Article / Review

FAITH NOLAN. from 2014

Faith Nolan  at Camp Naivelt
Faith Nolan  at Camp Naivelt

Welalien Ache, thank you, everyone again for your love and solidarity in getting The Jailhouse Blues released, YAY! we got the album recorded pressed and  distributed to women prisoners  and there allies. In the  Faithnet I want to share with you  news about the two new jail projects I am working at for the next year , a sistering singing group and update you about  camp sis.please feel free to check out the  song below "Countin the Cash" in solidarity with all of us who have been through the psychiatric industrial complex-  by Faith Nolan   This sunny ,rainy summer and I gave thanks everyday for  the sun, earth and sky, Well  Summer is over. you can see my new goodtimes banjo  in the pic. The  album launch  is finished and I am getting the songs out to media, slowly. I did a week of kids and adult choirs at  Camp Naivelt  this summer which was great fun and what a wow  weekend of  concerts with wonderful Naivelt performers where we  celebrating Pete Seeger who  performed at Naivelt and had the annual peace tea..As I approach sixty I  am so happy to have been building decks(3) and a new porch , feeling joy and strength in the piney woods. Now I am back and forth from Toronto to the Piney woods. To start the Fall I will be two new music empowerment programs  at two womens jail in Ontario. Along with songwriting, voicing and learning ukulele , guitar and banjo  we will be trying out some music theatre.Thanks to ETFO and Kathleen Loftus for this ongiong support of the programs. Toyin, Pamela,Dinah,  Pat A, Bo-Yi,Nadan, and Ash and I met as  group  over the spring and have corordinated  six new volunteers women to come into one jail this fall to begin  new writing, yoga, music and support programs for our sisters inside. Some women are  working on  getting transportation together so women and children can visit and arranging for rides for sisters  who are released. One exciting Toronto Community  event we will hold later this  Fall will be   a  coat raising ( bring a coat  to come to the concert , these coats will be  given to women in jail ) I also begin singing workshops  this fall at  Sistering a safe space for women who are marginalizeds, poor, isolated on Thursdays. This summer Camp Sis was lucky enough to have  our 2 spirited elder and caretaker of the land  Doreen Silversmith stay at Camp sis. Doreen hosted the women who visited , camped and  made gardens.  Toyin and family+ friends are  building  a cabin they will stay in. Along with Patricia K. they are helping winterize the main house where Doreen  stays, Patricia K.  is  also making plans to build  a cabin at Camp Sis.Women have been fundraising at Camp Sis to pay the taxes and we  will be  holding a pay the tax event to get Camp Sis taxes together. Next summer 2015  we will once  again hold the Camp Sis Retreat  and Music Festival. need any info please email me at,   peace , joy and justice, faith  

Listen and enjoy the  free song(S) below
Audio file

Women of Labour and The Arts

The 2014 Min Sook Lee Awards

2015 Min Sook Lee Award

Story and Photographs by Haseena Manik
Our Time - March/April 2015

"PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND," SAYS musician, singer/songwriter and community activist Faith Nolan. "They think labour is two old white guys hammering a nail who want more money and to work less. They don’t see that those two old white guys, along with white women and brown and black and yellow women and men, are doing this labour to have the right to a life. People have a disconnect in this sense."

Born in Halifax, Nolan grew up in Regent Park, a social housing project in downtown Toronto. She has toured all over Canada, the United States, and Europe. She has helped form social justice choirs and recorded albums with, among others members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) the Service Employees lnternational Union (SEIU) and the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT).

This past year she was also one of six women recognized for their outstanding contributions to the arts and the labour movement. The ceremony took place on November 29 at the third annual Min Sook Lee Labour Arts Awards gala, hosted by the Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts. I had the pleasure of speaking to all five award winners about their work as artists, and about labour and the arts, in particular.

Packed with the award winners’ friends and families, as well as members of the Toronto labour arts community, the Steelworkers Hall on Cecil Street had a warm and familial atmosphere. Dinner was provided by the East African Community Association and the evening's agenda was punctuated by music...

(check out OurTimes for the full article)

... among existing union members? Ferguson says listening to members’ concerns and maintaining transparency are essential. "In our current structure, workers who have problems or perceived problems with their union structure sometimes end up trying to decertify, or they get persuaded into a raid position. Our current structure has no transparent system that takes the concerns of union members seriously." Even when complaints originate from "puppets for management" or members simply lacking a well- developed understanding of political ideology, they should not be casually dismissed. "Unions can be a giant force for good," she stresses. ''I think it's damaging that dissenters end up at the labour board, or entertaining decertifications, or with ‘rat unions."'

Not every effort meets with long-term success. Ferguson describes one manufacturing facility that organized, but then closed, in 2014. "There are places where we are losing jobs, there's no way to get around it," she says of the changing landscape of Canadian work. Yet some communities possess a cultural climate she associates with understanding the role of unions and how they assist in hard times. The organizing coordinator says she encountered this attitude during her six months in Detroit. She says she met plenty of people who "get it" there. "Not everybody clings to the explanation that 'unions aren't doing enough” to preserve jobs, argues Ferguson.

"My own family's experience was 'lt's too bad that Dad had to go through that alone, without an orga- nization behind him’ when he was laid off, because if that was my mom, she's at a hospital and everyone's in the union, and it would be a whole different scene."

The "scene" could go further if unions reached a wider audience with their message. "I think unions are the only organizations that truly have the power to engage in widespread political education. This is severely lacking," the thoughtful activist points out. "Unions are in a unique position to educate workers and the broader public about the history of this economy. If we trained frontline stewards, staff reps and organizers about the history of our economy and the lessons of social movements, we would have much more ambitious goals, for a world without racism and poverty."

Though many Canadian manufacturing jobs have been moved overseas, to nations with abysmally low standards for wages and workers' rights, Ferguson observes an emerging trend: "There is a small niche market for high—end stuff that's being made in Canada again," such as Canada Goose parkas. Garment workers with that company, incidentally, have long been represented by Workers United Canada. "As much as some places are closing their doors, other doors are opening," she says with conviction. Ferguson could be speaking about workers in the manufacturing sector, about the labour movement, or about her own life. Her words apply to all three.

Melissa Keith is a freelance journalist and former radio broadcaster living in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.

Jailhouse Blues CD

Listen and enjoy, sing along to  the  free song(S)  

Audio file

-faith Nolan © 2014

faith at OFL

This trembling dance I can hardly speak
My tongue is frozen from stelazine
Staggering shuffling I got a crazy walk
High on these drugs I can barely talk

Drug Corporation’s countin’cash, we need a healing better than that
Drug Corporation’s countin’cash, we need a healing better than that

Hospital jail doctors hears what they say   
Mental health means take pills everyday
Keeps you quiet and you won’t complain
Crowd control and Billions are made

Drug Corporation’s countin’cash, we need a healing better than that
Drug Corporation’s countin’cash, we need a healing better than that

Children who run around making noise
Prescribed Ritalin little girls and boys
Growing up stoned their brain can’t grow
What will become of us who knows

Drug Corporation’s countin’cash, we need a healing better than that
Drug Corporation’s countin’cash, we need a healing better than that
Penitentiary where it’s
Drug Corporation’s countin’cash
Money money money where it’s

Student debt you get depressed
Lost your job your love life’s a mess
Not good enough you’re just a human being
You only get respect with bling, bling, and bling

Drug Corporation’s countin’cash, we need a healing better than that
Drug Corporation’s countin’cash, we need a healing better than that
Drug Corporation’s countin’cash, we need a healing better than that
Drug corporations’ countin’cash, we need a healing better than that
Penitentiary where it’s
Drug Corporation’s countin’cash
Money money, money, where it’s

Jailhouse Blues coer
Songs by  and  about  Women In Jail In Ontario ( Missasuuga Territory)

Mannish Gal

Mannish Gal


Audio file

Blues behind bars

>> Activist Faith Nolan comes to Montreal to talk about women and prison


The growth of Canada's prison system may just be the nation's best kept secret. In the last decade the number of women behind bars has skyrocketed by 200 per cent, according the Elizabeth Fry Society, a pan-Canadian women-prisoners' rights group. Rights advocates have declared this trend the result of the feminization of poverty. Across the board, women of colour disproportionately fill the country's prisons for crimes that are often linked to economic survival: fraud, theft or drug trafficking.

Blues Behindd Bars

Queer afro-Canadian musician and activist Faith Nolan sees this short trip from poverty to incarceration as a key part of what she calls the Canadian prison industrial complex. Up against this looming giant, Nolan is armed with only a guitar, a harmonica and a Bessie Smith song or two. "Music is something I can share with people, use it to educate and give strength," she says.

Nolan, 46, has poured generous amounts of her 20-year career as a singer and songwriter into working with incarcerated women. Recent projects include a trip to Nigeria with the International Conference on Penal Abolition, consisting of concerts with the women of the KiriKiri and Enugu prisons, which she plans to release on disc next year. "They really did the performing, I just started a couple of songs," Nolan says. "The women came in with drums and beautiful voices." In 2002, she also made a video in coordination with the women of San Francisco County Jail, which she will be presenting in Montreal on Jan. 29 at Concordia.

Jails close to home

Unlike most people, Nolan has never felt uncomfortable going into prisons. She was raised in a working-class black neighbourhood in Halifax at a time where the only jobs a black person could count on were that of a maid or a railroad worker. "People had to do little extras to live decently," she says. The more entrepreneurial would pursue drug trafficking, prostitution or robbery.

Nolan's own mother was a bootlegger and operated a gambling parlour out of their home. "I grew up with people going to jail all the time," Nolan says. "The police were always busting into our house and taking her or somebody off to jail."

As a result, the music she emerged with was freedom songs and blues. Only Nolan's versions are concocted with a twist: she uses them to educate people on issues close to her heart - racism, homophobia, sexism, labour rights and class oppression. She has seven albums to date and has collaborated on a variety of projects for the National Film Board.

Now based in Toronto, Nolan played her first prison gig 20 years ago while visiting her cousins doing time in Kingston's Prison for Women. She was later invited to San Bruno County Jail in California by civil rights activist Angela Davis. "The experience is very musically exciting," she says. "There is nothing like a good jailhouse blues."

Disproportionate detention

Native women represent 20 per cent of incarcerated women, according to statistics collected by the Corrections Service of Canada, while Canada's aboriginal people account for only a little over three per cent of the population. Similarly, black women make up six per cent of prisoners and only one per cent of the general public.

With the rolling back of state support for women and the advent of five new detention centres for women in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan, Nolan believes that tough sentencing on crimes typically committed by poor women are proving to be a handy way to fill prison beds.

"Poverty is the principal cause of female crime," says Ruth Gagnon, executive director of Société Elizabeth Fry du Québec. She believes that poverty in women's lives is often more dire and more of a determining factor because it is women who are still largely responsible for the children. "More than ever female crime is committed with the purpose of getting the woman and her family out of financial hardship."

According to Nolan, prison is like a microcosm of what goes on outside. "The jail is a replica of a very racist, sexist society," she says.

Faith Nolan will talk on women and Canadian prisons Jan. 29 at 7pm at Concordia's Hall Building (1455 de Maisonneuve W.), room TBA. For more info, call 848-7585. She will also be performing at a benefit concert for the Immigrant Workers Centre on Jan. 30, 7pm-1am (1710 Beaudry).
Entry based on a sliding scale of $5-$15

© Communications Gratte-Ciel Ltée 2004

The Power of Faith

by Oswald Phills

Faith Nolan got power! Yes she does. And charisma and drive! A triple threat as singer,

songwriter, activist, she had a CD launch at Trinity St. Pauls up on Bloor and Spadina recently. It represented the culmination of the work she had been doing with the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT). She's led some of these teachers to sing and record a number of songs from different cultural traditions for a CD called Day Done Broke.

Pre performance, I found Faith in a powder blue room in the basement labyrinth of Trinity St. Paul's. She was setting up a tray of cold cuts and cheese hunks for the gathering that would happen after the show.

Faith Nolan and The Elementary teachers of Toronto
with Martin Long at CD Launch Review

Right off the bat she is high energy. Quick on her feet. She moves. She talks. She laughs. She jokes. She hugs. She bobs. She weaves. She's in your face, but in a nice way. In another life she'd have made a pretty good light weight. But in this life she's a still a fighter. She fights for social justice. Her sympathies are always with the underdog, the outsider. This has to do with coming out of the Afro Scotian experience of Africville, growing up poor, and being a Queer black woman. It makes sense that she has helped bring out music that's about inclusion, acceptance, and respect.

Faith Nolan and the Elementary Teachers of Toronto entered the rented room where they would performance some songs from their new CD at the same time as the audience. There seemed absolutely no separation between audience and performers. Faith, the teachers, and accompanying musicians, wore dark green tee shirts over their civilian clothes. They took their place on a low rise stage at the front of the room. Carrying a banjo, Faith kibbitzed with the small admiring audience like the long time performer that she is. The teachers, almost all women, lined up, each clutching their songs, faced the audience ready to perform selections from the CD. Before each song a teacher stepped forward to read a short note giving some cultural context. These sincere and unaffected words made me think of kids making book reports in front of their class. Once the teachers launched into the songs proper with Faith's guidance, I had the feeling that I was witnessing something from another era - a time when the people sang and not just professional musicians! This was music performed by the people, music of the folk, unpolished yet nourishing.

Also, there was a performance of four affecting songs - two of which were Honour Songs that you have to stand for - by an Anishnabi woman named Zainab Amadany who was accompanied by two friends one Hazem Jamjoum and the other Magaly San Martin a Chilean.

President of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto Martin Long said, "I'm happy to see the progress of the choir. They really worked hard. Teachers will use these songs in their classes. Faith did a good job with them. I think I first saw Faith perform at International Day for the End of Discrimination and also at a Labour Day celebration for the Status of Women. She's a great musician with a progressive way of thinking."

"Don't you believe in freedom?" Faith asked a member of the audience. Its clear that she does.
Deepen your Faith at


written by the Vancouver Festival 2008

To call Faith Nolan a folk singer doesn’t come close to doing her justice. She has been an out Dyke for forty years + released 14 Cd's to date Presently is the founder and director of three different choirs in Toronto, Singing Elementary Teachers of Toronto; CUPE Freedom Singers , the Women of Central East Correctional Centre; Sistering Singers. produced a film, Within These Cages, about women in prison; and continues to fight for a better understanding of how poverty has created a disproportionate representation of poor women, especially black and First Nations, in Canadian prisons. And still this list just scratches the surface of her many accomplishments.

Her passion for uncovering the injustice of our justice system stems from her own childhood. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is of African, Miq Maq, and Irish heritage, and grew up in the working-class neighbourhood of Regent Park in Toronto. To try and make ends meet, Nolan’s mother was a bootlegger and operated a gambling parlour out of their home. “I grew up with people going to jail all the time. The police were always busting into our house and taking her or somebody off to jail.” Self-taught, her music has been described as a mix of blues, folk and jazz, with a taste of funk and reggae. You can find your toes tapping and body swaying to one of her songs and suddenly realize you’re dancing to a song about a murder or racism. Is it any wonder that a self-proclaimed queer, African-Canadian, working-class woman has chosen to use her gift to try to bring about social change for a fairer and better world?