Stories of agricultural workers in songs and podcasts

Pedro Chamale’s new album, Made in Canada: an agricultural song cycle, is now available to download, stream on Spotify or purchase on vinyl. The album is composed of 10 songs written by Chamale and Rice and Beans Theatre co-founder Mishelle Cuttler.

Pedro Chamale’s new album, Made in Canada: an agricultural song cycle. | Photo courtesy of Rice and Beans Theatre

The songs explore issues surrounding Canada’s seasonal temporary foreign workers. There is also an accompanying 10-episode podcast that takes a deep dive on the issues and themes touched on in the songs.

COVID-19 cancels stage play

The original project was meant to be a play produced by Rice and Beans Theatre, with an accompanying cast album to follow. COVID-19 made live shows difficult, so Chamale and Cuttler made the album into a more rounded project.

“We shifted to doing the song cycle. Mishelle composed three more songs, and I wrote three more songs’ lyrics. We figured out the order of the album and went in to record it,” says Chamale.

The lack of a live stage performance might have seemed like a hindrance to some, but Chamale and Cuttler saw only opportunity. They used the addition of a podcast to explore the album’s themes in even more depth.

“We decided to put that in the form of a podcast. So, you can buy the album, or have it on Spotify, and then get all the information about the song we talked about that week,” says Chamale.

The kernel

Chamale first encountered the subject of temporary foreign workers (TFW) while part of a different production. He decided that these workers and their stories needed to be told as a stand-alone project.

Made in Canada: an agricultural podcast accompanies the album. | Photo courtesy of Rice and Beans Theatre

“It was about 10 minutes of the 70-minute show called A Taste of Empire. Hearing that story night after night and learning that the workers were often from Latin American countries, I started doing my own research and found out all about this TFW program,” says Chamale.

The original idea was to take the information and try and write an adaptation of a Greek play the Bacchae, but this quickly changed.

“I soon realized that the stories and the legislation and the news rhetoric around seasonal agricultural workers is way more interesting than trying to make this an adaptation,” says Chamale.

No stage play for now

The album and accompanying podcast will be the only way to experience these stories of seasonal agricultural workers, since Rice and Beans Theatre has no current plans of reviving the play.

Pedro Chamale. | Photo courtesy of Rice and Beans Theatre

“[Rice and Beans] want to move on and look at what is beyond the pandemic and what other art is out there for us to make,” says Chamale.

Although listeners can enjoy the music and accompanying media any way they wish, Chamale does offer his personal preference as a formula for optimal enjoyment.

“I would want to find time to listen to the album in its entirety to get the full flavour, especially if you buy it on vinyl,” says Chamale.

The A side and B side of the vinyl can be experienced as act one and two of the musical performance. For those who will be enjoying the music digitally, a pause after the fifth song will also serve as a break in acts.

“Maybe take a pause and reflect on what you just listened to, and then listen to part two,” says Chamale.

Once the listener has absorbed the entire album once, the podcast is meant enrich the experience with more information and extra details about the songs and the subject matter.

Seeds of action

Regardless of how people choose to experience these songs and accompanying media, Chamale hopes people walk away from the experience a bit more informed about this system of migrant workers and their plight.

“I hope that the knowledge they gain is the seed of action. I am not asking people to change their lives or boycott supermarkets but rather to take that knowledge of knowing that these systems exist in Canada and that there are things they can do to put that knowledge into action,” he says.

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