Josh Martinez with AWOL ONE, SLEEP and Kunga 219 at the Hooch (817 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, March 27). $tba. 416-703-5069. Very limited capacity.
Since much of the onstage political commentary in Austin during SXSW amounted to little more than the Polyphonic Spree's simple gesture of dedicating one of their celebratory hymns "to the Dixie Chicks," it came as quite a shock when dynamic Vancouver hiphop MC Josh Martinez used his truncated set to blast U.S. foreign policy.
Even through the horrible sound system at Zero Degrees, the tipsy crowd of early-morning revellers were stopped stiff in mid-head-nod when Martinez tore into a caustic Gil Scott-Heron-style "no blood for oil" rant, God Bless America, with the opening throwdown:
"God bless America? What the hell does that mean? Why would we suggest that God bless a corporate war machine?"
There's nothing ambiguous about Martinez's stance on the Iraq conflict.
"I wrote the song God Bless America just before I left for this tour," says Martinez before a show in Philadelphia. He's here at Gypsy Co-op tonight (March 27). "Every place I've performed it here in the U.S. it's gotten huge applause. The lines 'There's a lot of racists coming out the the closet, George Bush stole the election when in fact he lost it' seem to resonate with the crowds, likely because the majority of people in American didn't vote for George W. Bush. And that's why there's such a problem with what he's doing -- he doesn't have a mandate from the majority."
Of course, there have been a number of people at recent shows who don't side with Martinez's anti-Bush stance. Even at Zero Degrees in Austin there were some pro-American shouts of dissent when Martinez started pointing his finger and naming names.
"Sure, there have been a few people -- who may have family in the armed forces -- who disagree with what I'm saying in that song, but it's my opinion. I've got a degree in history, and I know there's more to the story than what's shown on the nightly news.
"If you can stand up and make a statement that offers a contrary view to the official line, it's important to do it."
As soon as Martinez gets back to Vancouver, he plans to record a version of God Bless America that will first appear on his Web site (www.joshmartinez.ca), followed perhaps by a 12-inch single.
"I've been frustrated with the slow turnaround time in releasing my music in the conventional ways. It took two years after recording my first songs for the 12-inch to come out. Making the song available on my Web site will allow people to hear it right away.
"With world events unfolding as they are, a topical song like this may be irrelevant if there's a quick resolution... but then again, judging by the news reports, it looks like the shit's just getting worse."