Music Notes: May 2017

Bill & Joel Plaskett: ‘Solidarity’

Joel Plaskett, the popular singer-songwriter and guitarist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, has built a substantial Canada-wide following over the past 20 years. This year he’s sharing the spotlight with his father, the guitarist and singer-songwriter Bill Plaskett, co-founder of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival. The two have released “Solidarity”, a collaborative album, and are currently in the midst of a cross-country tour. For fans of Joel Plaskett, “Solidarity” offers a new perspective. Maybe it’s Bill’s working-class East London roots, or maybe it’s the times we’re living in, but there’s a greater emphasis on engagement with collective struggles, past and present, than in previous Joel Plaskett releases. Joel’s anthem “The Next Blue Sky” is a “Farewell to Nova Scotia” for today’s precarious generation. It’s followed by a little-known 1908 Wobbly protest song, “We Have Fed You All For a Thousand Years”, where the contrasting voices of father and son build in successive verses of militant resolve. Joel’s original, “Blank Cheque”, tears into climate-change deniers, while Bill’s interpretation of “Jim Jones”, a traditional song about convicts being transported to Australia expresses the bitterness of the victims of class-based justice. “Solidarity” concludes with “On Down the River”, a lovely ballad by Bill that evokes the lure of the Thames and the East London world that he left long ago.

Brian Williams slanders Leonard Cohen

Celebrity news host Brian Williams demonstrated the cynical opportunism and moral vacuousness of corporate media when, on the April 6 edition of his MSNBC show The 11th Hour, he misrepresented Leonard Cohen to glorify war. Williams was reacting to images of 59 ‘Tomahawk’ missiles launched earlier that evening by the U.S. on a Syrian airbase. The illegal attack was in response to the April 4 chemical weapons incident in the ISIS-controlled town of Idlib, which killed 80 people. Despite the rush to judgment by the U.S. government and its compliant allies, the perpetrators of this war crime are still unknown. “We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” Williams gushed. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons'”. The line comes from Cohen’s 1988 hit “First We take Manhattan”, an ironic song which attempts to occupy the mindset of a terrorist. Brian Williams is paid $10 million per year by MSNBC, which is now owned by Comcast, a media giant notorious for its interlocking relations with government. As the saying goes, “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.

Kiev censured for banning Russian singer

Russia has withdrawn from the 62nd annual Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) after its representative was banned by the host country, Ukraine, for having travelled to Crimea in 2015. Julia Samoylova, a 28-year-old Russian singer, had been selected to represent Russia. Eurovision 2017 will be held in Ukraine May 9-13. Russia withdrew on April 13 after Kiev’s Security Service Bureau invoked a law banning admission to Ukraine of persons who have entered Crimea via Russia. Crimea voted by an overwhelming majority to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia shortly after the U.S.-backed right-wing coup in 2014. Ingrid Deltenre, chief of the European Broadcast Union (EBU), which produces the Eurovision contest, condemned Ukraine’s action. She called it “absolutely unacceptable”, and accused Kiev of “abusing the European Song Competition for political reasons”. Deltenre stated that “no previous country has prevented an artist from performing at the ESC, and the EBU would not like a precedent to be set”. It’s ironic that the theme of this year’s Eurovision is “celebrate diversity”. Samoylova, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, has been wheelchair-bound since childhood.

The return of Joan Baez

Renowned U.S. folksinger Joan Baez received a lot of media attention last month after the video of “Nasty Man”, her new song about Donald Trump, went viral. In the video, Baez, finger-picking nimbly on an acoustic guitar, sings her “little song about a man gone wrong”. The President is a man who “stomps through the famous Rose Garden,” but the roses turn up their noses, and tell him “You owe the earth a pardon”. She goes on to suggest that he “talk to a shrink” for his “serious psychological disorders.” Judging by the comments of trolls , she’s offended a number of other “nasty men”, but this is par for the course for the 76-year-old Baez, who established her reputation as an outspoken human rights and anti-war activist in the sixties. She performed at the March on Washington in 1963, and was jailed for sitting in at a military induction centre in opposition to the Vietnam War. Whether Baez will be in the forefront of today’s anti-war movement remains to be seen. In 2016, she was a supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders, after having endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. Baez is currently touring with the vocal quartet 4 Voices.

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