Music Notes – January 2011

Sounds Like a Revolution

Sounds Like a Revolution, a feature documentary on contemporary protest music by Canadian filmmakers Summer Love and Jane Michener highlighted the opening of the 15th Annual Amnesty International Film Festival in Vancouver on November 18th.The film, which received its world premier at Toronto’s NXNE music festival last summer, features performances and interviews with notable activist musicians including The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Michael Franti , Ani DiFranco & David Crosby. Director Summer Love was inspired to make the film after her “hippie” mother suggested that protest music does not exist in any meaningful way today. The musicians discuss the role of artists in society, freedom of expression and democratic participation in the contemporary world. To see the trailer visit:

Say It Ain’t So, Arlo!

When Woody Guthrie wrote his celebrated anthem “This Land is Your Land” in 1940 it was in  response to the flag waving Irving Berlin song “God Bless America.” It’s disappointing to learn that the troubador’s son Arlo performed a sanitized version of the song aboard a float in New York City’s annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Unlike his friend Pete Seeger, who sang the unexpurgated version at President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, Arlo skipped the most hard-hitting verses, including this one: “As I went walking I saw a sign there/And on the sign it said “No Trespassing/But on the other side it didn’t say nothing/That side was made for you and me.” The younger Guthrie, famous for his 1967 anti-war classic “Alice’s Restaurant” is now a registered Republican and supporter of libertarian congressman and 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul.  Say it ain’t so!

Hip-hop artists release Peltier benefit Cd

A new hip-hop compilation album, “Free Leonard Peltier: Hip Hop’s Contribution to the Freedom Campaign,” has just been released. Proceeds will go to Peltier’s legal defence fund. The album contains new tracks by the likes of Dilated Peoples, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Immortal Technique & 2Mex.  Leonard Peltier,  an activist with the American Indian Movement, was wrongly convicted in 1977 for the murder of two FBI agents on the Oglala-Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.  He’s universally recognised as a political prisoner. Amnesty International calls for his release, as do Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and a host of politicians world-wide including 50 Canadian MPs. In spite of the blatant vindictiveness of the FBI & U.S. courts Peltier’s struggle continues. For info about the album visit

Israeli boycotters confront Cape Town Opera

On October 27th South Africa’s Cape Town Opera rejected a call from Palestinian and Israeli activists to cancel its November 12th performance of “Porgy and Bess” at the Tel Aviv Opera House. In proceeding with its performance the company defied the pleas of Desmond Tutu and 56 mass-based civil society organizations in South Africa. Patrons arriving at the one-night show were met with a troupe of singing and dancing activists performing parodies of songs from the Gershwin opera. After the show the boycotters confronted members of the company directly, reprising their satirical songs and distributing a letter explaining their actions. Watch the YouTube video of the action and learn more at

Composer Ann Southam: 1937-2010

Ann Southam, a pioneering composer of electroaccoustic and minimalist music died on November 23rd. The Winnipeg native had worked for years as an instructor at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. Southam was first recognized for the soundscapes that she created for Canadian dance troupes such as Toronto Dance Theatre and the Danny Grossman Company. An avowed feminist, Ann Southam co-founded the Association of Canadian Women Composers in 1981 and served as its first chair. She’ll be remembered for her considerable achievements on the cutting edge of late-twentieth century music. Recordings of her later minimalist works by pianist Christina Petrowska-Quilico can be heard on YouTube.  Look for Ann Southam’s music at your local library.

James Connolly on revolutionary music

The Irish are known for the many songs that commemorate their struggle for independence and social justice. Their great working class leader, James Connolly (1868-1916), a songwriter himself, made a significant contribution to this musical tradition. It’s said that he always sought to begin and end meetings with a rousing song. In 1907 Connolly  published “Songs of Freedom by Irish Authors.” In the book’s preface he wrote the following: “No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses, they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and hopes, the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement; it is the dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude.”

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