Celebrating Woody’s centennial
Preparations are underway for the celebration of legendary troubadour Woody Guthrie’s centennial in 2012. The great American folksinger died of Huntington’s Disease in 1967 but not before leaving an indelible mark on generations of musicians and activists. A host of concerts, programs and special events are being planned by the Grammy Museum, in partnership with the Woody Guthrie Archive and the Guthrie family. The first of many events leading up to the centennial is the September release of Note of Hope, an album conceived by Woody’s daughter Nora and produced by Grammy award-winning bassist Rob Wasserman. Note of Hope features unpublished writings of Woody Guthrie set to music by a stellar cast of performers including Jackson Browne, Ani DiFranco, Nellie McKay, Lou Reed and Pete Seeger. The first official Canadian event to celebrate the Guthrie centennial takes place in Markham, Ontario on October 2nd with (appropriately enough) Jerry Gray and the Travellers. For more info: www.woody100.com.
Bagpipes and guitars in Wisconsin
Musician-activist Tom Morello, co-founder of Rage Against the Machine, was treated to a hero’s welcome by the bagpipers of Fire Fighters Local 311 when he returned to Madison for a Labor Day show last month. In February Morello inspired tens of thousands with his appearance in front of the Wisconsin state legislature. The militant rocker was one of the first nationally-known performers to join in the protest against right-wing extremist governor Scott Walker. The fire fighters’ bagpipers were there too, defending labor rights and local democracy. Morello’s new album World-Wide Rebel Songs celebrates contemporary street protests from Madison to Cairo. Proceeds go to non-profit media that expose corporate abuse and highlight union struggles. His “Justice Tour” will travel this fall to the battleground states of Ohio and Michigan. For more info: http://nightwatchmanmusic.com/.
Palestine solidarity update
There are always new initiatives to report about musicians acting in solidarity with Palestine. This month we have two noteworthy news items. The first involves klezmer music, a genre with roots in the Jewish ghettos of Eastern Europe. Its popularity has surged in recent decades, which is why it’s encouraging to learn about the release of the compilation album Klezmer Musicians Against the Wall. Most of the bands included on the album are American, but there are also a few from Germany and Israel/UK in the mix. Proceeds go to two worthy initiatives supporting Palestinian children. It’s available at iTunes. Learn more at http://kmaw.net.
Our second item concerns a young New Orleans group called Tuba Skinny. This talented traditional jazz band was scheduled to play at the Red Sea Jazz Festival August 21st. When asked to cancel by the Israeli group Boycott From Within, members of the band discussed the information they’d received and promptly cancelled their show. Read their impressive statement at http://electronicintifada.net.
Growing call to boycott Fender
Fender Musical Instruments, the world’s largest guitar manufacturer, is coming under criticism for its outsourcing of sweatshop labour and its de facto support of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070. Fender has its headquarters in Arizona, which has legislated a climate of fear among Latino families, causing many to flee the state. The racist legislation has prompted a nation-wide debate and an international boycott, but Fender has refused to speak out against it. Moreover, the company continues to defy an international boycott of Cort Guitars, the anti-union South Korean musical instrument manufacturer which supplies them with parts. Dozens of prominent musicians (e.g. M.I.A., Kanye West, Steve Earle, Ry Cooder) have signed on to the boycott of Arizona thanks to the ongoing efforts of The Sound Strike, a coalition of artists founded by rock musician Zack de la Rocha. For more info visit http://thesoundstrike.info and http://cortaction.wordpress.com.
El Sistema comes to Canada
Venezuela’s celebrated music education program El Sistema is coming to Canada. Founded in the 1970’s and taking off under the enthusiastic patronage of the Hugo Chavez administration, the program encompasses 125 youth orchestras. More impressive is the fact that of the 350,000 children enrolled in its programs, 90% are from poor socio-economic backgrounds. The social and cultural benefits of El Sistema are so convincing that the model is being adopted in other countries. Toronto philanthropist Robert Eisenberg and violinist-educator David Visentin officially launched Sistema-Toronto in the west-end Parkdale neighbourhood in September. Aligned with El Sistema in Venezuela, the Toronto venture is one of three programs now underway in Canada (the others are in Ottawa and New Brunswick). When founder José Antonio Abreu and his famous student, conductor Gustavo Dudamel, arrive in Toronto this month to be fetted by the Glenn Gould Foundation, the prospects for music education in Toronto should get pretty interesting, but it remains to be seen if El Sistema can deliver results as spectacular as in Venezuela, where the ministry of social services covers 90% of its operating expenses. For more info: http://sistema-toronto.ca/.