Music Notes – November 2011

Musicians and occupiers

From the famous and the semi-famous to the unknown and home-made, musicians everywhere are supporting the occupations of financial districts in hundreds of cities around the world. Newly-minted citizen-drummers beat on plastic buckets and water cooler bottles. Grassroots percussion collectives inspired by Brazilian street samba bands take root in unexpected places. The 1970’s chant from  revolutionary Chilean composer Sergio Ortega’s “El Pueblo Unido” echoes in every language through the world’s financial districts. Rebel singers like David Rovics, Tom Morello and Faith Nolan criss-cross North America, building resistance and peoples’ unity. This is not an overnight phenomenon. It’s been growing within the culture of the left for more than a decade. But  it’s been gaining momentum in the past year, and recent weeks have only confirmed that peoples’ culture, including music of all styles and national origins, is an essential ingredient in the recipe for revolution. For a new song that captures the current upsurge visit YouTube and look for David Rovics’ “Occupy Wall Street.”

Raffi calls for “systemic change”

Raffi Cavoukian, one of the world’s most popular children’s entertainers, has offered a ringing endorsement of the occupy movement spreading around the globe, calling for “systemic change for the children who are inheriting a very perilous future.” Interviewed at his home on Saltspring Island, BC, Raffi called for an economy that “serves people, not merely corporate interests,” wryly adding “it takes a stretch of the imagination not to get what these demonstrations are all about.” The Armenian-Canadian children’s singer is an outstanding advocate for environmental justice and children’s rights. His recent song “Cool It” is a call for action on global warming, and his ethic of “child honoring” includes a child’s right to live free from commercial exploitation.  Raffi was born in Cairo in 1948 and immigrated to Canada ten years later. For more info:

Hank Williams Jr’s bigoted remarks

Country music star and Tea Party supporter Hank Williams Jr., has been making a spectacle of himself of late. Appearing on a Fox News program on October 3rd, the 62 year-old singer compared the first African-American President of the United States to Adolph Hitler and suggested that the nation’s commander-in-chief is “the enemy.” This was too much for the Disney-owned ESPN sports channel which for two decades has carried his 1989 hit “All My Rowdy Friends” as the theme song for its Monday night NFL football show. The song was quickly dropped from the program. Williams’ bizzare non-apology accused media of having a double standard for supposedly not adequately  protecting the Tea Party movement from charges that it is racist. All this comes from a man who penned an utterly reactionary song about the Civil War called “If the South Would Have Won,” which he continues to display on his webpage.  Hank Williams Jr. was brought up as the privileged son of a legendary country music star, but he poses as a defender of American workers. It’s an act that’s wearing thin.

AFM fights orchestra “bankrupcies”

Orchestra musicians are under attack by managements using a new “weapon du jour,” writes American Federation of Musicians President Ray Hair in the September issue of International Musician. Brother Hair is referring to the wave of orchestra bankruptcy filings (in Philadelphia, Louisville, Syracuse and Albuquerque) that have followed in the wake of the recent bitter six-month Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike. The goal of the bankruptcy actions, writes the AFM leader, is to allow orchestra employers to “shift the responsibility for the musicians’ retirement program from the company to the players.” AFM bankruptcy counsel Jennifer Garner writes: “What we are witnessing is a coordinated attack on organized labor leveraged by the Bankruptcy Code.” Ray Hair was elected president of the 90,000-member musicians’ union in 2010. On October 5th he marched with members of AFM Local 802 (New York) in the Occupy Wall Street Labor-Community March. For more info:

Francey & Keelaghan in Our Times

Halifax-based journalist Melissa Keith has published a fascinating profile of David Francey and James Keelaghan, two of Canada’s finest working-class singer-songwriters, in the independent labour magazine Our Times. Both musicians are powerful writers with an ability to evoke the daily life and struggles of Canadian workers. Scottish-born David Francey, a 57 year-old carpenter, is a two-time Juno winner. If you’re new to him check out “Torn Screen Door,” a moving song about a foreclosed and abandoned farm. James Keelaghan, a 52 year-old native of Calgary, is also a Juno recipient. A good beginning with him might be his important labour history song “Hillcrest Mine.” Both songs can be found on YouTube. Our Times, which carries a lot of working-class cultural content these days, will celebrate its 30th anniversary on December 3rd with a bash at Toronto’s Steelworkers Hall. For more information visit or visit their Facebook page. 

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