Argentinian political musician Mercedes Sosa died today in Buenos Aires. She was 74.

more to come



I have been waiting for Canada’s favorite poet/singer and my own second cousin, Leonard Cohen, to use his recent (and gargantuan) resurgence in fame for the political good. Last night, in front of an audience of 50,000 people in Tel Aviv, his Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace served as a symbol of peace: its goal to raise money for people and families who have been severely affected by the Palestine/Israel conflict. Tickets for the concert sold out in less than a day.

The concert was protested by a Palestinian group bent on boycotting the academic and cultural betterment of Israel (supposedly copycatting the International boycott in South Africa on the apartheid regime). Cohen in turn offered to perform instead in the West Bank. This suggestion was turned down. A local pro-Palestinian group in Montreal also protested the concert by handing out pamphlets in front of Bagels Etc, a restaurant known to be one of Cohen’s favorites

Cohen has created his own charity group, run by a board of Palestinians and Israelis, in order to distribute the funds to community groups.

Cohen’s past does not contain much in the way of political activism, notwithstanding social commentary in his lyrics, notably on his 1988 album, I’m Your Man and 1992’s The Future. Religion and war have also been constant themes in Cohen’s music. His song Lover Lover Lover (1974) was written after spending time in Israel and coming face to face with both Israeli and Arab soldiers.

Cohen was born in Montreal in 1934. He was raised in the Jewish faith but became interested in Buddhism in the 1990s. He was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1996 at the Mount Baldy Zen Center in California where he lived in seclusion for five years. His recent tour, which began in 2008, is his first in the past 15 years. He has not performed in Israel since the 1970s.

The Tao of Tao


09_CTC_Tao Seeger2

After meeting Tao Rodriguez-Seeger with his grandfather Pete in June, I thought it would be interesting to get inside the head of the offspring of such an influential musician. Below is the introduction to an interview I did with him in July which has since been published by the guys at

Musician Tao Rodriguez Seeger is the eldest grandchild of Pete and Toshi (née Toshi-Aline Ohta) Seeger, and the son of Mika Seeger and Puerto Rican filmmaker Emilio Rodriguez. Rodriguez-Seeger sings in English and Spanish, composes, and plays guitar, banjo, and harmonica. He began performing in his teens with grandfather Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, and later formed a band, RIG, with Guthrie’s daughter (Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter) Sarah Lee. Between 2001 and 2007, he released six albums with his contemporary folk band The Mammals. Since then he has collaborated with Puerto Rican musicians Roy Brown and Tito Auger and released an alt-folk EP with his new solo project: the Tao Rodriguez-Seeger Band. The past year has seen him touring with Pete Seeger and blues artist Guy Davis, raising money for various farming organizations, and also performing for President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. Tao got his name from his grandmother’s initials, T.A.O.

Read the whole interview here.

Photo by Taylor Crothers


An unusual combination of things, thirty-one year old Etan Thomas is both an NBA basketball star and a peace activist/poet. We are including him on the site because despite not being a musician but he is definitely a part of pop culture.

Since 2005 Thomas has spoken twice at anti-war rallies in Washington, supported Obama’s campaign by participating in the Democratic National Committee’s “Register for Change” bus tour, and has released a book of poetry entitled “More Than an Athlete: Poems by Etan Thomas”. He has also recently set up a project called Voices of the Future, encouraging young writers to contribute their ideas and aspirations for the future to a book of the same name.

Thomas blogs regularly on the Huffington Post web site. You can watch him on youtube speaking out against war. Scroll down at this page to hear an interview with him on CBC radio’s Inside Track.


I had the pleasure of meeting Pete Seeger at a Strawberry Festival in New York state a few weeks ago while working as researcher and production assistant on a documentary about the late Cuban poet Jose Marti.

Marti wrote a lot of the lyrics that ended up in the version of a song Pete Seeger recorded called Guantanamera. Filmmaker Margaux Ouimet and I went down and visited Seeger in his hometown of Beacon, New York to talk to him and his grandson, Tao about Jose Marti and Guantanamera.

The interview will be featured in Ouimet’s film, «L’Humanisme des Martiens» which will be released, out of Montreal, in the near future.


Canadian political music icon Bruce Cockburn is releasing his first live solo album after a 39 year career that has seen him produce 34 albums of music, travel in Africa, Latin America and Asia with groups such as OXFAM and Amnesty International, and win a huge amount of national and global awards for his music and activism.

The double album, Slice O’ Life, released on Rounder Records, features 24 tracks recorded during his Spring 2008 tour of mainly the American Northeast, including one new song, City Is Hungry.  The personal and playful anecdotes as well as his interactions with the audience between songs give us some perspective on Cockburn as a person. Some highlights are the guitar performance on the opening track World Of Wonders and the audience participation on Wondering Where The Lions Are.  Also included on the album are hits such as If I Had A Rocket Launcher and If A Tree Falls as well as lesser known material.

There’s a hint of strain in the 63 year old’s voice but in general the performance is overwhelmingly strong.  He plays and sings with a lot of passion and conviction. Without any backing instruments, we get to see just how much sound he’s able to produce on his own: his guitar playing is at once solo, chordal, bass and percussion.  The effect is remarkable and it feels somehow as if this is the way his songs are meant to be heard.

Slice O’ Life is officially out on March 31st.  He’s touring this year as well, check out the following extremely complete fan sites for information:

Tracy Chapman’s new album, her first in 3 years, opens with an incredibly catchy song called Sing For You.  Lyrically it lacks a bit of substance. Even so I couldn’t help but listen to this song four times before moving on to the next song on the album.  Here she is playing it on Jay Leno.


The album, tinged with elements of country, folk, pop, and jazz, has been criticized for being too mellow and for being under produced.  And while I feel that mellow and under produced have their place, and while I generally appreciate Chapman’s music and political statements, I do feel that an album touted as having political content should make more of a splash. These days I often find myself thinking about what it is exactly that makes a successful political song.  Is it enough for it to just confirm peoples’ already existing beliefs or should it actually be able to to change peoples’ minds? Our Bright Future speaks very softly.  Too bad.  I guess I’m still waiting for someone to come around with a big stick and make some kind of a difference.

For more info about Tracy Chapman, go here

Other than the Dixie band that accompanies them, the largely volunteer-run Bread and Puppet Theater is not really about the music – but we’re giving them a mention here on the site because of their talent at expressing political ideas through art. In this case the art involves not music, but puppet-making and theater performance.


We went to visit Bread and Puppet at their farm in Glover, Vermont recently and were inspired and awe-struck by their creativity and their dedication to educating people about human rights issues, social issues, environmental issues, and war, through grassroots techniques and by celebrating the idea of living simply. Bread and Puppet was started in the 60s by German immigrant, Peter Schumann, whose background was in dance, sculpture and music. Schumann continues to perform as part of the group, and is known to be an especially accomplished stilt walker.

For more information about this amazing group, visit their site and or check out this special report (complete with pictures) on the CBC program Ideas.


sheryl crow

Sheryl Crow’s new album is a clever tour de force that deals with issues like the environment, gasoline/oil, war, diamonds, peace and love. The opening song, God Bless This Mess, is performed solo and paints Crow initially as an innocent, young, folky singer-songwriter. But don’t be fooled, the album quickly shows it’s true colors as a slick and complex construction – both musically and in message.

The songs are expertly produced by Bill Bottrell (producer of Crow’s first album, Tuesday Night Music Club), with multi-layers, recording techniques, and sounds that refer (at least to these ears) to Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (Love is Free), Rolling Stones (Gasoline), John Lennon (Out Of Our Heads), Beatles (Drunk With The Thought of You) and R&B music. The songs are mostly uptempo, dance-able, very catchy (Shine Over Babylon, Love Is Free, Peace Be Upon Us, Gasoline), and manage to get serious messages across without compromising musicality (or the messages themselves for that matter).

Vocally, Crow is at the top of her game, showing off a variety of qualities, at times sounding like her contemporaries Madonna, Alanis, and Gwen Stefani. Peace Be Upon Us, in which she duets with the wonderful Arab singer Ahmed Al Hirmi, is quite a beautiful piece, and is actually slightly reminiscent of Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger.

Crow also works with global warming environmentalist Laurie David. She’s also teamed up with “Rock The Vote” for a special promotion.

Visit the Sheryl Crow web site for more info.

On June 18th (2008), we interviewed members of the audience as they came out of a Billy Bragg show at the Club Soda theatre in downtown Montreal. We got 55 respondents within about 15 minutes. In general the people were very open to talking to us about politics and music and we believe that we collected some interesting data. Here are the initial results:


55 respondents
Nationality: 43 Canadian, 8 American, 2 Australian, 1 Italian
Sex: 29 Male, 26 Female
Age: 1 teen, 22 20-somethings, 16 30-somethings, 11 40-somethings, 3 50-somethings, 1 60-something

The responses:

When responding to the question of how political they (and others) consider themselves to be, 19 respondents answered: Politically Aware, 18 answered: Politically Aware and Active, 16 answered: Somewhat Politically Aware, 1 answered: Not Very Politically Aware and 1 answered: Completely Apolitical. Based on these results, only 2 people out of the entire group considered themselves to be either not very politically aware or completely apolitical. Those who considered themselves politically aware and both politically aware and active made up the two largest groups and a slightly smaller group considered themselves to be only somewhat politically aware.

A large group (25) responded that they attended the Billy Bragg show for both his political ideas and his music, a slightly smaller group (23) responded that they came for the music but also like the fact that he’s an activist, 2 came only for the music, nobody responded that they came for his political ideas only, and 4 responded that they came for reasons other than those offered.

When asked whether they had learned anything at the show related to politics or political ideas, a large group (27) responded “No”. A slightly smaller group (23) responded “Yes” and a small group of 4 responded “Maybe”. Based on the dialogue during the answering of this question, at least part of the “No” group responded that way because they were already quite knowledgeable about the politics that Bragg talks about.

A majority of respondents (38 – no) did not believe that the night’s performance had influenced their opinion about any political issues. Two smaller groups of 9 each responded “Yes” and “Maybe” respectively. At least two people who had responded “No” mentioned that the show had only confirmed their already existing opinions.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (47) answered that in their opinion, music has more impact when heard live than when it is heard on a recording. Smaller groups of 4 each responded “No” and “Maybe” respectively.

When asked if they had been inspired at the show that night to get involved in political activity of any kind (ie: join an organized political group, send a letter to the gov’t, start a blog, talk to friends and family), the “Yes” (21) and Maybe” (22) responses were pretty near even. 12 people responded “No”. Out of the “No” group, at least one person explained that they were already inspired before attending the show.

When probed about whether they thought they would actually get involved, the largest group (21) responded with a conservative “Maybe”, while 15 said “Yes”, and 14 said “No”. Out of the “No” group, at least four respondents said that they had already begun to get involved prior to the show.

Thanks to Solon M. and Sophie H. for helping with the data collection.

© 2008 Alison Notkin

November 2022