Music Notes – April 2011

By Wally Brooker

Toronto’s Rhythms of Resistance

Grasroots percussion bands are a welcome phenomenon at demonstrations and rallies these days, providing an uplifting marching beat and lots of noisy energy. Rhythms of Resistance (RoR) is a network of bands advocating “percussive resistance to the march of capitalism.” From its roots in the U.K., where it started in 2000, RoR has grown to include sister bands in other countries. RoR Toronto, a “political samba band,” has become a powerful presence in local social justice and environmental actions. On February 10th, RoR raised the roof inside Toronto City Hall at a protest against the Rob Ford regime’s cutbacks, and on March 12th they kept spirits high at the annual International Women’s Day march. For more info visit www.rhythmsofresistance.co.uk & http://rortoronto.wordpress.com.

The Milestones: historic recordings

Thanks to the efforts of folk music historian Gary Cristall a near-forgotten group of Ukrainian-Canadian musicians is receiving long-overdue recognition. Cristall’s new release The Milestones: Historic Recordings 1960-1965 is the first commercial recording of a group that was, in his words, “the finest folk music group in B.C. in the sixties.” The Milestones were politically engaged. They played in support of nuclear disarmament, labour rights, and solidarity with Cuba, as well as at fundraisers for leading figures of the left, including CPC leader Tim Buck. That they could also sing is stunningly apparent. After all, they’d received excellent training in their local Ukrainian choirs. The story of the band is admirably told in the album’s notes by Cristall and founding member Jerry Shack. Order from Peoples Co-op Bookstore (http://www.peoplescoopbookstore.com/) or from www.folkmusichistory.com.

Montreal  rapper ‘The Narcicyst’

Montreal hip-hop artist Yassin Alsalman (‘The Narcicyst’) is one of many artists of the Arab diaspora in solidarity with the revolutionary upsurge in the Middle East and North Africa. On March 2 Alsalman was interviewed on the popular alternative news program Democracy Now! He discussed the effect of the 2003 invasion of Iraq on his music, and the role of hip-hop in the contemporary Arab world, where young people use it as a “vocation and a social mediation to translate their experience into music.” The Narcicyst was born in Dubai in 1982 and grew up in Montreal, where he attended Concordia University. His latest release, Hamdulillah, features Palestinian hip-hop artist Shadia Mansour and incorporates video clips submitted by Arabs and Muslims from around the world. Watch it on his website: www.iraqisthebomb.com.

Detroit Symphony strike update

Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians (AFM Local 5) are in the sixth month of their strike against downsizing and massive cuts in salaries and benefits. On February 19th they rejected management’s “final offer,” countering with a proposal to submit to binding arbitration before a three-person panel, with one member chosen by each side and and the third mutually agreed upon. When management rejected this offer the musicians e-mailed board members, asking for support. In a display of contempt for the board of this tax-exempt institution, the DSO instructed members to stonewall the union and await further orders. The union is now planning visits to board members’ homes. Meanwhile musicians at the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony and elsewhere are wearing bracelets at their concerts bearing the words “AFM Solidarity.” For more info: http://detroitsymphonymusicians.org/.

Music in the Wisconsin uprising

Anyone watching alternative news coverage of the uprising in Wisconsin against the union- bashing regime of Governor Scott Walker will have noticed plenty of drummers, numerous horn players and even a firefighters pipe band. Folk singers, rock bands and hip-hop artists are also lifting their voices in solidarity. “Rock For Your Rights,” a free February 21st concert in Madison, featured Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, MC5 legend Wayne Kramer and Boston punk band Street Dogs. A few days later, in the midst of a snowstorm, Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul and Mary) led the crowd in a version of “Which Side Are You On?” The solidarity continues. Pittsburgh rapper Jasiri-X has released “American Workers vs Multi-Billionaires” featuring video clips from the Wisconsin uprising. Look for it all at YouTube or http://artistsforwisconsin.blogspot.com.

Middle East rebel songs

The myths that feed Islamophobia in the English-speaking world are being challenged by a new music website. Mideast Tunes is a project of Mideast Youth (www.mideastyouth.com), a non-profit digital network that seeks to promote social change by helping young activists in the region develop websites using inexpensive open source software. The goal of Mideast Tunes is “to expose talented activist musicians to the world.” Sample songs on the website reveal a wide variety of contemporary music. Genres include alternative, electro/experimental, heavy metal, hip-hop, punk, traditional/classical, trance and techno. Visitors to the site can keep up with new releases and select bands by genre or by country. This month’s feature is “Not Your Prisoner”, a new release from Egyptian band Arabian Knightz featuring singer Shadia Mansour. Check it out at http://mideasttunes.com.

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