by Zoe Sarvis, staff writer
photos by Kaitlyn Waters
Bluegrass singer/songwriter Si Kahn performed in Sage Café last Wednesday evening. He has an extensive history as a civil rights and labor community organizer, and today is touring with the Looping Brothers, a famous bluegrass band in Germany.
The Echo: How do you guys meet up together to rehearse?
Kahn: “We don’t, we all have day jobs and the looping brothers live in Germany. None of us are working musicians. We are professionals, but this is just a hobby for us. I will do more concerts this year than any year in my life.”
The Echo: Why this year?
Kahn: “Well because of these guys! Our CD was released in Germany in early May, then we did a two week tour in the Netherlands, and now we are touring through the Carolinas and Georgia.”
The Echo: Are you fluent in German as well?
Kahn: “I speak no German, none whatsoever. Luckily these guys are fluent in English.”
The Echo: What is the grassroots leadership?
Kahn: “Well I am retired from it. It was a Charlotte-based organization that the civil rights union committee organized throughout the south that was founded in 1980, and it is still going strong. The issue right now is abolishing for profit jails and retention centers. My whole life, my living was a human civil rights and community activist. Someone once said to me ‘Think of if you were just a full time musician, think of how many more songs you could have written,’ and I said what would they have been about? These songs on the CD are about things I saw, things I heard, things I did while doing political work and I think that’s important.”
The Echo: What’s the best way to describe you as a characterized us songwriter?
Kahn: “People will tell me I am a very political songwriter and I say thank you. I don’t leave out stuff like strikes and sexual harassment, but I won’t do that because I think that’s sad. People should write about what life really is for people. . .I think that’s its important not to hit people over the head when writing about political things. Democracy is not telling people what to think, it’s about telling them that they have to think. The minute that you start insisting that someone agree with you, that authoritarian, that’s the systems we’ve had to resist. Fascism, communism, all of them. You cannot get a democracy and insist that people agree with you, which are contradicting to what it is.”
The Echo: What sparked your passion for civil rights work 45 years ago?
Kahn: “I was a teenager when it was all coming down. I was born in 1944, so when the civil movement started I was 17, and it was the cool thing. It was amazing. It was a period of suppression of civil rights, and racism. Public life was really restricted, and then you turn on the television one day and there are thousands of people marching. And they were young! We actually used to make fun of Dr. King for being too conservative. Being 17, I thought ‘This is great!’ It was on television, and it was great, before we had major social movements, we had to go to the movie theatre to watch the movements, but then we had these TVs and people would gather outside of stores to watch the TV. I think we all knew it was a real shift in our country’s destiny.”