Don’t let Trumpty Dumpty Get You Down

Community News & Features Mar 10, 2017 at 4:37 pm
CD cover  (Photos provided)

CD cover
(Photos provided)

Spoken word/music album about Migrants, Refugees and Resistance launched in Montreal

By Joyce Valbuena

“That orange guy can’t fire them all,” said Montreal’s prolific veteran rebel wordsmith/violinist, Norman Nawrocki who launched his 29th CD of spoken word plus music to a packed house, Feb 10th at the Casa del Popolo in Montreal.

DISPLACED/MISPLACED features 18 powerful tracks of spoken word and music telling stories about refugees, migrants, immigrants, temporary foreign workers and the homeless – those uprooted because of war, poverty, violence, climate chaos, racism and persecution. Filipinos are featured on five tracks. Nawrocki’s trademark growl/ speak/sing song voice rails against the growing intolerance and injustices uprooted people face worldwide. Instead of the kneejerk bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment clouding the horizon, he offers a vision of compassion, human solidarity and open borders.

“The writing of the lyrics and recording of music started last Fall during the US election campaign. I had no idea the contents would be so timely. This CD calls for solidarity and resistance against hatred and violence,” Nawrocki said in an interview.

Norman Nawrocki performing live at Casa del  Popolo in Montreal during the launch of this album

Norman Nawrocki performing live at Casa del
Popolo in Montreal during the launch of this album

Nawrocki collaborated with a dozen Montreal musicians on this album including two Filipinos. The music ranges from post-rock, wild jazz, ambient, experimental soundscapes, to country and western beats, as well as authentic, indigenous Philippine flute and gongs.  Capsule interviews of local refugees, migrant and immigrant workers – including Montreal Filipino activists – complement the tracks.

Evelyn Calugay of the Filipino women’s organization, PINAY, shares how difficult it was for her to realize on the plane that she was leaving her small children behind in the Philippines in the 1960s to work in Canada. She also speaks of her work in organizing Filipino caregivers to fight for their rights and resist exploitation by abusive employers.

Meanwhile, veteran Montreal Filipino activist, Joey Calugay, speaks on behalf of the Immigrant Workers Centre about how people can contribute to their organizing and advocacy work to help migrant workers fight for their rights to prevent them from being exploited. Each of their interviews is accompanied by music. Jayson Palolan of Anakbayan-Montreal, for example, plays on Evelyn’s interview.

I am humbled to be part of this CD project where I speak about why Filipinos emigrate due to economic reasons and inadequate government support for basic services such as health care, housing and education. Many Filipinos choose to work abroad because there is not enough work and income for us in the Philippines to support the whole family. On DISPLACED/MISPLACED you will hear more stories set to music about the struggles, survival and perseverance of migrants like me.

Members of Anakbayan-Montreal and Filipino Indigenous People in Quebec (FIPOQ) played flute and gong during the CD launch

Members of Anakbayan-Montreal and Filipino Indigenous People in Quebec (FIPOQ) played flute and gong during the CD launch

The issue of migration is something also personal to Nawrocki whose family roots are Polish and Ukrainian. Growing up in an immigrant community in East Vancouver, he was discouraged from revealing his eastern European background for fear of prejudice. His grandparents were poor peasants from Ukraine who came to Canada in the early 1900’s to look for a better life; his Polish father came later for work.

“When my grandparents arrived in Canada, they were allowed to clear and farm prairie land in Manitoba,” Nawrocki said during an interview, as he spoke about his family history and his love for pierogis and borscht (dumplings and beet soup). “But they faced a lot of discrimination from the English.”

In these times where xenophobia is heightened, migrants like me can not help but become emotional when I listen to DISPLACED/MISPLACED. The steady, sometimes soaring, sometimes laid back and relaxed pulse of drums, guitar and violin add to the heartbeat of the touching and truthful lyrics, poetry and stories. Nawrocki describes the fears of deportees and refugees, the longings of the homeless, and the wishes of those who still dream to be able to return safely to their home countries or those who are hoping to find a sanctuary to have a safe place to live.

DISPLACED/MISPLACED is a timely and important musical testimony about what is happening in the world now. It’s also an appeal for solidarity and organizing to support those being marginalized and persecuted. The first piece, “All refugees are welcome,” with Aidan Girt’s pounding drums, Nawrocki’s driving cello and the heartfelt chorus to ‘Open the borders to all refugees, migrants and deportees’ is a powerful soundtrack for today that needs to be heard.

Another track, “This woman had a home,” describes how many refugees have lost their homes and loved ones because of those in power “living overseas in comfort and peace.” It’s also a fantasy about payback. The track, “What to bring?,” portrays the frightful emotions of a mother packing only a few essentials and family mementos during a pogrom, just before she and her children escape the enraged mob burning down houses outside. “Galvanized, too,” talks about resisting evictions.

“We’re pickers and packers,” a country and western, tongue in cheek piece describes the exploitation of seasonal or temporary foreign farm workers, mostly from Latin America and Asia, hired to work on hog or chicken farms, or in the fruit, vegetable and grain fields of Canada and the United States. They work under precarious conditions, but at the end of their two-year contract, are not allowed to stay in the country. Many face deportations.

DISPLACED/MISPLACED is also based on Nawrocki’s long-time experience working with immigrants and activists of diverse origins. Whether he plays his violin with an upbeat or dramatic tone, Nawrocki’s spoken word poetry has always captured the heart and soul of each story of the marginalised people he writes about.

Nawrocki has had multiple music projects since 1986 including his ‘rebel news orchestra’ band Rhythm Activism that released 15 albums. He is also an internationally-acclaimed cabaret artist, actor and author of 14 books of poetry, short stories and an anti-fascist/Roma refugee novel, entitled Cazzarola! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy (PM Press, 2013). Nawrocki also teaches at the University of Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs in Montreal.

DISPLACED/MISPLACED is a benefit CD for two organizations close to Nawrocki’s heart – Montreal’s Solidarity Across Borders and The Immigrant Workers Centre who have hard copies for sale. The CD was made possible with support from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Listen to or download the album: normannawrocki.bandcamp.com/alb…/displaced-misplaced
Watch the video clip for “All Refugees are Welcome”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=OftqA-HMTcc

For more information: www.facebook.com/DisplacedMisplacedCD/