The Musician as Protestor

Volume CV, No. 11November, 2005

Marc Ribot

MusicMobe is a new Web site ( that reaches across borders and amplifies the many voices for peace, democracy, environmental protection and global justice.

I became involved in this project while on tour in Europe during the most recent U.S. invasion of Iraq. Long before then I’d noticed an increasing rift between political opinion in the U.S. and that of the rest of the world. But the depth of European opposition to the war at that time was unlike anything I’d ever seen. (I’ve spent a minimum of two months a year since 1984 touring in Europe on the jazz, new music and rock circuits.)

There were or had recently been demonstrations in virtually every town I played. Audience members, presenters and other musicians with whom I spoke were bereft at what was seen as overwhelming support for the war among Americans. These were not “anti-Americans” but often people with a deep and lifelong love of American music and culture.

As it happened, I and many other musicians did oppose the war. However, our opposition was seriously underreported in the news media. Even the New York Times, by its own admission, underreported opposition events. We felt a need to speak out directly while on tour, to correct the impression of unanimous consent created in the media.

How does MusicMobe work?

Using its interactive Web site, the project connects musicians who are touring internationally with organizations along their route and helps musicians speak out on issues they are concerned about.

The MusicMobe database will allow touring musicians to connect with organizations hosting events like rallies, marches and press conferences.

Artists set up a profile, selecting the kinds of issues they are interested in and activities they would consider and post their tour itineraries.

Organizations can invite artists to participate in various activities such as performing or speaking at one of the organization’s events, speaking at a press conference, or letting the organization have an information table at the artist’s own concert.

Musicians can accept any invitations they like, and the musician’s own contact information stays private. (Musicians and organizations have their own inboxes directly on MusicMobe.) Artists from around the world might eventually use MusicMobe to connect with organizations throughout the U.S.

This connection isn’t just a one way street. Organizations using the MusicMobe database can also be mobilized to support artists’ issues. This long-range goal should be of interest to union members. Distributors and record labels in today’s economy operate in a global economic space and can’t be successfully pressured by unions based in a single local.

Musicians need to develop organizations with a global reach if we’re ever to recover collective strength in the recording industry. When businesses are confronted in the entire space in which they operate, concessions can be won.

This was demonstrated in a miniature way during the recent fight for back royalties and rights to masters from Knitting Factory Records, which, along with the Knitting Factory nightclubs, is owned by KnitMedia. (See the September issue of Allegro.)

KnitMedia management agreed to negotiate only after protests by musicians in New York and outside the Los Angeles branch of the nightclub.

The fact that the protest happened on both sides of the country, that the artists were able to reach as far as the company they were fighting, helped the artists win. The ability to conduct actions such as this on a global level will expand our leverage.

To find out more about MusicMobe or to participate, visit or call (347) 342-5100.