Music Notes – May 2011

Toscanini’s banned “Internationale”

 The Mayday edition of this column opens with news about a celebrated broadcast of the greatest working-class anthem: “The Internationale.” In 1944, after Allied armies had liberated Italy, the legendary Arturo Toscanini, exiled Italian conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, decided to commemorate the victory with a special performance of Guiseppe Verdi’s “Hymn to the Nations.” The work was originally based upon the national anthems of Italy, France and Britain. Toscanini added the anthems of the other main allied countries: “The Star- Spangled Banner” (for the USA) and “The Internationale” (for the USSR). A film of the broadcast was distributed in theatres, but U.S. censors later cut “The Internationale” segment, and it was considered lost forever until a print was recently discovered in Alaska. Now you can watch this historic film on YouTube. Search for “Internationale Arturo Toscanini.”

 BDS activists target Dylan

 Activists are calling for Bob Dylan to cancel his June 20th show in Tel Aviv and respect the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel. The iconic musician, who turns 70 this month, was identified with civil rights & anti-war movements in the sixties. In subsequent decades he stood by wrongfully-convicted African-American boxer Ruben ‘Hurricane’ Carter and lent his name to the South African libertion struggle with his participation in Artists Against Apartheid’s 1986 recording “Sun City.” Pete Seeger’s recent conversion to the BDS cause offers hope that Dylan might reconsider, but there is less reason to expect a change. Unlike Seeger, who never ceased being an activist, Dylan has long cultivated a more ambiguous approach. Tell him it’s time to wake up. Join the Facebook group Bob Dylan Boycott Israel and spread the word.

 Eminem, the  UAW & Crysler

 Rap superstar Eminem’s March 23rd video message to 1200 UAW bargaining convention delegates seemed exciting news at first, but on second thought was a disappointment. The Detroit artist, who has 30,000,000 Facebook followers, offered autoworkers a message of moral uplift, based upon the theme of his comeback album “Recovery.” Ever the individualist, he posed as a living metaphor for the Motor City’s recovery. A Crysler ad from February’s Superbowl was also shown at the convention. It features Eminem as a GM pitchman combining images of urban decay with Detroit boosterism. While such messages may make some people feel good, it’s misleading to claim that GM has the same interests as its workers. For a report on the three-day convention that doesn’t mention Eminem visit and seach for ‘UAW.’

 Ono nixes PM’s “Imagine” cover

 In February Winnipeg grade five student Maria Aragon released a YouTube cover of Lady Gaga’s queer-positive song “Born This Way.” It went viral with 10,000,000 visits in five days, and led to her March 3rd appearance with the superstar at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Enter political opportunist Stephen Harper, who managed to stage a photo-op with Ms. Aragon. During the meeting they recorded a duet of John Lennon’s “Imagine” which was quickly posted on YouTube – an act of sheer political cynicism, coming from a politician who panders to a homophobic base and whose war-mongering is precisely what Lennon opposed in his famous anthem. Luckily Yoko Ono is on guard against people abusing her late husband’s legacy. Harper’s attempt to exploit a child’s celebrity was quickly stopped as Ono exercised her copyright and pulled the video from YouTube.

 ‘Sweet Mickey’ – selected not elected

 Hait’s new president is right-wing musician Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly, who defeated former First Lady Mirlande Manigat in an April 4th second-round vote. Despite the veneer of a “democratic” electoral process one could argue that he was “selected not elected.” Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti’s most popular party, was banned. Understandably, most voters boycotted the election. The 22% turnout was the lowest in Latin America since records began to be kept 60 years ago. Martelly only got on the second ballot after the original second-place winner, outgoing President René Préval’s candidate Jude Celestin, was forced out by a U.S.-influenced OAS panel. Expect “Sweet Mickey” to end the previous administration’s timid overtures to the regional Bolivarian bloc and sing the tune of his imperialist backers.

 Christine Jensen’s  JUNO award

 Women jazz musicians have always had to fight for recognition. Pioneers like pianist-composer Mary Lou Williams and trombonist-arranger Melba Liston were exceptions to the rule. American big-band leader Maria Schneider is a notable contemporary success story, but today it’s only marginally easier for women to establish themselves in jazz. In Canada, most fans can name only a handful of women jazz players. There’s saxophonist-flautist Jane Bunnett, pianist Renee Rosnes, and trumpet star Ingrid Jensen. Now they have company. This year’s JUNO award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album went to “Treelines,” an impressive big band album by Ingrid’s sister Christine, a talented and hard-working saxophonist and arranger-composer. For more info:

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