Music Notes – July 2015

Neil_Young_The_Monsanto_Years

Neil Young takes on Monsanto

Singer-songwriter Neil Young’s 36th studio album, scheduled for release on June 30th, takes on yet another corporate villain. The Canadian rocker has collaborated with Willie Nelson’s sons, Lucas and Micah, and Lucas’ band, Promise of the Real, to produce “The Monsanto Years”, a broadside against the Missouri-based agribusiness and biotechnology giant Monsanto. Young first hooked up with Lucas and Micah at last year’s Farm Aid benefit, and they’ve subsequently united for concerts in solidarity with the struggle against the Keystone Pipeline. Neil Young, with the Nelson brothers and Promise of the Real, will be touring the USA in July. As for the agribusiness monster, Young says, “I don’t really have anything against the human beings working at Monsanto, but Monsanto is the poster child for the problems we’re having with the corporate government.” In a related matter, Young is boycotting Starbucks, because the coffee company, along with Monsanto, is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Alliance, which is suing the tiny state of Vermont (population 600,000) to overturn its GMO labelling law. For more info: www.neilyoung.com.

Valentina Lisitsa’s Donetsk concert

As we go to press, preparations are underway for pianist Valentina Lisitsa’s historic concert in the besieged city of Donetsk, East Ukraine, capital of the resistance against the far-right Kiev regime of Petro Poroshenko. Lisitsa’s June 22nd concert will feature the works of a giant of 20th century music. Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev was born in Donetsk, and the city’s international airport, recently devastated by the Kiev regime’s bombardment, is named after its most famous citizen. The date is significant: it’s the 74th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the day when the armies of Nazi Germany invaded the USSR. Valentina Lisitsa is Ukrainian-born, but she’s been an American citizen since emigrating to the USA in 1991. In April, as previously reported here, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra cancelled two of her concerts. Despite a well-orchestrated campaign by pro-Kiev Ukrainian-Canadian nationalist organizations (supported by spiteful articles in the mainstream media), a flurry of letters to the editor and online comments suggest that Canadians are broadly sympathetic to the pianist and support her right to express her opinion on the civil war in Ukraine. Postscript: Lisitsa’s June 5-6 concerts with the Calgary Philharmonic were by all accounts a great success.

KKE tribute to Theodorakis

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) honoured the celebrated composer Mikis Theodorakis with a gala open-air concert in Athens on June 3rd. Theodorakis is best known in North America as the composer of the soundtracks for the films Zorba the Greek, Z, and Serpico, but in his homeland he’s loved as much for his hundreds of popular songs and instrumental pieces. KKE General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumpas paid tribute to the veteran partisan fighter and anti-fascist activist’s “decisive contribution to the cultural renaissance in postwar Greece,” adding that his contribution was “always entwined with the struggles and concerns of our people.” Earlier this year Theodorakis, who turns 90 this month, endorsed a bill introduced in parliament by the KKE for the abolition of the Austerity Memorandum that the previous government had signed with the EU. Like the KKE, the composer is alarmed that the ruling SYRIZA-ANEL coalition is extending the austerity regime. Mikis Theodorakis, a former member of the KKE and MP (1981-85) attended the concert with his great musical interpreter, the singer Maria Farantouri. He addressed the gathering with a personal tribute to the KKE. Read his speech and watch the concert at www.inter.kke.gr.

Ronnie Gilbert: 1926-2015

American folksinger, actress, and activist Ronnie Gilbert died on June 6th in California. She was born in Brooklyn, NY, the daughter of Jewish immigrant garment workers. In 1947 Gilbert and Pete Seeger founded The Weavers, one of the most important vocal groups in American musical history, adding singer Lee Hayes and singer-guitarist Fred Hellerman to complete the original quartet. Although The Weavers were unabashedly left-wing, they achieved mass popularity in the late forties and early fifties with songs like Goodnight Irene, This Land is Your Land, and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine. Gilbert’s bold contralto blended perfectly with the others, but it also rose gloriously above them whenever needed. The Weavers were blacklisted in 1953 at a time of anti-communist hysteria, but their defiant and successful Carnegie Hall reunion concert in 1955 paved the way for the folk music boom of the late fifties and sixties. In later years Gilbert worked as an actress, toured and recorded with singer Holly Near, released several solo albums, and wrote and starred in two plays. Ronnie Gilbert was a lifelong global peace activist and feminist. Her memoir “Ronnie Gilbert: A Radical Life in Song” will be published this fall by University of California Press.

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