Music Notes – May 2014


Breakthrough JUNO for A Tribe Called Red


Mainstream media coverage of the JUNO Awards usually dwells upon best-selling icons of pop culture like Drake, Arcade Fire, and Teagan and Sara. There’s plenty of celebrity gossip too. Will fans boo Justin Beiber? Will Robin Thicke show up? For this writer, however, it’s the less hyped recipients who really deserve the attention. These would include 2014 Contemporary Jazz Album winner Christine Jensen (Habitat), World Music Album winner David Buchbinder (Walk to the Sea), and (most notably), Ottawa-based electronic DJ crew A Tribe Called Red. The latter took home the award for Breakthrough Group of the Year at the gala ceremony, broadcast from Winnipeg on March 30th. Although they didn’t get to perform, it was gratifying that their win was shown on the national telecast. A Tribe Called Red is a powerful supporter of the Idle No More movement. In 2013 they were voted best group by the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, and their second release, Nation II Nation, was voted best album. Their hard-driving ‘pow-wow step’ music and brilliant video productions challenge and subvert the ideology of the Canadian settler state. You can download their eponymous first album (it’s free) and view their videos at


Calls for Neil Young to Honour BDS


Petition campaigns have been launched to persuade rock superstar Neil Young to withdraw from a concert scheduled for July in Tel Aviv. Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East and Independent Jewish Voices Canada are asking Young to respect the call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment, and sanctions until Israel ends its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, recognizes the right of its Arab-Palestinian citizens for equality, and allows Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. In honouring the boycott, Young would join company with musicians like Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox, Carlos Santana and Elvis Costello. Throughout his long career Neil Young has demonstrated sympathy for native struggles on the North American continent. Earlier this year he gave a series of high-profile “Honour the Treaties” concerts to raise funds for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in aid of its legal battle to halt tar sands expansion on its territory. Given this level of awareness, one might expect that he’d be able to see the similarities between the oppression of native peoples in North America and that of Palestinians. To sign a petition visit or


Remembering Guthrie’s ‘Deportees’


In 1948 the great American troubadour Woody Guthrie composed Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), a protest lyric about the racist mistreatment of migrant workers. After hearing on the radio that 28 migrants who were being deported from California back to Mexico had died in a plane crash at nearby Los Gatos Canyon, Guthrie was struck by the fact that only the names of the flight crew and the security guard were given. The anonymous workers’ bodies were buried in a mass grave in Fresno, California. A decade later Guthrie’s lyric was set to music by schoolteacher Martin Hoffman. The song soon became an American folk standard, after being popularized by Pete Seeger and recorded by a host of musical luminaries. Flash forward to 2014. Folksinger-activist John McCutcheon and a group of like-minded activists had a brainstorm: they guessed that Immigration and Naturalization Service archives in Washington would have a record of the victims’ names in the 1948 deportation order. Well, they found the names, and they raised the necessary funds to erect a monument at the mass grave site. You can view the moving dedication ceremony and hear the names of the victims read out at a special concert. Visit YouTube and search for “Deportees John McCutcheon”.


Funding Flap at Beaches Jazz


Toronto’s annual free Beaches Jazz Fest attracts an estimated 500,000 visitors a year. It’s the biggest festival of its kind in Canada, yet it has to fight for the pittance of funding it receives from Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. After a public outcry when the 25-year-old festival’s funding application was rejected outright, the government announced that $75,000 had been ‘found’. What had really happened was that the Wynne government had been embarrassed by the revelation that, while it was depriving a popular free festival of support, it was giving huge grants to superstar rapper Drake ($300,000 for a 2-day concert that hopes to draw 60,000 people) and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment ($500,000 to attract the 2016 NBA all-star game). According to online ticket agencies, a pass to Drake’s upcoming OVA Fest at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre starts at $291. Of course funding priorities that privilege corporate spectacles over grassroots culture are not unique to the current Ontario government. They are unfortunately typical of most contemporary capitalist regimes. The Beaches Jazz Fest runs from July 18-23. For more info visit


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