Music Notes – April 2013

RIP Stompin’ Tom

The response of Canadians to the death of Stompin’ Tom Connors on March 6th invites comparison with the response to the passing, in 2000, of another working-class cultural icon: legendary hockey star Maurice (“Rocket”) Richard. Unlike our elected political leaders, Stompin’ Tom and the Rocket were recognized with affection by just about everyone. Last month the flag at the National Arts Centre was lowered to half-mast for the author of “Sudbury Saturday Night” and “Bud the Spud,” and leaders of the mainstream political parties all pronounced their words of tribute. Stompin’ Tom was not a socialist, but his songs reflected the everyday lives of hard-working people. He earned our affection, as he earned his celebrity, because the latter was founded upon word of mouth rather than media hype. If his nationalism was more of the flag-waving type than one based upon a programmatic alternative to the comprador culture he despised, it must be placed in historical context. Stompin’ Tom’s protests against government and industry policies that perpetuated the invisibility of Canadian performers in their own country helped to bring about positive change. Now it’s up to the younger generation of Canadian musicians to find the way forward.   

Si Kahn joins Alaska struggle

Noted American singer-songwriter and activist Si Kahn has been combining music with grassroots organizing for more than 40 years. He’s composed classic working-class songs like “Aragon Mill,” published a series of acclaimed organizing manuals, and participated in countless popular struggles since the civil rights era. Last February Si could be found behind an information booth at the Folk Alliance International conference in Toronto, gathering support for an important campaign: Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay. As part of its outreach, this group is organizing musicians to spread the word about the fight to stop Alaska’s Pebble Mine project, which threatens Bristol Bay – the world’s most abundant wild salmon fishery – with deadly exposure to mine-generated pollutants. There’s a Canadian mining connection here. The venture is 50% Canadian owned. For more info:

Halifax rapper calls out Harper

The growing fightback against government-imposed austerity is reflected in the increasingly politicized stance of young Canadian musicians. A recent example is offered by Halifax band The Caravan. They’ve just released a single and video called “What Up Steve?” featuring 27-year-old rapper and lyricist Kyle McKenna. The broadside, aimed at our beloved Prime Minister, displays a solid understanding of the issues that are fuelling the anger and activism of the younger generation. Here are a few of the grievances that McKenna calls the Harper regime on: contempt of parliament, the robocalls scandal, privatization, CBC cuts, and Omnibus Bill C45. McKenna, who works part-time as a carpenter and sales clerk, acknowledges that he’s been inspired by Idle No More and its fight against Bill C45 – a law that would allow sale of reserve lands to private interests. Check out the video on YouTube and visit

Hamilton musicians fight racists

The industrial heartland of Southwestern Ontario has been hit hard in recent years by corporate and government attacks on workers, as well as a seemingly deliberate policy of deindustrialization. In such a climate, it’s not surprising that white-supremacist groups like Blood & Honour and Golden Dawn have been crawling out of the woodwork. Racism remains a perennial ruling class tool to divide working people. It’s gratifying therefore to learn that Hamilton musicians have responded by unfurling the banner of Rock Against Racism, that successful British anti-racist campaign that sunk roots in North America in the eighties. Hamilton RAR’s first event was a benefit at the Homegrown Cafe on March 9th for SACHA, a local feminist non-profit based on anti-racist values. Featured performers included dub-poet Klyde Broox, eclectic rock band The Safety Collective, and rapper Lee Reed. Hamilton artists are sending a clear message that white supremacism will not be tolerated. For more info visit Hamilton Rock Against Racism on Facebook.

Gaza Ark song contest winners

The Gaza Ark campaign is an example of a group of activists who consistently find innovative ways to draw attention to their cause – in this case their bold challenge to the Israeli state to end its illegal blockade of Gaza. A recent example of their creativity is the Gaza Ark song writing contest. In February, musicians were invited to submit original songs to promote the Gaza Ark, which seeks to sail from Palestine, loaded with goods for export, to either break the blockade or focus worldwide attention on governments that look the other way should the Israeli military intervene to stop it. The response from musicians, in the words of organizers, was “breathtaking.” On February 14th, the Gaza Ark steering committee announced three winning songs: “Gaza’s Ark” (Dave Lippman, USA), “Reaching Out to You” (Bill Hood, Canada), and “Ship of Hope” (Scott MacFarlane, Scotland). Listen to these fine songs at


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