Music Notes – December 2014

Singer- Songwriter Dave Gunning in Pictou

Musicians rally for clean air in N.S.

A host of prominent Maritime musicians including Dave Gunning (above) donated their time to a free “Clear the Air” concert on the waterfront of Pictou, Nova Scotia on September 9th. 2,000 people gathered to listen, and also to protest corporate and government indifference to the deleterious effects of air pollution on the local population. The Northern Pulp Company’s kraft paper mill provides 200 jobs in this town of 3500, but its smokestack spews out a toxic cloud of sodium sulphate over the community that irritates the eyes and throat. Musicians at last summer’s Lobster Festival actually stopped playing because of the chemicals in the air. The local residents’ group, Clean Pictou Air, is demanding that the mill be closed until the probem is fixed. Concert organizers Gunning, an acclaimed singer-songwriter and local resident, and Troy Greencord, artistic director of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in nearby Canso, recruited 17 performers, including East Coast luminaries Joel Plaskett, Catherine MacLellan, Matt Anderson, and J.P. Cormier. Dr. Dan Reid, former chief of staff at the Pictou hospital, blasted both the current Liberal Government of Stephen McNeil and the former NDP Government of Darrell Dexter for dithering on the issue.

International Orchestra Week

Last month the Paris-based International Federation of Musicians (FIM), an umbrella organization that represents musicians’ unions in more than 60 countries, designated November 17-23 International Orchestra Week, calling for actions to resist austerity policies that are decimating orchestras, choirs, and opera theatres. This fall, in the country where opera began four centuries ago, management of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma (Rome Opera) sacked 200 orchestra musicians and chorus members. The FIM called it “a scandalous act of cultural vandalism”. Throughout Europe and North America artists and workers employed by similarly venerable cultural institutions have been under management attack because of declining operating grants and subsidies. In some countries, entire orchestras have been shut down. The campaign calls for local affiliates and their members to distribute the FIM leaflet at concerts, to address audiences from the stage, to dedicate works in their program to orchestras that are under attack, to build alliances with other sectors of the population, and to deploy the FIM’s web banners, widgets, and electronic signatures in their social media campaigns. Read the statement and sign the petition at: http://www.stop-cultural-vandalism.org/.

Belafonte’s stirring Hollywood speech

Harry Belafone delivered an inspiring speech at the annual Governors Awards in Hollywood on November 8th. The singer, actor, and social justice activist, now 87, was the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, one of three given prior to the Oscars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Belafonte cited the pioneering, but deeply racist, 1915 D.W. Griffith film “Birth of a Nation” as an example of the powerful role of cinema in shaping social attitudes. Despite its apologetic depiction of American slavery, the film was legitimized by a White House screening, with subsequent praise by then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Next, Belafonte recalled watching Tarzan movies in Harlem as a child, when a generation of black youth learned to cheer the white man and boo Africans. Lastly, he reminded his audience that Native Americans and Arabs have fared no better. Belafonte paid tribute to his mentors, including W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson. A singer, actor, and activist like Belafonte, Robeson encouraged him at the beginning of his career with a vision of the artist as “civilization’s radical voice.” Before inviting his friend, African-American actor Sidney Poitier, to the stage, Belafonte called upon his peers to create films that challenge those who seek to “punish truthseekers”. View Belafonte’s acceptance speech at http://www.variety.com.

I Thought I Heard Sweet Victor

Paul Baker Hernández is a Scottish activist and musician who’s worked in solidarity with Latin American struggles since 1980. As a resident of Nicaragua since 1994, he’s worked with the Sandinista government’s Zero Hunger Project, as well as various international solidarity campaigns, all the while cultivating his musical vocation. In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of the coup that overthrew the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende, Baker Hernández was Chile, helping in the search for justice for victims of the coup. He visited the Victor Jara Foundation, established in 1994 to honour the great singer-songwriter and theatre director, who was tortured and murdered by the Pinochet regime days after the coup. Coaxed to pick up Victor’s guitar at the insistence of Jara’s widow, Joan, he was inspired to write “I Thought I Heard Sweet Victor”. The song has since become part of the campaign for justice for (in his words) “ all those whose names are known only to their beloveds.” Key in “Bringing Victor Home” at YouTube to view Paul and friends performing the song around the kitchen table at the Victor Jara Foundation. It has English-subtitles.

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