Political music: Meet 10 acts who are speaking out right now
By Mat Ward
"Where are all the protest songs?" asked The Guardian this week, to instant ridicule. In fact, there are thousands right here at Green Left Weekly. Here's this month's round-up, ranging from protests against patriarchy to songs for Syria. It actually features far more than 10 acts (count them). What album, or albums, would you suggest? Comment on Twitter or Facebook. Videos not playing? Try a bigger screen.
1. ROKIA TRAORE - NE SO
The month began with the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on February 6, drawing attention to the fact that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of the brutal practice. The campaign focuses on 17 countries in Africa, including Mali, where one woman who has chalked up plenty of victories against patriarchy released her new album on February 12. Sixteen years ago, multi-instrumentalist Rokia Traore seized the controls from a male engineer who believed a young girl was incapable of handling the production of an album - and has never looked back since. Her new album reaches out to the west with global guests, in the same way that a festival in Mali days earlier had brought in western acts to revive music tourism in a country ripped apart by colonists and music-banning extremists. Rokia Traore has also played festivals with Tiken Jah Fakoly, who has his own anti-female genital mutilation song and a fine new album. MORE>>>
2. CISTEM FAILURE - CISTEM FAILURE
Also kicking back at patriarchy are European nomads Cistem Failure, whose rollicking, anarchist banjo folk punk is about as fun-sounding as political music gets. "Patriarchy is alive and kicking, even within our radical movements and we feel that this has to be confronted," say the band - and they pull no punches. On "Riots Not Diets" they seethe: "Stop policing my body. Fuck off! Fuck off!" On "You Should Be Terrified" they warn: "You should be terrified of what we can do to you, on the streets and in our bedrooms the power no longer lies with you." And on the foot-stomping "Boot On Your Face" they fume: "I'll show you how sweet I can be, with my boot on your face, boot on your face - 'cause I'm not a commodity, don't objectify me!" Packing as hard a punch is trans singer Sadie Smith, whose US punk band G.L.O.S.S. have a short and sharp EP out which explains that their acronym stands for "Girls Living Outside of Society's Shit". LISTEN>>>
3. THE CULT - HIDDEN CITY
Ever-changing rockers The Cult, led by the perennially pro-indigenous and feminist Ian Astbury, released their acclaimed 10th studio album on February 5. On "Deeply Ordered Chaos", Astbury ruminates: "Violence in my head. I'm a European. Witnessing the fall from the perfumed lands. Syria the fall. Weep for you." He joins other artists recently speaking out on Syria, including British grime rappers and Australia's Missy Higgins, who has just released the song "Oh Canada" in tribute to Alan Kurdi, the drowned toddler whose family were denied a visa to that country. However, it was Australia that denied a visa to Syrian emcee Ali Kharsa, who began rapping when he was locked up on Nauru. He was eventually granted a visa - to Canada, where he is pursuing his rap career. Meanwhile, Astbury's former bandmate, "Britain's first Pakistani punk" Aki Nawaz, launched his own global punk radio show at the end of the month with the words, "this show has no immigration control". MORE>>>
4. YOKO ONO - YES, I'M A WITCH, TOO
Australia's charming Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was exposed last month when he called a journalist a "mad fucking witch" by text. That prompted Women from the Refugee Rights Action Network to organise a "Mad F**king Witches" action to highlight the intolerable levels of sexual assault in Australian immigration detention centres and call for his sacking. Also proudly calling herself a witch is the often-pilloried feminist icon Yoko Ono, whose new album of remixes by stars, Yes, I'm A Witch, Too was released a day after her 83rd birthday, February 19. One of those remixers, Ebony Bones, says: "I'm excited she continues to be a voice for gender equality and inspires us all not to accept the roles society invented." The album is described as "an open book" on Ono's career. That will resonate with acclaimed British protest singer Robb Johnson, who has written his own book on Ono and just released a 92-track album that could be seen as an open book on his career. MORE>>>
5. MUSLIMGAUZE - LIBYA TOUR GUIDE
As The Guardian hailed the prospects of a replacement government in the UN-destroyed Libya, master sonic manipulator Muslimgauze released an album titled Libya Tour Guide. Kicking off with the track "Lalique Gaddafi Jar", it takes the sounds of the region and pans them in all directions over writhing electronic beats. All the more remarkable is that Muslimgauze, also known as prolific Mancunian producer Bryn Jones, has been dead far longer than Gaddafi, yet continues to release albums, this being just one of two out this month. A staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, he would have related to the anger behind the protest songs now proliferating out of Palestine, which have been branded a "violent soundtrack" by western corporate media. Meanwhile the Eagles of Death Metal - who once slammed Roger Waters' request to not play Israel - announced they were playing the Paris venue where scores of their fans were killed, with a call not for peace, but for everyone to be armed. MORE>>>
6. CONFESS - IN PURSUIT OF DREAMS
February 17 marked the second anniversary of the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati in Australian detention on Manus Island. Showing the kind of regime he was fleeing, a few days earlier a story had broken about Confess, a jailed Iranian thrash band who are facing the death sentence in Iran for "blasphemy, advertising against the system, running an illegal and underground band and record label in the satanic 'metal and rock' music style, writing anti-religion and atheistic, political and anarchistic lyrics and interviews with forbidden foreign radio stations". Iran's ban on such music is well documented, having inspired The Clash's hit "Rock The Casbah". It was also a subject of MTV's Rebel Music episode on Iran (above) last year. As noted in this column last month, bands face a similar situation in Saudi Arabia. But since Iran is an official enemy of the west, the story of Confess even made it into the western corporate media. LISTEN>>>
7. DONE DYING - WE DREAM OR WE DIE
One reason US presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have big business running scared is they are largely self-funded, unlike candidates who take money from corporate backers like the Koch brothers. On "A Koch And A Smile", US hardcore veterans Done Dying froth: "They incorporate the state, while chanting its name. They infuse debate with hate, while rigging the game." Another reason Trump has big business running scared is his plan to deport 11 million people - a source of cheap labour - prompting South American band Mana to encourage Latinos to vote. Bernie Sanders seems to be picking up the most musical backers, including Leah Kauffman, who released the song "Bernie Bae", but less likely musicians have been chipping in as they put out new albums, including Lucinda Williams on her family's leftist past and Steve Mason ranting against capitalism. Other worthy political hardcore albums out this month include those from Wolf Down, Anti-Circle and Magrudergrind. MORE>>>
8. TOMAS DONCKER - THE MESS WE MADE
When even Bernie Sanders is wary of making any commitments to the Black Lives Matter movement, the power of white supremacy is laid bare. So all power to Beyonce for "breaking the internet" with her "Formation" video (above). The clip, featuring a young boy dancing in front of riot cops, a wall graffiti'd with "Stop Killing Us" and Beyonce atop a police car sinking into New Orleans floodwaters, was released a day before her Super Bowl appearance, which was an even more powerful homage to the Black Panthers. The backlash was inevitable. Arguably just as pleasing to the ear, though far more underground, is radical blues guitarist Tomas Doncker, whose new album segues from jungle to funk to R'n'B and back, spouting Black politics all the way. The issues are so pressing that white artists are also speaking out, such as rapper Macklemore, whose new album features the much-maligned "White Supremacy II", and folk-country activists The Indigo Girls, who sing about the new Jim Crow. MORE>>>
9. VARIOUS ARTISTS - IF IT WAS EASY, THEY WOULDN'T CALL IT A STRUGGLE
Also throwing a spotlight on mass Black incarceration was Kendrick Lamar, who performed in chains at The Grammys, where his album To Pimp A Butterfly - easily the most praised political album from last year - won Best Rap Album. Black incarceration rates are no better in Australia, where it was declared on February 18 that there are now more Australians in prison than at any time in the nation's history. Nor are things much better in Wales, where new underground record label AFIACH released a 37-track anti-prison compilation on February 17. Highlights include junglists Wowza, whose song "Dangerous" contains the refrain, "Do you know what a cop fears the most? More than even being shot? Prison." The aforementioned Cistem Failure also lash out with the song "Tear Down The Walls", which blasts: "If you think different or if you misbehave, they will lock you up, they will put you in a cage, so let's burn, burn the prisons down." LISTEN>>>
10. DUBIOZA KOLEKTIV - HAPPY MACHINE
The Grammys also announced the formation of a political action committee to try to ensure musicians are paid fairly by streaming services such as Spotify. Not that Balkan ska-punk-reggae rioters Dubioza Kolektiv would approve, since they launched their new album Happy Machine with an homage to piracy called "Free.mp3". The band sound like a Balkanised Asian Dub Foundation, who also just put out a blisteringly bass-heavy album of remixes. "Inspiration for 'Happy Machine' developed over two years by events that unfolded over that time," say Dubioza Kolektiv, "from Istanbul’s Gezi park protests ('All Equal'), the jailing of the founders of The Pirate Bay ('Free.mp3'), the Syrian refugee crisis and Europe’s shameful response to it." As Europe's shame deepened with the ongoing fiscal bullying of Greece, strikes broke out across the country and appropriate sounds were unleashed by Greek punks Vodka Juniors, whose new album features songs such as "Always Question Authority". LISTEN>>>
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.