Looking for 2017's political music? Check these 10 albums
By Mat Ward
1. VARIOUS ARTISTS - OUR FIRST 100 DAYS
On May 1, as US workers marked International Workers' Day with protests against the anti-worker policies of president Donald Trump, a huge protest album was released to mark his first 100 days in office. An honorary Australian on the album was Jen Cloher, who said: "It's always tricky writing about another country’s politics, but it’s important to see world politics as a global issue. Australians will be affected by Trump's presidency." Days later, US country singer Brandi Carlile released a charity album of covers of her songs by big stars, inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. But by far the biggest "star" on it was Trump's presidential predecessor, Barack Obama. He wrote the liner notes, saying Carlile "reminds us that, together, we can build for our children a more just, peaceful world". It's the kind of free publicity that will let him keep raking in $400,000 speaking fees. Yet the clear majority of the 20,000 bombs he dropped in 2016 were on Syria and Iraq. LISTEN>>>
2. DAVID ROVICS - PUNK BAROQUE
Pepsi's widely-ridiculed commercial in which a shared can of Pepsi fosters peace between police and protesters didn't hurt its share price. But it was hurting police on May 1, when May Day marchers in Portland, Oregon, began hurling Pepsi cans at cops. An apt soundtrack was the workers solidarity song "Gather Round", found on the new cello-infused album by David Rovics, released in the same city on the same day. Sadly, the cops attacked, sparking a "riot" and a whole lot of anguish from activists who condemned the can-throwers for damaging their cause. Activists' frustration was addressed a few days later on the new album from fellow Portland musicians Flobots, in the song "Failure Games". "People who are involved in this work throughout their whole lives face these other moments, where they feel failure," they said, resulting in "some really serious consequences to people who might lose their life to the movement, or lose their life to depression and burnout". LISTEN>>>
3. INCENDIARY - THOUSAND MILE STARE
Also on May 1, a new report revealed that social network Facebook had helped advertisers target teens who feel "worthless". Days later, its financial results showed it was raking in $1 billion a month. On May 5, US hardcore band Incendiary released their new album, featuring single "The Product Is You". Singer Brendan Garrone said: "The song touches upon the notion of people as currency or commodities which can be bought and sold... Everything comes at a price, even things we deem 'free'." On May 19, Sweden dropped its rape investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has called Facebook "the most appalling spy machine ever invented". Its move came after the release of alleged WikiLeaks leaker Chelsea Manning, pardoned by outgoing president Obama after he had prosecuted more whistle-blowers than any president in US history. Days before Manning's release, rising indie stars HDLSS released their new single False Flag, dedicated to whistle-blowers. LISTEN>>>
4. AL-NAMROOD - ENKAR
Trump, dogged by persistent accusations that he was helped into power by WikiLeaks and Russian hackers, took off on a world tour this month, which included doing a cringeworthy sword dance for Saudi Arabia's radical Islamist leaders on May 20. Trump probably wouldn't have so willingly danced to the new album from Saudi Arabian death metal band Al-Namrood, released just two days later. On "Xenophobia", the band - who cannot reveal their identities for fear of government reprisals - tackle the mindset so often displayed by Trump (when it doesn't impinge on his business interests, such as his history of deals with Saudis). On May 10, the first oil spill was confirmed from the Dakota Access Pipeline, which Trump put back in action after indigenous protesters blocked it. The spill came five days after the release of US folk singer Matthew O'Neill's new album, Trophic Cascade. A fundraiser for Native Americans, it included the song "Poisoning The Well". LISTEN>>>
5. THE UNDERCOVER HIPPY - TRUTH & FICTION
British government documents show Britain has killed over 10 million people worldwide and colludes with radical Islam. So, what was the reason for the terror attack at Ariana Grande's concert in Manchester on May 22? "Immigration," said Mancunian pop star Morrissey, making former fans cringe. For a deeper analysis, check the new album from Bristol's The Undercover Hippy, released two days earlier. It opens with the words: "We created the state in Iran. We created the Afghan Taliban. We created the hate in Iraq that provided the spark for the ISIS clan. We created this mess, playing the world now like a game of chess. Anybody wanna guess who the pawns are? Getting fucked like a porn star? Damn right, that's us." As the Guardian and Sun tried to kill off pacifist opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in the run-up to Britain's election on June 8, grime musicians backed him, followed by Captain Ska, whose banned song calling Prime Minister Theresa May a "liar" hit No.2. LISTEN>>>
6. DARREN HAYMAN - THANKFUL VILLAGES VOLUME 2
Also contrasting sharply with Morrissey's comments was the new album from British indie folk musician Darren Hayman, released on May 26. Thankful Villages Volume 2 continues his trilogy of tales from towns that were grateful to have all their soldiers return alive from World War I. "Norton Le Clay", about a Yorkshire town just 130km from Manchester, tells how its people took in a Belgian refugee whose name is now memorialised on a bench. "I wrote a song about opening doors and letting people in," Hayman said. "Helping those that need help. It's what we used to do. It's what Norton Le Clay did." Two days later, refugees in Australia's notorious Manus Island detention centre were told it was closing, along with almost all hope of them coming to Australia. Its closure was announced 11 days after Australian activists forced Newcastle University to divest from Broadspectrum, which profits from its contracts to supply security for the country's detention centres. LISTEN>>>
7. BEV GRANT - IT'S PERSONAL
Some speculated that young women, girls and queers were deliberately targeted by the Manchester attacker, given Ariana Grande's fanbase, feminism and support for her gay brother. In Australia, the worldwide war against queers and women continued. Qantas's gay CEO, Alan Joyce, was attacked over his support for same-sex marriage, first by a custard pie thrower, then by tennis champion Margaret Court. On May 11, New South Wales MPs voted against the decriminalisation of abortion, just six days before the release of a new fundraising compilation album in support of planned parenthood. It followed the new album from feminist and activist Bev Grant, who has a long history of writing "songs for poor and working women". On it, she sings: "I am a sewing machine, stitching your stylish new clothes. My person's forced to work 12-hour days, she can’t afford what she sews. I sew in China, in El Salvador, Bangladesh, the Philippines. Cotton to sateen, shirt waists to blue jeans." MORE>>>
8. IN HEARTS WAKE - ARK
On "Mother's Wrath", Bev Grant also addressed the worldwide assault on Mother Nature, a theme at the heart of Australian hardcore band In Hearts Wake. On May 26, they launched their latest environmentally-themed album by holding a series of beach clean-ups with fans around Australia. Its launch came as new research showed how Australia would be flooded as sea levels were rising faster than expected. Yet, as China trained US coal miners to become wind farmers and solar power in India became cheaper than coal, Australian politicians insisted they would be lifting Indians out of poverty by selling them coal. Australian prog rockers Pond took down mining magnate Gina Rinehart on their finely crafted new album and Oz hardcore punks Frenzal Rhomb had a more light-hearted dig at miners on their new LP. And as Indian firm Adani weighed up whether to invest in an Australian mine that would only cheapen coal, an album was released calling for peace between India and Pakistan. MORE>>>
9. NICHOLAS PAYTON - AFRO-CARIBBEAN MIXTAPE
As pro-coal President Trump signed up a sheriff to his administration who had linked the Black Lives Matter movement to ISIS, Nicholas Payton released his politically-pumped new album of delectable jazz and deft turntablism. "I was about five years ahead of my time, before the Black Lives Matter movement," said Payton. "Now everyone's talking about race and oppression daily. It's not like those things weren't occurring then." The album came as a US white supremacist killed a Black student just three days before his graduation. That came after Harvard student Obasi Shaw submitted a hip-hop album as his final dissertation, following in the footsteps of AD Carson's dissertation album in February. Meanwhile, police were filmed punching a 14-year-old girl in an act condemned by Black Lives Matter, before a racist killed two men in Portland. Summing up the whole nightmare were Afro punks Ho9909 with their new album, United States of Horror. LISTEN>>>
10. LOGIC - EVERYBODY
The white supremacist in the White House continued to turn apolitical artists political, including hugely popular US rapper Logic. His May 5 album was recorded under a foam hand mounted on the wall that read "Fuck Trump" and was the first to focus on his biracial roots and political views. On the release of the album, which featured Public Enemy's Chuck D, Logic called out his rap hero Kanye West for supporting Trump, tweeting: "Your Music 20/20 But Them Political Views Blurred." Kanye took it about as stoically as Trump would, shutting down his social media accounts. Back in Africa, outspoken Ethiopian artist Teddy Afro's multilingual new album became the country's best-ever seller at 600,000 copies. The singer, whose gigs are often shut down and was once jailed by the government, said: "A country that tried to bring Africans together is now unable to have a unified force and voice. The tendency nowadays here in Ethiopia is to mobilize in ethnic lines, not ideas." 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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