Music Notes – January 2014

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Young and Krall rally for ACFN

Many Canadian musicians have already helped to forge the growing alliance between First Nations and environmentalists. Now, two of the most renowned Canadian artists – rock legend Neil Young and jazz diva Diana Krall – are rallying to raise money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) Legal Defence Fund. “Honour the Treaties” is the slogan  adopted for the four concerts: in Toronto (January 12), Winnipeg (January 16), Regina (January 17), and Calgary (January 19). The ACFN territory is about a hundred miles north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. The nation is party to Treaty 8, signed in 1899 with the Crown. The accord covers 840,000 square kilometres in Canada’s northwest. The AFCN’s 2007 court challenge against an oil sands lease given to Shell Canada was struck down in 2011, but it’s being appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Tickets for the Young-Krall shows are pricey, but sell-outs are expected. For more info visit the AFCN’s Facebook page.

Esperanza Spalding’s Gitmo video

Jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding has emerged as a social justice activist with the November 18th release of We Are America, a music video that calls for freedom for scores of illegally-detained prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Last spring, while on tour with her band, Spalding read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. At the same time, she heard about the hunger strikes at Guantanamo and the force-feeding of uncharged detainees who had been cleared for release. Determined to act in a meaningful way, Spalding produced a punchy and articulate music video that calls on viewers to take action. The prodigiously talented young artist has already won three Grammy awards, including (in 2011) Best New Artist. Esperanza Spalding is the first jazz artist to win in this category, beating out mega-selling teen heartthrob Justin Bieber. To learn more visit her Facebook page.

András Schiff on Hungarian fascism

Hungarian-born pianist András Schiff told BBC Newsworld in December that he would no longer visit his homeland because of the growth of fascism in that country. The occasion was a gala 60th birthday concert in London where the pianist undertook the daunting task of performing both J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. Despite the success of the concert, it was the revelation that he’s received threats from anonymous callers to cut off his hands if he returns to Hungary that attracted the biggest headlines. Even without the personal threat, says the pianist, he would not visit Hungary because “art and politics cannot be disentangled.” Schiff is a well-known critic of the right-wing government of Victor Orban, and of the anti-Semitic and anti-Roma fascist party Jobbik. He cites the erection in Budapest of a monument to the Nazi-collaborating strongman Admiral Horthy as a profoundly disturbing development. For more info visit www. ww.andrasschiff.com.

Palestinian “idol” tours North America

Mohammed Assaf, the 24-year-old singing “idol” from the Gaza Strip, gave concerts in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal last month as part of a North American tour. Last June Assaf won the second “Arab Idol” singing contest, broadcast from Cairo by the Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC). His victory, achieved after overcoming great difficulties just to get to Cairo and into the contest, set off massive celebrations in the occupied territories. Assaf’s mastery of Arabic vocal techniques is widely acknowledged, and his repertoire, in addition to traditional love songs, includes patriotic songs of the Palestinian struggle. Assaf is a descendent of Palestinians dispossessed by the 1948 Nakba. He condemns the Israeli occupation, supports the right of return, and frequently performs wearing the keffiyeh scarf associated with the liberation struggle. Let’s hope that Mohammed Assaf will continue to give expression to the longings of the Palestinian people. For more info visit his Facebook page.

Four great Mandela-inspired songs

In his 1995 autobiography A Long Walk To Freedom Nelson Mandela wrote: “It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world.” Indeed, but he also knew that music and dance furthered the cause of the liberation struggle. Here are four great Mandela-related songs from the anti-apartheid era that can be easily found on YouTube. 1) Sun City (1984). American rocker Little Steven assembled a host of musical celebrities, called them Artists Against Apartheid, and produced this exciting cultural boycott song. 2) Free Nelson Mandela (1984). Special A.K.A. (an offshoot of The Specials) recorded this world-wide Top Ten dance hit. 3) Bring Him Home (1987). Exiled trumpet star Hugh Masekela kept the flame burning in the dance clubs with this song that was soon featured in the anti-apartheid Broadway musical Sarafina!. 4) Asimbonanga (Mandela) (1987). Singer Johnny Clegg was a pioneer of outspoken racially-integrated music in South Africa. This anthem from his album Third World Child called out for Mandela’s release. Enjoy!

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