Political music: 10 new albums taking a stand

By Mat Ward

Here's this month's radical record round-up, from Aboriginal desert blues to Saudi Arabian black metal. It actually features far more than 10 albums (count them). What album, or albums, would you suggest? Comment on Twitter or Facebook


Last month, the Paris climate summit ended in media jubilation as world leaders slapped each other on the back over non-binding agreements that committed the planet to more warming. Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, had even been trying to promote the benefits of coal at the summit. A couple of weeks later, The Climate Council chose Christmas Eve to bury the bad news that Australia's emissions had actually risen during 2015. Months earlier, Walmatjarri desert blues artist Olive Knight had released an album reminding just how Australia's leaders undermine traditional values. On "Song Of Lament (Jabu Jabu)", she sings: "Minyarti parlurla yanana numburrkkarlanu. (Here they come to bore holes.) Goodbye manyjarla country-wu, goodbye. (Say goodbye to your country, goodbye.)" Meanwhile, over in Japan - one of the biggest buyers of Australia's coal and uranium - jazz pianist Keiko Matsui released her new album "Live In Tokyo", featuring the protest song "Antarctica - A Call To Action". MORE>>> 


The Climate Council's bad news was followed by Christmas Day, when many westerners got a new phone or tablet. Few would have given the same thought to their gadget's sweatshop roots as US black metal outfit Cuscata, whose album - released five days later - is based on four poems by Xu Lizhi, a Chinese Foxconn factory worker who killed himself in 2014. His death prompted Foxconn to install suicide nets, inspiring indie outfit New Tongues' new song "Suicide Nets" - yet conditions have hardly improved. Riffing on similar themes were Paris techno artist Ottokraft with his new album, The Sick Culture Of Wealth, and US noiserock combo Pop 1280 with their scathing album, Paradise. On January 16, the western media got even more China-bashing mileage out of Taiwan electing its first female president, the Thatcher-praising Tsai Ing-wen, because her adversaries calling for more independence from China included pop star Chou Tzu-yu and death metal singer-turned politician Freddy LimMORE>>> 

3. DAVID ROVICS - 1939 

The festive season also kicked Australia's summer music festivals into full swing with - sadly - several drug-related deaths. The media mindlessly parroted the police line that drug takers were "playing Russian roulette" with their own lives, despite the fact that authorities banning pill-testing is the biggest gamble with users' lives. US protest singer David Rovics showed the way to go on his new, live-recorded album, whose song "It's Legal Now" celebrates the legalisation of some drugs in his country. The news that Colorado has already raked in $60 million from such a move has got to have some Australian politicians convinced already, besides the fact that the criminalisation of drug users does the police no PR favours. Elsewhere on the album, which segues smoothly from intricate acoustic numbers to rousing acapella and spoken word renditions, Rovics stands up for Syrian refugees, about whom he has also written eloquently on his blog. MORE>>> 


Also taking as strong a stand as ever for Syria is US rapper Marcel Cartier, whose new album includes the song "Hands Off Syria 3". The album is global in its anti-imperialistic scope and in its samples, which have been glued together by sonic globetrotter and activist Carlos Martinez. It takes a strong voice to cut through such weighty soundclashes, but Cartier even manages to pierce past some nifty wailing guitar-playing by Martinez, the rapper's long-time collaborator, who produces under the name Agent Of Change. Also taking a stand against imperialism in the Middle East are English political punks the Angelic Upstarts, whose first album in 13 years kicks off with "Tories Tories Tories (Out Out Out)" and "Until Palestine Is Free". If you'd prefer to hear such sentiments directly from the horse's mouth, check out the new album from Palestinian performance poet Rafeef Ziadah, which comes with musical backing from Brisbane-based protest singer-songwriter Phil Monsour. MORE>>> 


When Britain's shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, made his recent speech backing bombing in Syria, The Guardian was among the media cheerleaders calling for Benn to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. The newspaper, heavily criticised for its coverage of Corbyn, was at it again when the BBC was exposed for orchestrating this month's on-air resignation of one of Corbyn's shadow ministers. "The BBC has launched a staunch defence of its journalism," Guardian readers were assured. If you're tiring of The Guardian, try anti-capitalist metal band Guardian, whose song "Propaganda" on their debut album fumes: "The newspapers spread their lies, though the mass-produced ink that's printed on the pages, plastered on the walls, manipulated thoughts, controlling them all. Pushed onto our screens and forced onto our streets, flooding the market with their prejudiced schemes." Days later, the BBC was promoting a mocking musical about Corbyn before it had even been written. MORE>>> 


Just as mad at the media are US punks The Drafted, whose rotten-toothed singer Craig Stanley says: "The corporate media is not telling the truth, or at least the whole truth, about nearly all social and political issues." On January 19, the Black Lives Matter movement threatened a protest against plans to have right-wing rocker Ted Nugent play a festival in Chicago, a city embroiled in police killings of Black people. It's well documented that the rifle-toting Nugent has called president Barack Obama a "chimpanzee". What's not so often mentioned is a story the appropriately named Drafted bring up about Nugent dodging the draft - unlike Jimi Hendrix - singing: "Ted Nugent shit his pants, to dodge the draft in Vietnam." This month, the band also released a single to support Nugent's political nemesis, Bernie Saunders who - it must be said - has his own detractors on the left, including rapper Talib Kweli. MORE>>> 


Equally sceptical are hardcore and groove metal merchants HeadUp from Wroclaw in Poland. On their new album, Reborn, the song "Question Everything" advises: "Don’t take everything that they're giving you. Look around: half-truths are spoken by everyone, that’s a fact. Between black and white exists reality. Nothing is clear. While you're still breathing, watch carefully for what is hidden - and question everything." The band's hometown, Wroclaw, has its own chapter of Food Not Bombs, which dishes out vegan food in a local park every Sunday. It's just one of countless arms of the the global anti-war collective, which has been honoured with a huge new radical compilation by the Punk Philanthropy Project, "a group of punks who curate digital music compilations to raise money for worthy causes around the world". HeadUp aren't on the album, but would fit right in. MORE>>> 


The anti-war sentiments also flow thick and fast on "Forever War", which blasts from the new album by grindcore supergroup Venomous Concept. The band, which features members of Napalm Death, Brutal Truth and Corrupt Moral Altar, say the album "channels the urgency of grindcore, the raw blast of classic hardcore, and raucous irreverence of punk into a rowdy, 21-track adrenaline rush". It's hard to argue with that, especially after it's pummelled your senses into submission. In a similar vein, Melbourne punks Wing Attack Plan R released a punishing EP this month, whose title track "Game Of Drones" hollers: "On the computer, the game of the future, a soldier prepares to play. He won’t hear the boom, locked safe in his room, thousands of miles away." But they also know when to lighten up, as on "Tony Abbott Stole My Bike", whose one-liners stay true to their motto: "Stay angry Comrades, but remember, don’t ever forget to laugh." MORE>>> 


On January 2, Saudi Arabia beheaded and gibbeted 47 prisoners on security and terrorism-related charges, including prominent dissident Nimr al-Nimr. There was barely a whimper from the western media, who ran glowing eulogies for the country's departed dictator King Abdullah last year - but then again, Saudi Arabia isn't an official enemy, unlike ISIS. You also don't hear much in the Western media about Saudi black metal band Al-Namrood, who face death in their country for playing anti-religious music. The name of the band, who combine the Arabic scale with black metal and Arabic lyrics, translates as "non-believer". Guitarist and bassist Mephisto says: "Basically, individuals here have no rights to do anything. Our identity is hidden and our musical interests are kept top secret." So don't expect them to play live shows for their latest album, released a couple of months ago. "It's impossible, because it's illegal," he says. "We can be sentenced to death if we do them." MORE>>> 


As left-wing party Podemos continues to rise to prominence in Spain, so too do Spanish hardcore outfit Killburn, serving up a fitting soundtrack in the process. The band, based in the heart of the Catalan independence movement, Barcelona, declare on "After The War": "I will continue to impose the rest of my days, trying to change this fucking system. But I think this will not improve, I think that war will never end." And the song "Burn It Up" reflects: "To be the man you want, no need to ask permission. If you let the leaders rule, not slave but ain’t a free man. No chains attached to me, serfdom’s not what I’ve expected. Not pawn of a society, who’s treated like retarded. They’ll try to step on us. You’ll see just what they want. They’ll take all of you have. And you will be so fucked up." This month, Spain also hurled out a free 14-track album of anarchist hip-hop, whose title, Nos Estamos Acercando, translates as "We Are Approaching". MORE>>> 


What's the most effective way to erase your guilt at stealing a whole continent from its original inhabitants? How about dehumanising those people by celebrating the date of that invasion as a national holiday? Let's call it Australia Day! That might well be one of the reasons for keeping Australia's national day on January 26. But if there's only one good thing that comes out of it every year, it's the music - and we're not talking Triple J's much-maligned Hottest 100. Instead, check out the Hardcore Classic Radio Show's Survival Day special, in which host Tommy Rock of Def Wish Cast - a rare, radical voice in white Australian hip-hop - invites his friends Frank and Ren from the Indij Hip-Hop Show in to spin a slew of strong songs and talk all things Survival Day. Then check out the Indij Hip-Hop Show itself, with two Survival Day specials here and here. Finally, tune in to the knowledgeable and diverse Global Intifada radio show on 3CR, which also broadcast its own Invasion Day special. MORE>>>

To read about more political albums, click here.

To stream Green Left TV's political music playlist, click here.

3CR radio's Global Intifada show is a great source of topical political music. To listen to it online, click here.

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