Men starving during strikes and lock outs, women weeping for babies who’ve died, and miners and their families manning picket lines to win a living wage: these are just a few of the stories told in a new CD being released by Cape Breton University’s Centre for Cape Breton Studies. The CD, entitled Cape Breton Island Protest Songs has been a year in the making.
The protest song project began when Cape Breton University professor and Canada Research Chair, Dr. Richard MacKinnon unearthed dozens of protest songs written largely during the 1920’s. Unfortunately, the music to these songs was long lost. With the help of local musician Victor Tomiczek, local artists were asked if they would help bring these songs and the stories they tell, back to life. They enthusiastically jumped on board, writing and arranging the music and then recording the resulting creations. Many now play these songs in their performances and plan to include them on their own CD’s. An accompanying web site www.protestsongs.ca provides much historical context for the songs.
The artists are diverse. They include everyone from former coal miner and Men of the Deeps singer, Nipper Macleod, to members of the Tom Fun Orchestra, Slowcoaster, LadySlippers, Crowdis Bridge, singer/songwriters Carolyn Lionais, Breagh MacKinnon and Vic Tomiczek, fiddler Colin Grant, CBU professors Chris MacDonald, Richard MacKinnon and Garry Leech, storyteller and playwright, Ken Chisholm and others. The results are eclectic and exciting.
Even though the songs were composed more than 90 years ago, they express many contemporary concerns. One of the songs, The Shutdown, for example, talks about the effects of shutdowns on working people and their communities. Two Nova Scotia communities are currently struggling with this issue in 2011. The only contemporary song found on the CD is Picket Line written by Tomiczek about his experience growing up as the son of a strong Cape Breton trade union leader.
Support for the project came from Canadian Labour Congress, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, Atlantic Canada CAW, Canadian Staff Union, Halifax/Dartmouth District Labour Council, Cape Breton District Labour Council, Canada Research Chair program, Sydney and District General Workers’ Union Local 1509, CLC, Canada Foundation for Innovation and Cape Breton University.
The Centre is launching, Cape Breton Island Protest Songs on Wednesday, November 23, 4-6 p.m. at the Lyceum, Centre for Cape Breton Heritage and Science, George Street, Sydney. The launch will be broadcast live on CBC Sydney’s Mainstreet program hosted by Wendy Bergfeldt. Community members are invited to come and hear some of these tunes and celebrate the launch of this new CD. The CDs are available for sale at $15 at the launch and can also be purchased at the Cape Breton Curiosity Shop, Charlotte Street, Sydney.
See also on University Affairs: Cape Breton University puts out CD of protest songs