Video Premiere: James Kahn “No More a’ Whalin'”

Photo credit: Jill Littlewood

James Kahn may be better known as a novelist and as the Emmy-nominated writer-producer of TV’s Star Trek and Xena: Warrior Princess, through which he’s provided much entertainment.  His incredible and varied career in the entertainment industry began when he was hired, as an ER doctor, to advise Steven Spielberg on the set of ET: Extra Terrestrial.  However, he’s also a prolific songwriter whose seventh album has just been released.  Everyone who donates to Save the Whales here can receive a free download of the new album – details below. We’re delighted to partner with Kahn and Save the Whales to premiere the latest single from the LP ‘No More a’ Whalin”.

Beginning with the low drone of Adam Phillips’ pastoral bagpipes and then Kahn’s timeless folk-vocal, ‘No More a’ Whalin”  succeeds in transporting us across both time and place.  The song is held together by the low heartbeat thump of Rebecca Troon’s bodhran, beating out an absorbing rhythm, while David West and Doug Clegg deliver gorgeous, rich backing vocals, harmonies that rise and soar, lifting Kahn’s own voice.  The traditional sea shanty has been used as a platform for addressing real, modern-day issues.  Whales are: “…the heavy heart of the ocean, and the soul of the very deep,” and the video captures their fantastical, magical beauty in their natural environment.   The majestic images of these creatures are particularly powerful alongside the theme of hunting whales, which has been a part of human activity for so many generations and continues to be an unnecessary endeavour despite declining whale numbers and widespread opposition.

Kahn explains the background to the song: “‘No More a’ Whalin” began with a conversation I had with my music producer, David West. We were commiserating over the way human beings have, over the last couple centuries – either knowingly or thoughtlessly –  wreaked so much destruction of our environment. Spewing pollution into the air and water, harming not only ourselves, but decimating countless other living creatures, destroying habitats, careless of species losses. Whales, for example, were simply hunted for food at first – until their oil became useful during the Industrial Revolution, and then they were slaughtered to feed our lamps and furnaces; and the killing hasn’t stopped. I wanted to write a song about that, and the sea shanty seemed like the perfect genre – the songs sailors sang to help the work go by on ship – weighing anchor, hauling sail… and hunting the whale. That first shanty turned out so well, I decided to write an entire album of shanties about the modern day ramifications of our assaults on the environment – from global warming to refugees to ocean pollution.  Save the Whales is a foundation dedicated to mitigating the effects of the centuries-long assault on these noble creatures, with educational programs, fundraising, and political inroads. Working with them, using my music video as a musical, emotional aid in their struggle to bring the whales back to full force in their watery domain, has been rewarding in the deepest way. It’s so hard feeling like we can have an impact on the woes of the planet – so to contribute to an organisation that’s actually doing something helps me rest just a little more easy.”

Check out Kahn’s new album ‘By the Risin’ of the Sea’, which is out now.  Here, you’ll find more folk songs and shanties that explicitly tackle environmental concerns and other contemporary themes, such as Covid-19 and the plight of refugees.  Kahn explains the album’s key messages: “Climate change is the biggest existential crisis facing us, resulting in drought, fires, floods, species die-offs, crop failures, and of course, rising seas. Maybe we can still mitigate some of the ruin. ‘The Risin’ of the Seas’ is the core song on the album, and lays the problem out in a plaintive, melancholy shanty that comes from – and speaks to – the heart.”

Using the power of music to help creatures famous for their song is a great idea.  James Kahn has teamed up with Save the Whales for this exciting project.  We urge everyone to donate to Save the Whales via this link.  On the donations page, write ‘James Kahn’ in the notes section and then you’ll receive a ‘thank you’ from Save the Whales along with a link to download the entire new album ‘By the Risin’ of the Seas’ free of charge.

Steve Albertson of Baby Robot Media conducted an interview with Maris Sidenstecker II to explore the history and purpose behind this important charity.  The interview excerpt below gives a real flavour of their work and we hope it convinces everyone to support them in educating future generations:

“Maris Sidenstecker II and her mother (of the same name) started Save the Whales in 1977, hoping to bring an end to the heyday of commercial whaling. Their mission to preserve and protect the ocean and its inhabitants continues through education and outreach to children, including disadvantaged communities that might not even be near the ocean. They drive home the idea that everything we do on land affects the ocean, no matter how far away you are. It’s up to all of us to help make a difference. Save the Whales believes children need to be empowered and know that their actions can promote change. Education is the key to saving whales, oceans, and ourselves.

“I was 14,” says Sidenstecker,” and learned from an airplane magazine that whales were mammals that had families and a language. The story was about a pregnant whale that slowly died on a dock. When I got home, I designed that first t-shirt that simply said ‘Save the Whales,’ and it changed my life. We started with an ad in Rolling Stone magazine, and on weekends my mother and I would go to art fairs and hand out a xeroxed newsletter. I went on to become a marine biologist, and here we are, more than 45 years later, still inspiring the next generation to care about our world.”

Save the Whales is not a group that goes out to confront whalers. Their avenue is to reach the newer generations, to teach them about environmentalism and specific marine animals in engaging ways, using artefacts like whale bones and sea turtle shells under permit from the government.

“We’re like a mini-museum for the schools when we teach in person,” says Sidenstecker. “We have lots of interactive education programs. We’ll bring students to the beach to do some of these programs, and some of these students have never even been to the beach before. It can be life changing. We operate on grants and donations, and it’s the donations that allow us to grow our school outreach programs.”

Outside of education, Save the Whales provides an online stranding network resource to assist whales nationally and internationally, and partner on targeted issues such as whale disentanglement, plastic pollution in order to reduce plastics and balloon releases, and the Respect Wildlife coalition, whose goal is to reduce disruptive human encounters with marine wildlife.

They do have a history of activism when it comes to the advocacy of whales, including a landmark legal case to stop underwater Ship Shock detonations by the U.S. Navy in the early ‘90s. The 250 detonations could have killed over 10,000 whales, and marine animals. They won the case with lawyers from NRDC and reduced hundreds of planned detonations down to one and set a precedent for future projects that can harm marine mammals.

“My mom will be 87 in June,” says Sidenstecker, “and is still a force to be reckoned with. She writes the Save the Whales e-newsletter. After I played her “No More a’ Whalin’,” I could hear her singing the chorus to herself hours later. I’m excited to team up with James and Americana UK to help build awareness around how what we do as humans impacts the creatures of the ocean.”

Don’t forget, you can donate here.  As he sings, James Kahn reflects on the grace of whales: “We never stopped to listen to the beauty of their tune.”  It’s an important sentiment reinforced by the recordings of whale song played at the end.  Powerful stuff.  You’ll also find beauty in this tune.  Enjoy.


About Andrew Frolish 1412 Articles
From up north but now hiding in rural Suffolk. An insomniac music-lover. Love discovering new music to get lost in - country, singer-songwriters, Americana, rock...whatever. Currently enjoying Nils Lofgren, Ferris & Sylvester, Tommy Prine, Jarrod Dickenson, William Prince, Frank Turner, Our Man in the Field...
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