Music Notes – December 2012

“Cape Breton Island Protest Songs”

 A heroic era of workers struggles lives again with the release of the compilation album “Cape Breton Island Protest Songs.” More than 30 local musicians have contributed to a landmark album that demonstrates the depth of Cape Breton people’s music. It all began when scholar and musician Richard MacKinnon unearthed some 120 poems and songs from the Maritime Labour Herald. The weekly paper, co-founded by communist labour leader J.B. McLachlan, was a powerful voice of the workers at a time (1921-1926) when Cape Breton coal miners and steelworkers were engaged in epic struggles that reverberated across Canada. Determined to set the lyrics to music, MacKinnon joined forces with musician Victor Tomiczek, and the two circulated verses among a host of highly receptive musical friends. The result is an utterly compelling album. For this writer standout tracks include “Grand and Glorious Day” (a celebration of May Day), “The Shutdown” (concerning plant closures) and “They Cannot Stand the Gaff” (a poetic satire of the British Empire Steel Corporation sung in classic rock style by Richard MacKinnon). This album has great contemporary relevance. It  would make a fine gift for the music-minded socialist on your holiday shopping list. For lyrics, musician biographies, historical notes and ordering information visit www.protestsongs.ca.  

Cops attack Cameroon musicians union

A peaceful march by 500 members of the Cameroon musicians’ union SYCAMU was brutally repressed by more than a thousand police officers. The November 8th rally in the West African republic’s capital city of Yaoundé was called to protest music piracy and the refusal to pay royalties to music copyright holders. SYCAMU President Roméo Dika, one of the 63 unionists arrested, is accused of starting an insurrection, a charge that could be punishable by death. Among the musicians beaten and tear-gassed was renowned 85-year-old singer Anne-Marie Nzié. Cameroon has one of the highest rates of music piracy in sub-Saharan Africa. A local support organization recently revealed that 18 musicians died over the past three years because they lacked the means to pay for medical treatment. The festering copyright issue and the violence of the state response is ultimately the responsibility of the corrupt 30-year-old dictatorship of President Paul Biya and the failure of his neo-colonial regime to establish a cultural infrastructure to serve recording artists. Sign on to the solidarity campaign at www.labourstart.org.

AFM takes on digital gaming industry

As gross revenues in the digital gaming industry have come to exceed the combined world-wide revenues of pop music and motion pictures, the role of game music has correspondingly evolved from tinny beeps to fully-scored orchestral works. Now the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is campaigning for a tough new agreement with digital game companies. The union’s first agreement with a video game company was negotiated in 1993. By 2006 it had signed collective agreements with more than 60 videogame companies. But in 2006, in a bid to encourage more AFM music scoring, the union made the fateful decision to relax use agreements and offer wage concessions. The move only encouraged digital game companies to contract with unorganized third parties. With industry profits sky-high despite the crash of 2008, the AFM began to fight back, prohibiting third-party agreements in 2010. But one of the biggest companies, Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SECA) persisted in hiring non-union musicians. Last October, the AFM revised its digital game agreement, abolishing the concessions of 2006 and placing SECA on its international unfair list. AFM members are now prohibited from working with SECA, with penalties including stiff fines and expulsion. For more info: www.afm.org.

Félix Awards: window on Québec music

The Québec recording industry’s annual celebration, the Félix Awards, took place at the end of October at Montréal’s Théâtre St-Denis. This event is a golden opportunity for Canadians to learn about the province’s vibrant music scene. The awards have been presented by the Association québecoise de l’industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la video (ADISQ) since 1979. Named for the outstanding writer and musician Félix Leclerc (1914-1988), the Félix Awards were established because of the failure of the JUNO awards to adequately acknowledge French-Canadian music. Here are just a few 2012 winners to check out: Fred Pellerin (Folk Album for C’est un monde), Richard Desjardins (Adult Contemporary for L’Existoire), Coeur de Pirate (Pop Album for Blonde and Female Artist), and Lisa Leblanc (Newcomer of the Year for her self-titled debut album). There are many artists creating thoughtful and exciting music in Québec today, and the list of Félix nominees is a good place to start an investigation. Another excellent entry point, especially for the linguistically challenged, is CBC Radio’s weekly show A Propos, hosted by Jim Corcoran. His two Félix Award preview shows (where nominees were featured) are available online. Corcoran provides helpful English translations of lyrics as well. For more info: www.adisq.com and www.cbc.ca/apropos.

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