Music Notes – December 2013



UFCW releases ‘100 Years of Solidarity’

A new generation of labour activist musicians can be heard in a free download album from UFCW Canada. The United Food and Commercial Workers is Canada’s largest private sector union, with more than 250,000 members, 40% of whom are under the age of 30. It is this generation that is reflected in the union’s new compilation album”100 Years of Solidarity”. It features progressive young hip-hop artists from a diversity of backgrounds, with an emphasis on rappers of Latin-American descent. Most of the tracks clearly reflect the social justice policies of the UFCW, including its policy of including temporary foreign workers as full members. A case in point is the brilliant “I’m Working on a Farm” by Spin El Poeta, an emcee who helped organize the 2005 World Youth Festival in Venezuela. Other stand-out performers for this listener are Ruben “Beny” Esguerra and Manuela Astudillo. Esguerra (“Solidarity Forever Remix”) is a poet, band leader and arts educator of Colombian descent. Astudillo (“My Accent”) is a broadcaster with “Voces Latinas” on Toronto’s unique community radio station AM 1610. Download this essential (and free) album at

‘No Woman, No Drive’

On October 26th Saudi women activists attracted the attention of the world’s media as they defied their country’s ban against females driving and posted videos of themselves online behind the wheel. On the same day, in a well-timed act of culture jamming, comedian Hisham Fageeh released “No Woman, No Drive”, a video parody of reggae legend Bob Marley’s classic song “No Woman, No Cry”.  By mid-November Fageeh’s video had gone viral with more than ten million YouTube hits. The Saudi-born actor, stand-up comedian and human rights activist attended Columbia University and is now based in New York City. Fageeh achieved a breakthrough of his own in becoming the first Saudi to headline an Arabic stand-up comedy tour in the U.S. and England. Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving, but the campaign to change the law is picking up steam.

Tunisian rappers unionize

Rappers and DJs are among the most outspoken social critics in contemporary Tunisia, and, as Islamist influence grows in that country, they’re coming under increasing attack. In response they’ve founded the National Rap Union and affiliated with the General Confederation of Tunisian Workers, the country’s trade union central. According to Italian news agency Ansa, the National Rap Union will focus on defending its members’ right to criticise the authorities. In September rapper Klay BBJ was jailed for “insulting the police” at a concert (his co-performer that night is still in hiding). Klay BBJ had earlier been imprisoned for performing his song “The Police are Dogs”. Rappers Mustapha Fakhfakh and Ayem El-Fikih have been charged respectively with “affronting morals” and “insulting public officials”. For a look at the struggle of artists in today’s Tunisia visit journalist Monica Mark’s column at

Symphony musicians protest austerity

European symphony orchestra musicians are mobilizing against austerity policies that threaten their livelihood and lay waste to the continent’s musical heritage. In Spain on September 23rd, more than 1000 musicians in 23 orchestras united to protest against arts budget cuts and a sharp rise in sales tax on concert tickets. A nation-wide concert was staged with musicians simultaneously playing the same program.  A week later in Germany musicians from 100 symphony orchestras took to the streets to protest a sustained drop in public funding that has led to the closing of 37 symphony orchestras over the past 20 years. The German event began with an open-air concert by the world-renowned Berlin Philharmonic and was followed by dozens of concerts throughout the country. Attacks against symphony orchestras and their unions are escalating throughout Europe and North America. The International Federation of Musicians (FIM) will be meeting in Oslo in February to map out the next stage of its fightback strategy. For more info visit

Los Van Van honoured at WOMEX Awards

One of the most influential post-revolutionary Cuban bands was honoured at the International World Music Expo (WOMEX), held in Cardiff, Wales in October. Perennially popular dance band Los Van Van is the recipient of the 2013 WOMEX Artist Award. The prize was founded in 1999 to honour “musical excellence, social importance, commercial success, political impact and lifetime achievement.” Previous winners include South African vocal group The Mahotella Queens and the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Los Van Van was founded in 1969 by bassist-composer Juan Formell. Together with timbales player Changuito he created a new rhythm called “songo” which gave birth to a new genre of dance music. Los Van Van updated Afro-Cuban popular music by fusing it with contemporary rock and jazz. After more than 40 years Los Van Van is arguably still the most popular band in Cuba. Catch their WOMEX performance at

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