Music Notes -January 2013

Music fest flees Mali conflict

Mali’s “Festival in the Desert” will take place in exile this year because of political instability and violence in the north African country. Organizers have announced that the annual music festival (www.festival-au-desert.org), originally scheduled for Timbuktu February 20-22 will become a “caravan of artists united for peace, tolerance and human dignity.” Festival caravans will visit Mauritania, Algeria and Niger before converging on Burkina Faso for the three-day celebration, to feature renowned Malian musicians Toumani Diabaté and Samba Touré. Resolution of the longstanding aspirations of the Tuareg people for autonomy within Mali has been complicated by the US-NATO war against the Gaddafi regime in Libya which opened the north of Mali to Islamist extremists and provoked a military coup in the south. For background info: www.morningstaronline.co.uk.

Canadian musicians vs bullying

A group of musicians calling themselves Artists Against Bullying have recorded a charity version of Cyndi Lauper’s 1986 hit “True Colors.” Released in November to coincide with Bullying Awareness Week, the song quickly reached #1 on the Canadian singles charts with proceeds going to Kids Help Phone (www.kidshelpphone.ca). Artists Against Bullying includes Pierre Bouvier (Simple Plan) and Jacob Hoggard (Hedley), Kardinal Offishall, Fefe Dobson, Lights, Alyssa Reid and Walk Off the Earth. Meanwhile 16-year-old Ottawa student Meagan Landry has produced an excellent homemade video of her original anti-bullying song “Stronger.” Both “True Colors” and “Stronger” can be found on YouTube. They come in the aftermath of the suicide of Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old Port Coquitlam student who took her life in October after posting a heart-wrenching video online of her struggle with bullying.

Stan Rogers re-mastered

Toronto folk label Borealis has been diligently re-mastering the catalogue of the great folksinger Stan Rogers. The fourth and latest album in the series is Northwest Passage.  It’s perhaps his most iconic work. The re-mastering project is overseen by long-time Rogers producer Paul Mills and the late singer’s wife Ariel. Stan Rogers was a brilliant artist who painted the landscape of English-speaking Canada and populated it with vivid and sympathetic portraits of working people. His 1983 death in a fire aboard an Air Canada flight was untimely to say the least. He was only 33. But his legacy is rich. It’s a good bet that Rogers’ songs and recordings will continue to inspire for years to come. Word on the sound quality of this series is that it’s exceptional. For info: http://borealisrecords.com/.

K’Naan on artistic self-censorship

Canadian hip-hop star K’Naan engaged in a little self-criticism last month with a New York Times op-ed entitled “Censoring Myself for Success.”  K’Naan was referring to his latest album “Country, God, or the Girl,” an effort that betrays a drift towards mainstream pop. He describes being called by his record label for “a little talk” before recording the album, and being warned to avoid “subjects too far from fun and self-absorption.” K’Naan suggests that he censored himself. “I may never find my old walk again,” he writes, “but I hope someday to see beauty in the graceless limp back towards it.” Keinan Abdi Warsame was born in Somalia in 1978. His family fled the war-torn country when he was a child and eventually settled in Toronto.  

“Meanwhile in Afghanistan”

Radical singer-songwriter David Rovics has just released “Meanwhile in Afghanistan,” an album he calls “a folk-punk manifesto in twelve parts.” It’s a departure from his earlier mostly acoustic recordings. In this outing, thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, Rovics has been able to expand his sound with keyboards, bass, drums, backup vocals, and guitars (including a cameo appearance by rock star Tom Morello). “Meanwhile in Afghanistan” is by turns indignant, denunciatory, poignant, and playful. Listeners who only think of David Rovics as a writer of protest songs might be pleasantly surprised by contemporary love songs like “Adelaide” and “Syrian Princess” and humorous tracks like “Watch Out for the Cops” and “If Only It Were True.” For info: http://davidrovics.com.

Ravi Shankar – 1920-2012

Sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar died on December 11th. Shankar was celebrated for his encounters with extraordinary western musicians like violinist Yehudi Menuhin and Beatles guitarist George Harrison, but before achieving international fame he’d already been music director of All-India Radio and had composed film music for Satyajit Ray’s classic Apu Trilogy. While his role as organizer (with Harrison) of the 1971 fundraising Concert for Bangladesh is well-known, his other political interventions have been ignored in the obituaries. In the 1940’s Shankar was active in the radical Indian People’s Theatre Association, a left-wing cultural group that promoted independence from Britain, solidarity with the USSR and relief for victims of famine. In 1992 he attended an “Artists Against Communalism” concert in Mumbai and issued a strong statement against that sectarian political trend. Both of India’s major communist parties have issued statements of condolences. For info: www.ravishankar.org.

 

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