Music Notes: September 1 – 15, 2016

Fidel’s 90th: a musical extravaganza

Last June, the Cuban Institute of Music announced that on August 13th, “a great cantata and concert” would launch a nation-wide day of festivities to celebrate Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday. When the anniversary arrived, more than 100 children’s choirs and concert bands performed a tribute to Fidel simultaneously across the country. In Havana, floats carrying salsa bands and costumed dancers stretched for miles along the Avenida de Maceo – the grand esplanade and seawall otherwise known as the Malecón. At a cultural gala in the city’s Karl Marx Theatre, a beaming guest of honour was welcomed with a standing ovation and cries of “Fidel, Fidel” by a capacity crowd of 5,000. Seated between President Raul Castro and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Fidel enjoyed performances by Cuba’s renowned children’s musical theatre company “La Colmenita” (“Little Beehive”) and 85-year-old Buena Vista Social Club singer, Omara Portuondo. At the stroke of midnight, a band played “Happy Birthday” in the plaza outside the U.S. Embassy, while fireworks exploded over the bay. The anniversary was marked by a notable online publishing event: the launch of “Fidel: Soldier of Ideas”. Visit this important new multilingual website at

Prophets of Rage perform outside prison

Newly formed rock-rap supergroup Prophets of Rage performed outside California’s Norco Prison on August 10th after being told at the last minute by prison authorities that their concert inside the prison, booked months ago, had been cancelled. Undeterred, the band played a set outside the penitentiary walls. “We made a promise to the inmates inside that we would play,” said guitarist Tom Morello. “We wanted to keep that promise.” The stage faced a tall chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, with a guard tower standing above. The band performed their songs at full force, and as they played, excited voices could be heard from the other side of the fence, shouting “Rage Against the Machine!” and “Fight the system!” Prophets of Rage is comprised of prominent progressive rock and rap artists, including Chuck D and DJ Lord from Public Enemy, Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine, and B-Real of Cypress Hill. The group’s name, is a reference to a 1988 Public Enemy song. The prison concert was to have been hosted by Jail Guitar Doors, a charity co-founded by former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer that donates musical instruments to prison inmates. For info visit

Ensamble Transatlántico de Folk Chileno

Scrolling through Facebook recently, I discovered a video showing an orchestra of joyous young musicians playing a lively cumbia while strolling through a neighbourhood in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. It was the Ensamble Transatlántico de Folk Chileno. Its 28 members sang and played guitars, accordions, trumpets, saxophones, flutes, cellos, string basses, drums, and traditional percussion instruments. The Ensamble was founded in Valparaíso in 2012 by Ernesto Calderón and Gianela Machuca. Since then, it has performed throughout Western Europe, as well as in India. Unfortunately, it’s virtually unknown here in North America. Its original repertoire draws primarily upon Chilean styles, including cueca, huayno, Mapuche song, and Afro-Chilean rhythms. Because the musicians avoid using sheet music in concerts, most players can move about, which enhances interaction with the audience. The Ensamble currently has about 60 active members in Chile. Its goal is to form other such groups in Chile and beyond. Although they don’t yet have an album, their music and videos can easily be found on Facebook, Soundcloud, and YouTube. Maria-Magdalena Diaz Arce, a comrade with Toronto’s Latin America and Caribbean Solidarity Network, calls the Ensamble Transatlántico de Folk Chileno “a Chilean pride – a very talented young group of musicians who are working with cultural heritage as a community and peoples’ right”.

“Culture Matters”

Last December, the Communist Party of Britain launched an new website called “Culture Matters”. The CPB provided the web-space, and editorial and technical support, as part of its commitment to a ‘broad left’ cultural struggle for socialism. Since its inception, Culture Matters has become a meeting place for writers, artists, academics, and activists interested in the arts, culture, and politics. In less than a year, it has has attracted a diversity of contributors and built an extensive archive. It regularly posts music, video, poetry, short stories, visual art, essays, and reviews. There are also articles on cultural theory, film, theatre, sports, religion, and science. Contributors include fiction writers, poets, visual artists, musicians, trade unionists, and academics. In welcoming readers to the site last December, editors Mike Quille and Ben Stevenson wrote: “Culture Matters is currently like a first edition, or a skeleton, or a thinly-populated country, which we have provisionally mapped out but not defined. In the months and hopefully years ahead, we want contributors to populate the country, help put flesh on the skeleton, and clothes on the flesh”. Check it out at

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