Cape Breton’s thriving cultural economy continues to get a lift as researchers use today’s technology to give new life to yesterday’s songs.
Using a leading-edge digitization lab funded in part by the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust, Cape Breton University professors have recently been working with local musicians to breathe life into a collection of previously unknown protest songs written in the 1920’s.
“It was a time of particular hardship and labour strife on the island,” says Dr. Richard MacKinnon, the leader of the initiative. “It was only the lyrics that were discovered, so we had to recruit local musicians to provide the music.”
Local performers clambered to get on board and the result was the 2012 CD, Cape Breton Protest Songs, that continues to sell well on ITunes. A website (protestsongs.ca) has been added to provide photographs and historical context to the material.
“The most amazing part is that young talented Cape Breton musicians like Ian MacDougall of the Tom Fun Orchestra and Mike Lelievre of Slowcoaster have incorporated these songs into their repertoires as they tour the country. They are using the past to build their future.”
During a recent Celtic Colours celebration, a sold out concert was dedicated to the Protest Songs project. Celtic Colors generates an estimated $15 million in economic impact annually.
Dr. MacKinnon said the digitization lab has made dozens of projects like the Protest Songs effort possible. It has also attracted visiting scholars, post-doctoral fellows, Fulbright scholars, and graduate students to the institution.