10 new albums that show political music is exploding
By Mat Ward
There have been countless predictions that the election of Donald Trump as US president would bring a renaissance of political music - and it finally seems to be happening. Here are 10 of the best from this month (plus a few extra - count them). What albums would you suggest? Comment on Twitter, Facebook, or email. Videos not playing? Try a bigger screen.
1. TINARIWEN - ELWAN
On March 1, the corporate media were falling over themselves to claim Donald Trump was finally looking "presidential". The reason? Trump's address to Congress in which he got a "record-breaking" standing ovation for a US soldier killed in a strike on Yemen that wiped out nine children. Days later, Yemen's persecutor-in-chief, Saudi Arabia, announced that its relations with the US were at their "upmost level" under Trump. Better than even under Saudi-loving former Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton, despite the fact the country is the biggest funder of radical Islam worldwide. A fitting time, then, for the new album from world fusion desert rockers Tinariwen, a band born in an African refugee camp whose home country, Mali, is besieged by Islamic terrorism. On "Nizzagh Ijbal", they sing: "Fighter, combatant, come this way. Come and rediscover your loves, and unity." On March 22, after US bombs killed 230 people, a London terror attack prompted Stop The War to say that to end terror, the West must stop practising it. MORE>>>
2. NATTALI RIZE - REBEL FREQUENCY
An artist close to her African roots, Jamaica's Queen Ifrica, released her new reggae album days later. It calls for unity, yet she has been criticised for the homophobia that dogs her genre, showing the global battle queers still face against innumerates with an apparent fear of human extinction. On March 4, an album was released for Sydney's famed Mardi Gras. Yet, like the event itself, it favoured partying over protest and trod over tired old ground. The backwardness continued as beer maker Coopers dropped its sponsorship of Mardi Gras to favour the Bible Society with a homophobic ad that resulted in an instant boycott. But as pop star Katy Perry revealed that she had "prayed her gay away", Melbourne's Nattali Rize released her best work yet, a solo album packed with radical, homophobia-free reggae. As the government even slapped down calls from big business for marriage equality, she sang: "Staring down their lie of democracy, will you fight on your feet or live pon ur knees?" MORE>>>
3. HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF - THE NAVIGATOR
Days later, Hurray For The Riff Raff's queer singer Alynda Segarra was promoting her band's new protest album with a call to beat fear in the age of Trump. "I think the fear of making political music or art comes from a lot of different places," she said. "Something that I'm getting more in touch with is how conditioned I was as a cisgender woman in the world, especially a Puerto Rican cis woman, to be very gracious and to be very generous and to not take up too much space." The Navigator, a concept album about a street kid named Navi living in a dystopian world, is loosely based on her life as a former train-hopping hobo and pays tribute to her homeland in "Rican Beach": "First they stole our language, then they stole our names, then they stole the things that brought us fame, and they stole our neighbours, and they stole our streets, and they left us to die on Rican Beach." It came as Puerto Rican artist Calle 13 slammed new US-backed austerity measures his nation approved on March 13. MORE>>>
4. DEPECHE MODE - SPIRIT
International Women's Day on March 8 brought huge protests worldwide, but nothing like the revolution that kicked off exactly 100 years earlier in Russia. Days later, dark synth pop pioneers Depeche Mode released their new album, Spirit, ushered in by the apt lead single "Where's The Revolution?" On the album, their most explicitly political work yet, they sing: "Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make, and tell us just how long it's going to take for it to trickle down. When will it trickle down?" Its release came a week after one Australian unionist addressed a protest against government attacks with the words: "The Liberals like to tell us, this 'trickle down economy’ [will lead to] more jobs, but we know that's bullshit." Following in Depeche Mode's gothic electronic footsteps is New York ambient artist Evan Caminiti, who has sampled Trump's urban landscape for his new anti-Trump album, Toxic City. "Stuff is too fucked up right now not to acknowledge,” he said. MORE>>>
5. JAMES GORDON - SUNNY JIM
The wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used International Women's Day to call for all women "to celebrate the boys and men in our lives". The move badly backfired, as even the corporate media questioned the PM's feminist credentials. One Canadian politician who holds up better to scrutiny is city councillor and veteran folk musician James Gordon, who wrote a musical about Trudeau's hated predecessor, Stephen Harper. Whereas Trudeau reaffirmed an arms deal for the misogynistic Saudi regime, Gordon sings on his new album: "How strange they call them arms, those killing machines, they are not the loving arms that keep you warm." Fellow Canadian musician Joel Plaskett also has a new album out, a joint effort with his folk musician father, who brought his radical politics to his son's studio. Showing what women worldwide are up against, this month also brought the obligatory infantile death metal album preaching violence against women, in Cut Up's Wherever They May Rot. MORE>>>
6. the BUSHWACKERS - THE HUNGRY MILE
Trudeau's treatment of Canada's indigenous people is no better than that in Australia, where Queensland's Labor government betrayed Aboriginal people on March 21 by backing a bill to water down Native Title. The move is intended to get a Great Barrier Reef-destroying giant coal mine built, using a $1 billion taxpayer subsidy so that an Indian company, which already abuses indigenous people in its own country, can profit. In Kashmir, indie band One Alif sang about nationalistic Indian persecution on their new album, Sufayed. And as further bleaching of the Reef was revealed, MusicNT released the all-Aboriginal Desert Divas Vol II, featuring two relatives of country star and sometime Greens candidate Warren H Williams. Singer Anohni put out a new EP featuring Aboriginal painter Ngalangka Nola Taylor and her poem, "What are we doing to the Earth?" Days later, Australian country band The Bushwackers released their radical new album, which kicks off with anti-coal anthem "Leave It In The Ground". MORE>>>
7. QUETZAL - THE ETERNAL GETDOWN
In the US, the Native American water protectors fighting against the revived Dakota Access Pipeline marked World Water Day on March 22 as Kansas City rappers CES CRU released a new album hitting out at the pipeline. Chicano Los Angeles collective Quetzal opened their new album with a prayer in Purépecha, a language spoken by the indigenous people of modern-day Michoacán in Mexico. They promoted the album, which comes with a 44-page downloadable booklet, by calling for activists not to lose momentum or burn out in the age of Trump, by finding novel ways to protest. "That's really the big question for us in different songs," said founder Quetzal Flores. "How to create new forms of social movements." Their album came hot on the heels of Freedom Is Free, the third long-player from fellow political Chicano band Chicano Batman, who said: "We didn't wait for Donald Trump to be president to speak our minds." Its release came as Trump seemed to be inspiring a swing to the left back in Mexico. MORE>>>
8. BODY COUNT - BLOODLUST
Fellow LA resident Ice-T returned at the end of the month with a searing new Body Count album, days after an arson attack killed three squatters in a Melbourne building desired by developers. On "No Lives Matter", he seethes: "The people have had enough. Right now, it's them against us. This shit is ugly to the core. When it comes to the poor, no lives matter." Its release came after his LA rap contemporary, Snoop Dogg, released a new music video in which he pointed a gun at a character dressed as Trump. In response, Trump slammed the rapper with his favourite slur, "failing", which must surely be seen by now as the new "winning". Apolitical rap star Rick Ross backed Snoop Dogg's actions while on stage promoting his new Trump-dissing album. Showing rap's global reach, Junction 48, a film and album about a Palestinian rapper, was launched in the US while Vice launched a rap album and TV series on radical Islam, just as Australian Jewish-raised Hindu Ben Lee released an album about Islam for kids. MORE>>>
9. SLEAFORD MODS - ENGLISH TAPAS
Back in little England, as Sex Pistol John Lydon declared his love of the Muslim-baiting Trump and Nigel Farage (well, Lydon had a book to sell), punk rappers Sleaford Mods released their latest LP, which is the antithesis. On "Snout", former dole office worker Jason Williamson spits: "Like scared kids 'cause that's all you are, rubbing up to the crown and the flag and the notion of who we are." It came as dole office workers in Australia voiced their dismay over the continuing robo-debt war against welfare recipients - a situation Williamson might relate to. Days later, one of the few bands to match the originality of Williamson's vocals, Idles, released their album of Tory-baiting garage punk. Folk outfit Stick In The Wheel released an album of protest songs from artists across the country recorded low-fi in their own houses, often a Capella, to great effect. Meanwhile, across the Brexit divide, French ska band 8°6Crew released their latest bilingual long-player, Working Class Reggae. MORE>>>
10. THE TOSSERS - SMASH THE WINDOWS
As Brexit loomed, Scotland passed a motion for a second independence vote, days after bagpipe-wielding punks The Real Mackenzies - last seen with their pro-independence song "Yes" - released a new album. At the same time, Chicagoan Irish punk expats The Tossers opened their new album with the song "Erin Go Bragh", meaning "Ireland Forever". It came as calls for independence surged in Ireland after Sinn Fein received its biggest vote yet, followed by the death of one of its figureheads, Martin McGuinness. His passing followed press eulogies for rock'n'roll pioneer Chuck Berry, which glossed over not only his jailing for sex with a minor, but also the fact that he depoliticised his songs to reach a wider audience. Yet it seems little has changed. Despite the huge surge in activist music under Trump as even corporations embrace politics, indie artist EMA revealed this month that Matador Records had refused to release her new album as it was "too political". MORE>>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward is an Australian-based journalist who has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009. He also makes political music and wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country.
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