aviv. Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East and Independent Jewish Voices Canada are asking Young to respect the call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment, and sanctions until Israel ends its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, recognizes the right of its Arab-Palestinian citizens for equality, and allows Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. In honouring the boycott, Young would join company with musicians like Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox, Carlos Santana and Elvis Costello. Throughout his long career Neil Young has demonstrated sympathy for native struggles on the North American continent. Earlier this year he gave a series of high-profile “Honour the Treaties” concerts to raise funds for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in aid of its legal battle to halt tar sands expansion on its territory. Given this level of awareness, one might expect that he’d be able to see the similarities between the oppression of native peoples in North America and that of Palestinians. To sign a petition visit http://www.cjpme.nationbuilder.com/neil_young or ijvcanada.org.

 

Remembering Guthrie’s ‘Deportees’

 

In 1948 the great American troubadour Woody Guthrie composed Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), a protest lyric about the racist mistreatment of migrant workers. After hearing on the radio that 28 migrants who were being deported from California back to Mexico had died in a plane crash at nearby Los Gatos Canyon, Guthrie was struck by the fact that only the names of the flight crew and the security guard were given. The anonymous workers’ bodies were buried in a mass grave in Fresno, California. A decade later Guthrie’s lyric was set to music by schoolteacher Martin Hoffman. The song soon became an American folk standard, after being popularized by Pete Seeger and recorded by a host of musical luminaries. Flash forward to 2014. Folksinger-activist John McCutcheon and a group of like-minded activists had a brainstorm: they guessed that Immigration and Naturalization Service archives in Washington would have a record of the victims’ names in the 1948 deportation order. Well, they found the names, and they raised the necessary funds to erect a monument at the mass grave site. You can view the moving dedication ceremony and hear the names of the victims read out at a special concert. Visit YouTube and search for “Deportees John McCutcheon”.

 

Funding Flap at Beaches Jazz

 

Toronto’s annual free Beaches Jazz Fest attracts an estimated 500,000 visitors a year. It’s the biggest festival of its kind in Canada, yet it has to fight for the pittance of funding it receives from Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. After a public outcry when the 25-year-old festival’s funding application was rejected outright, the government announced that $75,000 had been ‘found’. What had really happened was that the Wynne government had been embarrassed by the revelation that, while it was depriving a popular free festival of support, it was giving huge grants to superstar rapper Drake ($300,000 for a 2-day concert that hopes to draw 60,000 people) and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment ($500,000 to attract the 2016 NBA all-star game). According to online ticket agencies, a pass to Drake’s upcoming OVA Fest at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre starts at $291. Of course funding priorities that privilege corporate spectacles over grassroots culture are not unique to the current Ontario government. They are unfortunately typical of most contemporary capitalist regimes. The Beaches Jazz Fest runs from July 18-23. For more info visit http://www.beachesjazz.com/.

 

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