Music Notes – March 2016


Beyoncé’s Super Bowl spectacle

By now everyone must know that hip-hop superstar Beyoncé invoked Black Panther and Black Lives Matter symbols during her February 7th halftime show at the Super Bowl in San Francisco. Beyoncé and her troupe gave the black power raised-fist salute and formed an X in homage to Malcolm X. Later, dancers held up “Justice for Mario Woods” signs – a reference to an African-American man recently killed by cops in the host city. Predictable reactions of outrage from police departments and American conservatives dominated mainstream media response. Progressive sports columnist Dave Zirin, appearing on Democracy Now! the next day, raved about Beyoncé, calling her “audaciously brilliant”, but enthusiasm on the left declined somewhat when the singer soon afterwards announced that Tel Aviv would be part of a world tour that’s expected to gross $250 million. Beyoncé’s performance came a day after the release of “Formation”, her latest single and video. Although the song is typically banal self-affirmation, the video is impressive, set in post-Katrina New Orleans, with evocative images of police brutality. Black Agenda Report, the popular left-wing website, has criticized Beyoncé for years, calling the Clinton supporter “an iconic symbol of corporate feminism”. It ran a post-Super Bowl piece by the writer Ajamu Baraka, who called Beyoncé’s performance “conservative and accommodationist” and compared the sporting of “pseudo-Panther gear” to the real possibility of death, exile, and incarceration that black revolutionaries face.

Roger Waters defends mural at York U

Roger Waters, the English rock star and pro-Palestinian activist, published an open letter last month criticizing Toronto film industry executive Paul Bronfman. The businessman withdrew his support to York University’s cinema & media arts program because of a mural at the York University Graduate Students Association (YUGSA) that depicts a Palestinian holding a rock behind his back as he gazes at a bulldozer that’s about to destroy an olive tree. Bronfman characterizes “Palestinian Roots”, the mural by artist Ahmad Al Abid, as “anti-Israel”. Waters, co-founder of the band Pink Floyd, told Bronfman that he’s wrong to try to force the removal of the mural, and applauded students and faculty at the university for standing up to his “bullying tactics”. The Palestinian man depicted in the mural, wrote Waters, has the right under the Geneva Conventions to resist the occupation of his homeland. In an act of supreme hyperbole, Avi Benolo, director of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Toronto, called this depiction of a Palestinian holding a rock “a call to murder”. Gayle McFadden, YUGSA chair, says that the mural, which was installed several years ago, will not be removed. The university administration says the matter doesn’t fall under its jurisdiction.

Dialogue on racism in T.O. music scene

The Toronto entertainment weekly Now launched its Black History Month coverage on January 28th with a cover story on racism in the city’s music scene (“Real Talk About Racism in the Toronto Music Scene”). The authors, Carla Gillis, Michelle da Silva, Tabassum Siddiqui and Vish Khanna, compiled a compelling collection of statements by eleven musicians and venue operators who’ve been marginalized within the predominantly white Toronto (and Canadian) music industry. Last November, the non-profit Music Gallery hosted a panel discussion: “Music: Racism, Power & Privilege 101”. Many who attended, including the authors of the Now article, challenged the organizers for the lack of a Q&A period and failure to include panelists from the reggae, soca, and hip-hop scenes. They initiated a conversation with several of the panel’s organizers, one that led to the Now sound-off and, hopefully, an ongoing sharing of stories via the hashtag #racisminmusic and the e-mail address Check out the story at

Bruce Cockburn’s “Moral Imperatives”

Mark Dunn, in a recent Canadian Dimension (Winter 2016) profile of Bruce Cockburn (“The Moral Imperatives of a Modern Troubadour”) lets the artist off the hook when Cockburn characterizes the extremists of ISIS as “human shit” and muses aloud about “exterminating them”, while never once acknowledging that the imperial adventures of the United States and its allies create the very conditions which breed religious extremism and terrorism. Nor does Dunn question Cockburn when the singer mentions Afghanistan. For the record, Cockburn not only played for the Canadian troops in Kandahar in 2009, but he accepted the symbolic presentation of a rocket launcher from the Canadian base commander. When the USA and NATO, after the fall of the USSR,  evoked the “responsibility to protect” doctrine as an excuse for overthrowing regimes that stand in their way, many activists with strong “moral imperatives” fell for it. Sure, let’s defend ourselves from extremist violence, but let’s also acknowledge that silence about the war makers on “our side” who nurture it is a form of complicity. I expect Canadian Dimension, as a socialist magazine, to ask tough questions when talking to celebrities about their views on foreign policy. (letter sent to Canadian Dimension February 13th)

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