10 surprisingly good new political albums

By Mat Ward

Here's this month's radical record round-up, from Tamil rap to Soweto Kwaito. It actually features far more than 10 albums (count them). What album, or albums, would you suggest? Comment on Twitter or Facebook. Videos not playing? Try a bigger screen. 

1. MIA - AIM 

At the start of the month, more than 60 people rallied in Melbourne to support a protester found guilty after she refused to take her seat on a Qantas plane in which a Tamil asylum seeker was being deported. The rally came just days after another Tamil refugee was deported, adding to scores in the past few months. A few days later, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull - returned to power after the Sydney Morning Herald urged its readers to vote for his "progressive" politics - promoted Australia's $9.6 billion boat-stopping policies at a world summit for refugees. All of which was the backdrop for the release of the latest - and supposedly last - album by rapping Tamil refugee MIA, whose lead single "Borders" tackles anti-asylum seeker hysteria. "It blows my mind that these people trying to claim asylum in Australia can be sent back to their country," she says. Also bringing the Indian vibes was prolific Delhi producer Ravana, with his latest album of political electronica. MORE>>> 

2. T.I. - US OR ELSE 

Shortly before her album's release, MIA was dumped from the Afropunk festival for making controversial comments about the Black Lives Matter movement, which became ever more relevant this month as police killings escalated. Flipping the script was veteran rapper T.I., whose lead single from his new album put the boot on the other foot with a video showing Black police killing white victims. But the rage wasn't confined to rap. Hardcore band Vengince released scathing single "Police States of America" from their new album, while white supremacist Dylann Roof was tackled on both the new long-player from Tone and the "most political album yet" by Drive-By Truckers. Bruce Springsteen called US presidential hopeful Donald Trump a "moron" while promoting his new album and the Red Hot Chili Peppers said evaluating Trump and rival Hillary Clinton was like choosing "between two poisons". Trump and Clinton's debate on September 27 was met with a flurry of musicians' angry tweets. LISTEN>>>

MIA "Borders"


In that debate, Clinton played the race card against Trump, who failed to retaliate that her husband's policies had caused the mass incarceration of Blacks. Things were little different in Australia, where mass Black jailings and deaths in custody continued. Addressing such incarceration was British rapper Akala, whose new compilation gives his infamous Fire In The Booth live radio freestyle an album release, including the lines: "For small amounts of drug possession there's more Black people in jail in America than there is for rape and armed robbery and murder all put together." Also putting out a career retrospective were German political industrial pioneers KMFDM, whose influence could be clearly heard on the new collaboration between Australia's Knife Party and Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello. Meanwhile, veteran prog rockers Gong celebrated their recently deceased political Australian frontman Daevid Allen with the album Rejoice! I'm Dead! MORE>>> 


While Clinton espoused the supposed nobility of the Democrats under US President Barack Obama, one of the many whistleblowers he has prosecuted, Chelsea Manning, continued to languish in jail after going on hunger strike this month over her denial of gender therapy. Manning's plight moved Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore enough to write the forthcoming fundraising release "Chelsea's Kiss" in tribute. Laura Jane Grace, whose last album with her band Against Me! focused on her transgender blues, followed up with the band's new album on September 16, which is less about coming out and more about delving into her relationships and self-image, with songs such as "Boyfriend" and "Delicate, Petite And Other Things I'll Never Be". A few days before its release, trans singer Anohni released the latest single from her immaculate political album. The video for the song, an apology for US crimes against humanity, features actor Storm Lever tearfully miming the words. MORE>>>

T.I. "War Zone"


Trump used the presidential debate to again bash US companies like Apple for taking jobs and taxes offshore, just days after the mainstream media went into a frenzy over the new iPhone's missing headphone jack, rather than Apple's missing taxes. Also missing from most coverage was the missing wages for the child slaves who mine the metals for Apple components. Unimpressed were Manchester punks Tout Suite, whose September 1 split album with fellow "north-west UK political hardcore band" Salvo takes the piss out of Apple worshippers. On "Powernoia", Apple fans describe why they've been queuing for the new iPhone "for 15 days" before Tout Suite come crashing in with a screen-cracking, Airpod-bashing avalanche of noise. The split album was released in time for Britain's Common Ground festival, whose huge compilation album of "music for change, not profit" features Tout Suite's "Powernoia" alongside radical tracks by 44 other artists. LISTEN>>> 


Clinton's health had seemingly recovered for the presidential debate, just a fortnight after her collapse at a 9/11 event even threatened to derail the media's orgy for the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks. Other parts of the world were marking September 11 differently. There was a mass rally for Catalonian independence in Spain, while former Spanish colony Chile mourned its 9/11, the 1973 coup of socialist president Salvador Allende. Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux marked the date by releasing a cover of a song by Chilean protest singer Victor Jara, who was murdered by the ensuing regime of Augusto Pinochet. Five days later, one of Jara's compositions also appeared on Norwegian folk singer Moddi's delicately-crafted covers album of banned songs. Moddi's version includes background sounds recorded in the basement of the sports stadium where Jara was killed. "The atmosphere down there is so gloomy," Moddi says. "I needed to have it on the album." MORE>>>

Anohni "Crisis"


The inspiration for Moddi's album came after he cancelled a concert in Tel Aviv in 2014 in protest at the expansion of Israeli settlements and was contacted by a fellow Norwegian singer whose song about Israeli expansion had been banned. Birgitte Grimstad's song, "Eli Geva" - about a dissident Israeli officer who defied orders to lead his troops into the besieged city of Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon War - also appears on the album. It was released two days after the US pledged a record $US38 billion in military aid to Israel on September 14 and a week after electronic music pioneer Brian Eno denied use of his music at Israeli embassy-backed events, saying, "given that I've been supporting the BDS campaign for several years now, this is an unacceptable prospect for me". Just weeks earlier, similar international musical solidarity came with the Palestine-supporting split album by Buenos Aires punks Intifada Resistencia and Piedra Palestina. LISTEN>>> 


Also speaking up for the colonised was the dying frontman of beloved Canadian band The Tragically Hip, who implored tragically hip Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do more for First Nations people as he watched the band's recent farewell concert. Weeks later, groundbreaking First Nations electronica outfit A Tribe Called Red released their latest dancefloor-rocking mashup of tribal wails and stuttering bass-heavy beats, which paints a bleak picture in its moments of reflection. "How I Feel" laments: "I feel the tears and aggression, fears and depression woven in society from years of oppression." The album was released as Indigenous activists were attacked while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline south of Canada. At the end of the month, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip used an anti-Royal protest to point out how little the pipeline-loving Trudeau had done for First Nations people - hardly surprising, since doing so would reverse the policies of the Prime Minister's father. MORE>>>

A Tribe Called Red "We Are The Halluci Nation"


Crossing a few more states than the Dakota Access Pipeline is the new album from veteran British protest singer Billy Bragg and US singer-songwriter Joe Henry. The pair boarded a train in Chicago and spent the next four days riding the rails for 4400km while recording songs about an industry in decline. They made the album "also to look at the idea of the railroad – particularly in the United States of America – as a viable form of transport for the future", says Bragg. "It's a lot less environmentally destructive than road or air." Its release came days after British railworkers took industrial action on September 7 as £20 million of taxpayers' money was handed to a failing private rail company. Days later, Jeremy Corbyn, who wants to renationalise the railways, was re-elected Labour Party leader in a landslide. That delighted Corbyn supporters like Bragg, but prompted a columnist for the Corbyn-hating Guardian to call for Corbyn's crowdfunded assassination. LISTEN>>> 


As privatisation swept across South Africa after the election of Nelson Mandela, purveyors of the country's exploding party music, Kwaito, preferred to look the other way. Yet one of its biggest stars, the Soweto slum-raised Mandoza, managed to keep a firmer grip on the reality of his country's problems. Nothing illustrated those problems more starkly than his death on September 18 at the age of 38, just months after the release of his latest album. Mandoza, who was hoping to beat cancer, collapsed, but then waited three hours for an ambulance that never came. His manager rushed him to hospital but it was too late. ANC politicians hailed him in death as a "working class hero". Days earlier, Afrobeat jazz futurist Idris Ackamoor, who has worked with women prisoners in Johannesburg, released his latest political album with The Pyramids, We Be All Africans. The title song asserts: "We be all Africans, coming from the motherland, Garden of Eden, cradle of humankind." MORE>>>

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry "The Midnight Special"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward is an Australian-based journalist who has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009. He also wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country. Read it online here.

Read about more political albums here.

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