Music Notes – March 2012

Diem Lafortune: “Beauty and Hard Times”

 Singer-songwriter Diem Lafortune (“Mama D”) is a well-known Toronto activist, educator and musician. The former cab driver, actor, and photographer recorded an album of original songs some years ago, but she was never really happy with it. Now with the release of “Beauty and Hard Times,” she’s realized a musical ambition. With the help of producer Del Brown she’s created a powerful re-mix of the album with new vocals, instruments and arrangements. Lafortune calls her blend of country, rock, blues and folk “Old New World Revolutionary Rocking Ballroom Dance Music.” She sings in a deeply evocative and mournful voice that has been likened to a female Johnny Cash. Her lyrics evoke images of sorrow, struggle, and resistance to the corporate order. “Beauty and Hard Times” is a unique album that must to be heard. Check out Mama D’s video “Mr. Businessman’s Blues” at Occupy Toronto’s YouTube page and visit her website at: http://www.mamadhorizondancer.ca/

Jane Bunnett: 30 years of Cuban music

Toronto jazz musician Jane Bunnett is celebrating the 30th anniversary of her involvement with Cuban music. The saxophonist/flautist and her trumpeter husband Larry Cramer have just released the 2-Cd retrospective: “Mundo: The World of Jane Bunnett.” On January 23rd they appeared at a forum at the Toronto Reference Library where they were interviewed by Toronto Star journalist John Terauds. Unfortunately for those seeking to learn something about Cuban music, the event was marred by a certain romanticizing of the lives of pre-revolutionary musicians and an unwillingness to engage with an important political issue. At one point in the interview the couple mentioned the difficulties Cuban musicians face repairing and maintaining their instruments, but declined to take advantage of a teachable moment. They might have been more forthcoming, since they are undoubtedly aware that Cubans suffer under an illegal U.S. embargo that has been condemned annually by overwhelming majorities at the United Nations. For more info: http://www.janebunnett.com/.

Artist unions want Internet regulation

In the struggle over online piracy and Internet regulation, the concerns of musicians, actors, and other cultural workers who rely on royalties and residuals are being overshadowed by the dramatic image of a “Hollywood vs Silicon Valley” clash. When Wikipedia, Google, Mozilla and others sounded the alarm about a threat to online freedom on January 18th, the enormous public response resulted in a stunning political reversal in the U.S. Congress, where the Senate’s Protect Internet Property Act (PIPA) and the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) were hastily shelved. Most accounts of the controversy highlight the battle between Internet giants and powerful entertainment industry lobbies like the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. While there are serious concerns that copyright legislation could pose a threat to civil liberties, the demand of the artists and cultural workers of the AFM, ACTRA and other unions for effective fair use policies deserves the respect of all who defend Internet freedom.

Harry Belafonte’s “Sing Your Song”

Filmmaker Suzanne Rostock’s acclaimed documentary about the life of Harry Belafonte, “Sing Your Song,” had its Canadian premier at the Vancouver Film Festival last fall but it’s still making the rounds of the festivals. Now film lovers in Central Canada can catch it, with screenings on March 4th at the Wakefield International Film Festival (in Quebec) and March 9th at the Toronto Urban Music Festival. Belafonte, now 84, is one of the outstanding artist-activists of the past 60 years. The film follows him from his childhood in New York and Jamaica, to his rise in the jazz and folk clubs of Greenwich Village, through to his achievement of stardom as he launched a calypso craze in the mid-fifties, and on to the present day. During his long career Belafonte has been on the front line of many social justice struggles, combining a successful career as a musician and actor with outspoken opposition to racism and oppression of all kinds. For more info: http://singyoursongthemovie.com/.

Sara Gonzalez (1949-2012)

Beloved Cuban singer Sara Gonzalez died on January 25th after a long struggle with cancer. Gonzalez was a key figure in Cuba’s Nueva Trova song movement. The singer joined the Grupo de Experimentacion Sonora of Cuba’s ICAIC film institute in 1972, and soon became the outstanding female vocal performer in that organization, sharing the spotlight with fellow Nueva Trova co-founders Silvio Rodriguez, Pablo Milanes and Noel Nicola. Sara Gonzalez performed with many outstanding international artists including Chico Buarque, Mercedes Sosa, Soledad Bravo, and Daniel Viglietti. Her iconic song “Girón, La Victoria,” celebrating the defeat of the U.S.-led counter-revolution at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, was played at the 50th anniversary celebration last April. Gonzalez will be especially remembered for her musical interpretations of the verses of Cuba’s national hero Jose Marti. Check out the video of Sara Gonzalez singing “Girón, La Victoria” on YouTube.

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