Music Notes – August 2013

Sarah Harmer and the Tar Sands walk

Ontario singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer published an open letter on the Tar Sands Healing Walk in Huffington Post last month ( Her targets were Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Harmer, co-founder of Protecting Escarpment Rural Land and an opponent of the proposed Line 9 tar sands pipeline in eastern Canada, appealed to Oliver and Redford to join the peaceful walk that took place July 5-6 along a 16-kilometer stretch of the Alberta tar sands. She called on the Conservative politicians to “get out of their cars and walk like regular folks through an area they aren’t shy about selling on a global stage.” The 4th Annual Healing Walk, sponsored by Keepers of the Athabasca, was attended by more than 500 people from coast to coast. Oliver and Redford didn’t join the walk but the campaign to compel them to meet with the affected communities continues. For more info:

Mos Def force-fed Guantánano style

In an effort to draw attention to the plight of illegally-held Muslim prisoners in the U.S. prison camp at Guantánano Bay, popular hip-hop artist and actor Mos Def (a.k.a. Yasiin Bey) voluntarily subjected himself to nose-to-stomach force-feeding last month and had the procedure filmed and posted on the Internet. The disturbing 4-minute film, which demonstrates “standard operating procedure” for force-feeding, was made by the U.K. human rights organization Reprieve with director Asif Kapadia. More than 100 prisoners, illegally detained without charges or trial, are on hunger strike at Guantánano and at least 40 are being force-fed twice a day. Judge Gladys Kessler of the Federal District Court in Washington, DC recently ruled that force-feeding is “a painful, humiliating and degrading process.” She declared that President Obama has the power to end the force-feeding by freeing the prisoners his own government has cleared for release. For info:

Alicia Keys & her Tel Aviv gig

Despite a 16,000 signature petition and the pleas of prominent public figures such as Alice Walker, Angela Davis, and Roger Waters, pop superstar Alicia Keys went ahead with her July 4th concert in Tel Aviv. In doing so Keys rejected the Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, arguing instead that her concert would “unify audiences in peace and love.” Keys ignored the obvious fact that most Palestinians are effectively prevented from attending such concerts. Some observers were surprised by her decision since Keys has a reputation as a socially-conscious artist with a concern for the rights of children. Reports sent to her from Palestinian children’s rights activists noted that an average of 700 Palestinian children under 18 are detained and prosecuted annually in Israeli military courts. Nevertheless the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is encouraged by the fact that so many groups and people were mobilized to urge her to cancel. For info:

CBC blogger attacks misogynist pop stars

Andrea Warner, a music journalist and blogger at CBC Radio 3, called out a trio of contemporary pop stars in a June 24th article entitled “Misogyny Makes a Comeback.” Recently-released songs by Rick Ross (U.O.N.E.O.), Robin Thicke (Blurred Lines), and Kanye West (On Sight) respectively celebrate drugging and raping a woman, groping after women who “want it” and (apparently) forced fellatio. While misogyny in music is not new, Warner identifies “a deliberate and task-oriented degradation and objectification of women that’s far more disturbing than the casual inherent misogyny of generations past.” She notes that these artists are not an older generation of men caught up in old ways but “younger men who were, more often than not, raised within feminism and to respect women, but who still feel it’s their right to degrade and debase them.” Warner has words of praise for several contemporary male musicians who are outspoken in their opposition to sexism: rappers Talib Kweli and Lupe Fiasco and Canadian folk-rocker Joel Plaskett. Read the article at

David Rovics update: Into a Prism

American singer-songwriter David Rovics has just released Into a Prism, a collection of 15 new songs. It’s named after the NSA global spying program revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. In addition to the title song (“Prism”)  Rovics skewers Barack Obama and other bought-off politicians, attacks (with characteristic wit) American chauvinism and cultural imperialism, and celebrates heroes like exiled African-American activist Assata Shakur and Vasili Arkhipov, the Soviet submarine commander who literally saved the world during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Rovics has an impressive ability to balance righteous indignation with compassion and ironic humour. He excels at incorporating historical events into his songs and making them relevant. Into a Prism is an acoustic album, and the artist’s voice and guitar work are in fine form. Why is this guy not headlining the summer folk festivals? For info:


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