Music Notes – August 2015

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Bree Newsome removes Confederate flag in SC

While South Carolina lawmakers talked about taking down the Confederate flag from the state capital in the wake of the racist murder of nine African Americans in a Charleston church on June 17th, 30-year-old black singer and filmmaker Bree Newsome, spotted by white social justice activist James Tyson, shimmied up the 30-foot flagpole and unhooked the hated symbol of slavery. Newsome’s response to security guards below who ordered her to get down was one for the history books. “You come against me with hatred, oppression, and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today”. Just as Rosa Parks’ act wasn’t that of a tired commuter, but a carefully wrought plan, so Bree Newsome’s feat was the culmination of planning, in this case by an interracial group of young activists. Both she and Tyson come out of the Moral Mondays voting rights movement that began in North Carolina in 2013. The two could face three years in prison, but it seems likely that charges against them will be dropped. The South Carolina legislature, shamed by their bold action, voted on July 10th to permanently remove the flag. For a free download of Newsome’s song StayStrong: A Love Song to Freedom Fighters visit http://www.breenewsome.com.

Lisitsa’s historic Donetsk concert

Ukrainian-born American pianist Valentina Lisitsa gave an outdoor concert on June 22nd in the besieged city of Donetsk. The concert was dedicated to the 74th anniversary of the start of the Great Patriotic War. Two months ago, Lisitsa made international headlines when concerts she was to perform with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra were abruptly cancelled by the orchestra management because it did not like her outspoken opposition to the Kiev regime’s war in eastern Ukraine. Lisitsa and the Academic Symphony Orchestra performed works by Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. After the concert she had this to say to the people of Donetsk: “It is a great honour to be here with you on this day to enjoy this beautiful music together. Music is our spiritual legacy, just like our language, our faith. This is what is worth fighting for. It is our history, which no one can take away and rewrite. Seventy years has passed since we defeated fascism the first time, and now our role is to defend Europe, to defend the entire world from this brown plague, which is raising its head once again. And you are on the front-line, defending the entire world, the entire humanity. I am grateful to tears to be with you on this day. Thank you!”

Gotta go down and join the union

Every month this column carries news about musicians who stand up for social justice. Here are a couple of recent stories about their union. In Seattle, AFM Local 76-493 got their city council to declare May 20th “Fair Trade Music Day”. This victory follows on a campaign that has resulted so far in 21 performance spaces pledging to respect their ‘Fair Trade Music Principles’, which include musicians’ right to negotiate fair wages and enforceable contracts in bars, restaurants, and other small venues. Elsewhere in May, the AFM/CFM won an appeal in the BC courts to nullify an agreement that the concession-minded executive of CFM Local 145 had made with the Vancouver Film Orchestra to introduce a tiered wage structure. The appeal court’s decision affirmed the right of the parent union to protect fair wage standards and working conditions. If you’re a professional musician, or even semi-pro, you should join the union. Visit www.cfmusicians.org.

B.B. King: 1925-2015

Blues great B.B. King died on May 14th. ThIs son of Mississippi sharecroppers was the most successful blues artist of his time and a unique guitar stylist who inspired several generations of blues, rock, and jazz musicians. A moving tribute was published in Counterpunch on June 26th by Jeffrey St. Clair. He describes B.B. King’s lifelong commitment to the inmates of America’s vast prison industrial complex, citing in particular the 1971 album ‘Live in Cook County Jail’, which captures B.B. and his band playing for a thousand inmates at one of Chicago’s most notorious facilities. Earlier that day, writes St. Clair, King had spoken with inmates, about 80 percent of whom were black. “They told me how they came to be locked up,” King said. “They would stay for seven or eight months before the trial took place because they couldn’t afford the bail. And then when they did go to trial, if they were guilty, the time was not deducted from the time they were given. And if they were innocent, they got no compensation.” Plus ça change, one might say, but actually things have got much worse. In 1971 the U.S. prison population was 450,000. Today it’s 2.3 million. Read St. Clair’s tribute at www.counterpunch.com.

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