Music Notes – June 2011

Toronto’s Mayday cultural evening

 The United Mayday Committee’s celebration last month at Toronto’s Steelworkers Hall demonstrated the truth of the slogan “capitalism divides, Mayday unites.” With its broad spectrum of endorsing organizations and diverse cultural program, the evening made a positive contribution towards greater unity among the city’s working class and progressive forces. A splendid lineup of performers was a key factor in the evening’s success. Hats off to hip-hop artist Mohammad Ali Aumeer, guitarist Maneli Jamal, poet Lisa Makarchuk, Sudanese musicians Omer Mansour and Haiba, poet Charles Roach, poet Salimah Valiani, performing ensemble Voces Poéticas and bassist-poet Nichola Ward for their stellar contributions. The United Mayday Committee advocates advancing from Toronto’s current two Mayday marches to a single march under the auspices of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. Avanti!

Miriam Makeba: Mama Africa

Mama Africa, a film about South African singer Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), received enthusiastic reviews after its Canadian premier at Toronto’s recent “Hot Docs” Festival. Makeba played a key role in popularizing African music and was both a lifelong critic of racism and a consistent fighter for peace and social justice. Mama Africa traces the singer’s life from her poverty-ridden childhood and rise to fame in the sixties, to her emotional homecoming in 1990 after a 30-year exile from apartheid South Africa. Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki includes archival footage of Makeba performing with Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, and Harry Belafonte, as well as interviews with family, friends and former band members. Learn more about her at

Detroit musicians ratify agreement

The six-month strike of Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians (AFM Local 5) ended with the signing of a collective agreement on April 3rd. In what can only be described as a public rebuke to management, the musicians were met with a prolonged standing ovation when they returned to the stage of Detroit’s Orchestra Hall on April 9th. Although the worst of management’s proposals were defeated the musicians paid a heavy price with a near 25% reduction in salaries. While health and pension benefits were protected, the orchestra will be reduced in size from 96 to 85 members. The musicians’ modest achievements were mostly the result of their own efforts. They did a great deal of community outreach, including giving numerous free concerts. Thousands of AFM members supported them with resolutions, donations and benefit performances, but more solidarity from organized labour will be required to halt the drive to apply “free market principles” to North American orchestras.

Tom Morello’s Union Town

Readers of this column will be familiar with American guitarist-singer Tom Morello, who rose to fame with hard rock bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. Morello, a key figure in the current upsurge of radical musical activism, is co-founder of Soundstrike, the musicians’ solidarity campaign with Arizonans fighting against racist Bill SB1070. Last winter he was an inspirational presence at rallies in Wisconsin against the repressive anti-union administration of Governor Scott Walker. Tom Morello has just released a new album of songs for the struggle: Union Town.  All proceeds go to the America Votes Labor Unity Fund. It’s available at iTunes. For more info:

Ghost Town Remembers Chernobyl

April 26th was the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, which remains (even after Fukushima) the world’s worst nuclear accident. A 2006 Greenpeace report estimated that the meltdown in the Ukraine had caused 200,000 cancer deaths, with more to come. Like the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, Chernobyl is an anniversary that must never be forgotten. On the 20th anniversary, American folk duo Huns and Dr. Beeker released a timeless song: Ghost Town. Now is an appropriate time to revisit it. The duo sing eloquently of the response of the victims to the unfolding terror, and raise questions about the ultimate meaning of the nuclear disaster. Watch the video on YouTube and visit  

The Education of Justin Bieber

Canadian teen idol Justin Bieber has been in the spotlight lately for his opinions on social and political issues. In a February Rolling Stone interview he declared his opposition to abortion, likening it to “killing a baby.” Coming from a top-selling artist among teenage girls, these comments are deeply troubling. In the same interview, however, Bieber  defended Canada’s single-payer health insurance system, and later, after a wave of bullying-related suicides, he contributed a video message in defence of LGBT youth. Regrettably, Bieber ignored requests from BDS activists to respect the cultural boycott of Israel and cancel his April 14th Tel Aviv concert. However, the next day day he denied a photo-op to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who had lined up a meeting with children from a community that had been hit by a rocket from nearby Gaza. Check out BDS activist and filmmaker John Greyson’s brilliant Justin Bieber parody (banned on YouTube – a story in itself) at

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