Lorraine Segato
Lorraine Segato

Lorraine Segato Rallies For The Homeless In New CD Project

Following the Hot Docs debut of Shelley Saywell's 2015 TVO documentary Lowdown Tracks - a film about resilient, talented and homeless street musicians - Toronto-based singer, artist and activist Lorraine Segato has assembled a CD soundtrack called Songs From The Lowdown chronicling the occasion.

The collection is being released in time to mark National Housing Month, with the CD being used to raise awareness for the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) and the 20,000 Homes campaign.

All proceeds will go directly to the musicians featured on the project. Songs From The Lowdown can be purchased here ($16.63 incl. tax + shipping). Individual tracks are also available for download. 

Segato, who also narrated the doc, says the CD and the film are offshoots of an earlier project.

"I had done a concert called House Party with homeless talent maybe about eight years ago, and the filmmaker had seen that concert - and in that concert I actually had Parachute Club backing up some of the musical talent I had found over a period of six to eight months," Segato told FYIMusicNews. "The idea was really to reframe the way people see homeless people. This film, and this CD, is another trajectory of that."

Segato invited six street musicians into the studio to collaborate and record one of their own songs.

"One of the ways of reframing the way people see the homeless is by showing their stories and the talent that they possess, which is showing that talent itself is natural and given across the board, despite your class and your background," Segato explains. "It just takes different forms. So in this case, the music that the homeless are writing and performing is being used to keep themselves sane, and music that's healing. I found the music to be really anthropological in a way - to me, it's the story of what's going on in society."

"So our film follows the lives of several people who are buskers on the street, who play to make little bits of money so that they can survive. Their stories are very dramatic and very traumatic, and we weaved music and them playing on the street, so we have location sound recording in all manner of outside environments."

She admits it was a bit of a challenge, especially considering the sceptical nature of her subjects.

"All their instruments always get stolen, so the one thing that they're afraid of is that their music will be stolen," says Segato. "It may be an unnatural fear, but when you live the reality that they live, it's the only thing that separates you from the thin line between sanity and insanity."

Segato said the reason for the CD project coming out later than the film is that there was never an intention to have one. But the never-ending demand from film viewers who request where they can buy the music and how can they support the artists suggested otherwise.

"We really didn't have a budget to do a CD at that point, nor the infrastructure or the record company to release it, but what we did was rely on private donors who wanted to bring awareness to homelessness and support these particular characters," says Segato.

Segato herself considers Songs From The Lowdown an "anthropological" project, much akin to the Alan Lomax on-site blues-in-the-field recordings of the early 20th century.

Our society is moving forward, but these people are stuck in a time warp of poverty and music is the only way to express that," Segato notes.

Although it's been two years since the film first aired, screenings are continuing and Segato says she's doing as much for the film's performers are she can. "We've been taking them to screenings and getting them as much visibility as we can," she explains. "They perform in front of film audiences and we get them honorariums. With each, we've been able to give them over 100 CDs at a street value of $15 that they can sell at whatever price they can get them for, because they're now recognized on the street all the time. The film has screened on TVO a number of times and it's been quite powerful.
Have we been able to change their lives radically? No, because that requires a societal shift." However, in a statement, one of the homeless musicians, Kate Budd, a subway busker who has been living on the streets for 17 years, affirms that she is thrilled that the documentary and CD project offers insight. 
"The chance to have one of my songs, 'My Soul', recorded makes my heart swell because I can finally let people know the mindset of a teenager who hits the streets and finds it very hard," says Budd. "The song talks about deadly encounters and impossibility but also the feelings of closeness and inclusion you can find on the street and never wanting to go back to where it was you came from."
There is somewhat of a happy ending: Segato says they've been able to help three of the six artists find affordable living, with two of them now off the street. But as much as there is progress, there are also some silly bylaw restrictions that continue to impede rather than relieve.
Segato mentions the plight of Bruce Bathgate, a street musician with health issues who can't find housing because of a bylaw that states if you have a busker's license, you are ineligible for low affordable housing, only temporary shelter. "There's a whole bunch of complicated bylaws and bureaucracies that stand there and make it very difficult for these people to change their lives on a bigger scale," says Segato.

In a report called The State of Homelessness in Canada, the CAEH says Canada's population over the last 25 years has increased by close to 30%, but the annual federal investment in housing has dropped by more than 46%. They also revealed that homelessness costs Canadians over $7B yearly, but an investment of $1 per week would prevent and end this malady in Canada.  There are 1.5M low-income Canadian households living in substandard housing and more than 235,000 Canadian will experience homelessness in 2016.

November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.



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