Musicians Mobilize for Idle No More
Canadian pop star Nellie Furtado’s salute at a New Year’s Eve concert in Niagara Falls was a highly-visible celebrity endorsement of Idle No More, but musicians had been supportive since at least December 21st, when the ‘Canadian Artists Statement of Solidarity with Idle No More’ was published on Facebook. 150 artists initially signed on, including singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer, Gordon Downie (Tragically Hip), Greg Keelor & Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo) and Steven Page (Barenaked Ladies). The statement called upon Steven Harper to meet with First Nations peoples “in the intended spirit of the original treaties, as sovereign nations.” The artists were following a vanguard of First Nations musicians with little access to the industry’s star making machinery. Take for example the outstanding indigenous musician Derek Miller, who appeared at a January 5th benefit for Chief Spence at Ottawa club Zaphod Beeblebrox. His song “7 Lifetimes (for Chief Spence)” is the opening track on the album ‘Idle No More: Songs for Life Vol 1.” You can download it for free at http://rpm.fm/.
Folk Alliance to meet in Toronto
Several thousand folk musicians and related folk ‘industry’ types will gather at Toronto’s Delta Chelsea Hotel February 20-24 for the 25th annual International Folk Alliance conference (www.folkalliance.org). The Memphis-based IFA is a non-profit educational organization. Its annual meeting is an important showcase for everyone involved in North American folk music, whether they are performers, educators, club owners, radio hosts or record companies. In addition to more than 50 workshops, panels and exhibitions, there will be a wide variety of showcase concerts and open mic stages. A “Canadian Spectacular” on February 20th will be open to the general public, with shows on seven stages. Visiting artists will also be appearing at Hugh’s Room during the week. Incidentally, the same hotel is the site of the free Winterfolk Blues and Roots Festival (February 14-17). For info: www.winterfolk.com.
Paraguay’s ‘Recycled Orchestra’
Cateura, Paraguay is a town of 25,000 built on a landfill. Several years ago social worker Favio Chavez wanted to introduce music to local indigenous children in this poor region where kids have few opportunities. With a scarcity of instruments and a lack of funds, he decided to make instruments from objects found in the landfill (e.g. barrels, forks, bowls, water pipes, and bottle caps). The instruments were made by Nicolas Gomez, a resourceful local trash picker. Today the 20-member ‘Recycled Orchestra,’ conducted by Luis Szarán, makes beauty out of garbage as it performs traditional Paraguayan music as well as Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Mancini and the Beatles. They’ve performed in Brazil, Panama and Columbia. Recently they travelled to Phoenix, Arizona for a performance at the Musical Instrument Museum. A documentary film ‘Landfill Harmonic’ (produced and directed by Alejandra Amarlla Nash and Juliana Penaranda) will be released later this year. View the trailer at YouTube or Vimeo.
Cubana All-Stars: “A Dream Come True”
One of the most acclaimed Latin recordings of 2012 is a fiery salsa album by the Cubana All-Stars called “A Dream Come True.” Recorded in Havana under the auspices of the Musicalia festival and the Ministry of Culture, the album unites outstanding local musicians with long-time Cuban expatriates from New York, Miami, Mexico, Spain and Puerto Rico. Returning legends include vocalists Issac Delgado and Justo Betancourt (Puerto Rico) and trumpeter Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros (New York City). Their musical hosts include guitarist-singer Eliades Ochoa (Buena Vista Social Club) and pianist-composer Adalberto Álvarez (Son 14). The Cubana All Stars have been called “the most significant Cuban orchestra to form in the last decade,” and their record company calls the album their “debut,” suggesting that this may be more than a one-time project. At any rate Ochoa no doubt speaks for many when he says that the album is “a dream come true for all Cubans.” Best online deal: www.elwatusi.com
Jayne Cortez: 1934-2012
African-American jazz poet and activist Jayne Cortez died in New York on December 28th. Her visceral and surrealist verse linked African oral traditions with blues, avant-garde jazz, and political protest (she was a lifelong opponent of racism, misogyny and the capitalist system). Although she published acclaimed volumes of print poetry, Cortez is best remembered for her work with jazz musicians. Her collaborations with artists like bassist Richard Davis and her son, drummer Denardo Coleman (in her band The Firespitters) are essential to the understanding of the evolution of jazz poetry from its beginnings in the Harlem Renaissance to its links with contemporary rap and hip-hop. As a young woman Cortez was active with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, registering black voters in Mississippi. Later she became a key figure in the influential Black Arts Movement founded by poet Amiri Baraka. She was also a co-founder of the Organization of Women Artists of Africa. Check out Jayne Cortez performing the brilliant “If the Drum is a Woman” on YouTube.