Music Notes – September 2015

Victor Jara

Victor Jara’s killers indicted

Another step has been taken in the long campaign to bring the killers of Victor Jara to justice. On July 23rd, forty-two years after the U.S.-sponsored military coup that overthrew the democratically-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, a Chilean judge announced charges against 10 former army officers. Victor Jara, legendary singer-songwriter, theatre director, and Communist Party member, was arrested immediately following the September 11, 1973 coup. He was detained with thousands of others in a Santiago stadium, brutally tortured, and then executed in a hail of bullets on September 16. The trials of the accused officers are expected to begin later this year. “We’re pushing forward in demanding justice for Victor,” Jara’s widow, Joan, said after the announcement, “with the hope that justice will follow for everyone.” One other suspected killer remains at large in the United States. Former Chilean army lieutenant Pedro Barrientos Nuňez will face a civil lawsuit in a District Court in Florida. The suit was brought by the US-based Center for Justice and Accountability on behalf of of Joan Jara and her daughters. Chile has filed an extradition request for Barrientos, who fled to the US in 1986, but he’s been protected by his US citizenship, obtained through marriage.

BLM activists adopt Lamar’s anthem

After police arrested and roughed up a black youth, activists at a Black Lives Matter (BLM) conference in Cleveland took to the streets on July 28th, chanting the refrain from hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar’s hit song “Alright”. Singing “we goin’ be alright”, they attempted to prevent the police cruiser from leaving (and were pepper-sprayed for their efforts). Lamar’s acclaimed album, To Pimp a Butterfly is riding high in the charts. While the commercial success the 28-year-old Compton native is experiencing is helped by the distribution deal he has with with Universal Music – the largest musical corporation in the world – it is clear that To Pimp a Butterfly is a potent and timely protest against discrimination, racism and hypocrisy. The “Alright” video depicts Lamar raging and soaring above a violent urban landscape. At its end he is symbollically shot by a white cop, but he smiles in the last frame, suggesting the triumph of hope. Writer R.L. Stephens II, in an article in Orchestrated Pulse (www.orchestratedpulse.com) argues that the mainstream media’s focus on BLM spokespersons disguises a bid to co-opt a “leadership class” before the fledgling network has had the time to democratically debate its goals and strategy (and thereby produce an organic grassroots leadership). Here’s hoping that Kendrick Lamar and other BLM activists are listening.

Eco symphony contests eminent domain

Eminent domain is a much abused legal doctrine whereby contemporary governments can allow corporations to expropriate private land for the supposed “public good”. Last February, a group of New York State residents threatened by such abuse engaged the environmental artist and electronic music composer Aviva Rahmani to help them take action against a pipeline. The Spectra AIM gas pipeline would transit to within 100 feet of the Indian Point nuclear station on the Hudson River. Rahmani’s response was Blued Trees Symphony, an installation on private land along the path of the proposed pipeline. The trees are marked with a sine wave musical note in non-toxic, semi-permanent blue paint, in a definite order which, taken together, forms a symphony, which is copyrighted. The Blued Trees Symphony pits the Visual Artists Rights Act for the “moral rights” of art against the “right” of corporations to expropriate private land, thereby forcing a debate about what is the “public good”. Local residents and members of the artists activist group Earth Guardians painted the notation on the trees over several days in June. Sympathetic “Greek Choruses” of blued trees are underway in Seattle and Lisbon. Watch the video and hear musical samples at www.saneenergyproject.org.

Rise Again songbook now available

Community choirs and sing-along afficianados will be happy to learn that the much-loved songbook Rise Up Singing, first published in 1988, now has a companion volume. Rise Again was published last month by Hal Leonard Books. Like its predecessor, Rise Again was compiled by Annie Patterson and Peter Blood and it bears the imprint of Sing Out! magazine and Pete Seeger, who penned an introduction shortly before his death in 2014. Rise Again features words and lyrics to another 1200 songs, grouped thematically by genre or subject matter. There are new chapters for genres previously ignored or under-represented including blues, country, jazz standards, and early rock & roll. Also included is a selection of popular and indie songs released since 1995 that have caught on with the group-singing community. Singers and musicians will appreciate the spiral binding, and the hand-drawn illustrations add a down-home feel. Visually-challenged users will appreciate the optional large-print edition. The price is $25 USD. For more information visit www.riseupandsing.org.

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