The music place and the workplace are one and the same for Si Kahn. For 15 years, since leaving Harvard to work in the southern civil rights movement, Kahn has been a full-time political activist and organizer in Appalachia and the Deep South. At the same time, he's absorbed the hopes, aspirations and frustrations of poor, working-class people and told their stories and voiced their dreams in hundreds of songs, three dozen of which appear on Kahn's three outstanding albums, "New Wood," "Home" and "Doing My Job."
On Saturday, Kahn will perform with Cathy Fink at People's Congregational Church in a benefit for Virginia Action and the Clean Water Action Project. Expect many voices to be raised. "People sing when they're unified and working as a group," Kahn says. "Singing contributes to that feeling; it's a tool that helps bring people together." Kahn has witnessed the reemergence of songs of protest in the wake of federal budget cuts affecting the poor, elderly and disadvantaged.
Kahn, who is very much in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, was an organizer in two nationally known union movements: the Brookside Strike (captured in the documentary "Harlan County, U.S.A.") and the J.P. Stevens campaign (fictionalized in "Norma Rae"). He's also the author of two books, "How People Get Power" and the recent "Organizing: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders."
"Folk music at its best has a simplicity and directness that reaches to people and often cuts through other layers to reach people's very direct emotions," says Kahn. "That's also what organizing is about and why the two so often go together.