Music Notes – August 2010

Solidarity with Korean guitar workers

Unjustly dismissed workers at Cort Guitars, a South Korean-based company that manufactures musical instrruments for such well-known brands as Gibson, Ibanez and Fender, have taken their case to the South Korean supreme court and the world. After forming a union in 2006, the workers were illegally fired and the company relocated to non-union environments in China and Indonesia. Musicians in the USA, Germany & Japan have participated in solidarity actions with the Korean workers, including Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian. Morello and Tankian are co-founders of The Axis of Justice, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to bring musicians and fans of music together to fight for social justice. For more information visit http://cortaction.wordpress.com/about/ and http://axisofjustice.net/.

Pete Seeger’s new album: Tomorrow’s Children

In 1997 folk music legend Pete Seeger became a regular visitor to a fourth-grade music class in his hometown of Beacon, New York. The 91-year-old singer’s latest album, Tomorrow’s Children, features, among others, a group of those students called The Rivertown Kids. Given the kind of an artist Pete Seeger has been, it’s not surprising that the kids had a hand in writing and adapting some of the album’s songs. “The future of the entire human race lies in the hands of children so I felt this was an important collaboration,” said Seeger in a recent interview with American Sonwriter magazine. Watch a video of Pete with fellow musicians Dar Williams, David Bernz and  The Rivertown Kids performing their new song “Solartopia” on YouTube. Just enter “Solartop 12” in the search box.

Raging Asian Women at Massey Hall

Raging Asian Women (RAW), a Toronto-based taiko drum ensemble, made a dramatic impression on a packed house of activists at historic Massey Hall on June 25. The group’s two sets were the only performances in a program otherwise packed with prominent speakers at the Council of Canadians-sponsored ‘Shout Out for Global Justice’ rally on the eve of the G20 summit. RAW combines intricate and vigorous rhythms with dramatic choreography. The eight-member non-profit collective of East Asian and Southeast Asian women was founded in 1998 to carry on the Japanese-North American taiko drumming tradition and promote social justice while making music. Learn more about this impressive ensemble at http://www.ragingasianwomen.ca/ and look them up on YouTube to see a powerful clip from their Massey Hall concert.

Rapper Drake fights offshore drilling

Drake, the 23-year-old Toronto hip-hop phenomenon, is campaigning for environmental justice. On June 13 he headlined a “Stop the Offshore Drilling” rally in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Hip-Hop Caucus and Green the Block. “Everywhere you turn, pollution and poverty are hurting our communities,” Drake told the rally. “We can change that. Going green is the solution. I’m green on my tour, I am greenin’ the block and you can too.” While some may find this opportunistic, consider who Drake has partnered with. The Hip-Hop Caucus claims 700,000 members. Its stated aim is to foster “civic engagement among young people of color on issues of social and economic justice, human rights, the environment, and international peace, so they can attain increased opportunities for themselves and their communities.” Green the Block is a national campaign and coalition aimed at “helping low-income communities of color become driving forces of the clean-energy economy.” Check these movements out at http://hiphopcaucus.org and www.Greentheblock.net.

Norman ‘Otis’ Richmond’s Diasporic Music

Many of this paper’s readers in the Toronto area are aware of broadcaster, journalist and activist Norman ‘Otis’ Richmond (a.k.a. Jalali), host of the long-running radio program Diasporic Music (as well as several other shows) on Toronto’s campus-community radio station CKLN FM 88.1. Diasporic Music covers the immense international world of African music from a progressive perspective, often with a special emphasis on the music of African-Canadians. The two-hour show airs live on CKLN every month, but there’s no need to be in Toronto to listen.  For details check the station’s website at www.ckln.fm/. It’s also possible to subscribe to a podcast, thanks to Richmond’s recent affiliation with Uhuru Radio. That link is http://uhurunews.com/radio/show?show_id=dm.

The Killers play the White House

Is it just me or was there something thoughtless, ironic, even sinister, in President Obama’s choice of a rock band called The Killers to play at the White House for a Fourth of July “Salute to the Military” concert? Might this act be interpreted by the world as an intentional message to U.S. troops overseas? What would people in occupied countries like Iraq and Afghanistan think of it? The U.S. military, with more than 700 bases in 156 countries, does kill an awful lot of people, including many innocent civilians. The Killers’ lead singer Brandon Flowers called the gig “a monumental honour” and closed the band’s set with that old nationalistic flagwaver “God Bless America.”

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