Music Notes – March 2011

By Wally Brooker

Faith Nolan & the CUPE Freedom Singers

Singer, songwriter and activist Faith Nolan is well-known to readers of this newspaper. She’s been inspiring working people across Canada for more than thirty years. Born in Halifax of African, Miqmaq and Irish heritage, she grew up in Toronto’s Cabbagetown district. Her socialist, anti-racist and queer-positive message is delivered with a sharp wit and an engaging style that breaks down barriers between performer and audience. In recent years Nolan has been organizing labour choirs. One of them, the CUPE Freedom singers, has been performing with her at rallies, marches and forums in Southern Ontario. Here are some video clips of their exciting performance at a recent labour forum sponsored by the Greater Toronto Worker’s Assembly: http://www.socialistproject.ca/leftstreamed/. For more info: www.faithnolan.org.

Sounds of the Arab revolution

Events in Tunisia and Egypt are showing once again that music can be a driving force in the struggle for social change. Historian Mark LeVine described, in his 2008 book Heavy Metal Islam, the rise of a dissident youth culture in the Arab world that has creatively adapted various forms of western pop music, including heavy metal & hip-hop, as a means of resisting repressive regimes throughout the region. Readers watching recent events unfold online will have had the opportunity to see and hear this insurgent culture. One example among many is Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben-Amor (El Général). During the protests he released an anti-regime video “Mr. President, Your People Are Dying.” He was subsequently arrested but soon released after much protest. Look for “El Général, the Voice of Tunisia” on YouTube.

“Sweet Mickey” & Haiti’s electoral farce

Popular Haitian musician Michel (“Sweet Mickey”) Martelly is contesting right-wing candidate Mirlande Manigat in the March 20 presidential election runoff, following the ouster of President René Préval’s designated successor, Jude Célestin. The dubious removal of Célestin was announced February 3rd by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council, which claims to be acting on the “expert advice” of the Organization of American States. “Sweet Mickey,” billed as a “protest” candidate, has links to Haiti’s elite, as well as to coup plotters & paramilitary death squads. The first round of voting on November 28th resulted in a dismal 22% turnout. Haitians rightly abstained from a farce that excludes the largest party in the country, exiled President Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas. There is little chance that the results on March 20th will express the will of the people.

Belafonte to Obama supporters: “No more retreat”

In a January 26th interview on Democracy Now, singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte was asked to assess the presidency of Barack Obama. The occasion was the Sundance Film Festival, where “Sing Your Song,” a new film about the 84-year old star’s life, was receiving accolades. While Belafonte acknowledged that the election of Obama says something about “America’s deeper resonance,” he quickly added that he was “dismayed” by the way the President has used his power. During the 2008 election campaign, he said, Obama asked him “When are you and [fellow African- American activist] Cornell West going to cut me some slack?” His reply: “What makes you think we haven’t?” Belafonte’s advice to Obama supporters: “Any further retreat from bringing truth to power would be a disservice to this country.” Read the interview: www.democracynow.org/.

Patti Smith’s National Book Award

Patti Smith is the 2010 non-fiction recipient of the American book publishing industry’s National Book Award. In “Just Kids” the rock & roll poet & visual artist, now 64, writes of her working-class roots in small-town New Jersey, her eventual emergence as an artist in the hot house cultural atmosphere of New York City in the seventies and her close relationship with celebrated American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989). In 2002 Patti Smith became one of the first major artists to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She’s continued to be an outspoken anti-war activist, having recorded powerful songs about the 2006 Israeli massacres in Lebanon (“Qana”), the imprisonment of innocent Muslims at Guantanamo (“Without Chains”), and a tribute to murdered peace activist Rachel Corrie (“Peaceable Kingdom”).  For more info: www.pattismith.net.

Leon Rosselson Coming to Canada

Leon Rosselson, a prominent figure in British folk music since the early sixties, is planning a rare visit to Canada this summer.  Music lovers can catch him at several West Coast venues including the Vancouver Island Folk Festival July 8-10 and the Vancouver Folk Festival July 15-17. A Toronto concert in early August is also in the works.  Rosselson’s recent benefit CD for Medical Aid for Palestinians “The Last Chance: Eight Songs on Israel/Palestine” was reviewed in People’s Voice last September (read it at https://wallybrooker.wordpress.com/category/reviews/).  “The Last Chance” was previously available in Canada only as an iTunes download. Now the hard copy of the CD, with Rosselson’s insightful notes, can be purchased from Beit Zatoun in Toronto (www.beitzatoun.org). It will also be available during his tour next summer.

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