10 new political albums that will make you think twice
By Mat Ward
1. VARIOUS ARTISTS - BRING DOWN THE WALLS
At the start of the month, workers around the world marched for May Day as their employers got ever richer, exemplified by the song "American Poor" on the new folk album by Dead Horses. Unable to march, however, were the most exploited workers - the prison labourers locked behind bars. Speaking up for such detainees was Manchester-born visual artist Phil Collins, whose anti-prison benefit album Bring Down The Walls was released the same day. Aiming to "bring house music back to its political roots", it was accompanied by an art exhibition which transformed into a nightclub. Collins, who worked for years at a New York jail, said: "Historically, house culture has often been a mode of resistance." As if to illustrate his point, ravers faced off against Nazis in Berlin at the end of the month, saying: "The Berlin club culture is everything that Nazis are not. We are progressive, queer, feminist, anti-racist, inclusive, colourful - and we have unicorns." LISTEN>>>
2. THE LAST POETS - UNDERSTAND WHAT BLACK IS
On May 14, activists marched against Black deaths in custody in Australia after a police sergeant deliberately drove over an 18-year-old Aboriginal man, who sustained serious injuries. The protest came as Aboriginal rapper Apeman released his acclaimed new EP, mockingly declaring himself a "noble savage". Days later, a US collective who met in prison and went on to give birth to hip-hop music, The Last Poets, released their first album in 20 years. Discussing it, Abiodun Oyewole noted how little had changed since they started writing songs about police brutality in the 1970s. "They're still killing Black boys," he said. "It's like a hobby or something, and the cops get away with it. I don't think there's one police officer in jail for killing a Black child. I don't think they even have it on the books to do that. Every other week, there's another killing in some place." As the Gun Violence Archive noted, there have been almost as many mass shootings as there have been days in 2018. LISTEN>>>
3. TERENCE BLANCHARD - LIVE
Shooting back at all the gun violence was actor Donald Glover with his new music video, "This Is America". Released on May 5 under his rapper name Childish Gambino, the confronting video went viral, propelling the song to No.1 and sparking feminist and Nigerian tributes. Days later, jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard released his new album, Live, which is dedicated to ending gun violence. It was recorded as he and his band toured the US, visiting communities touched by such tragedies. "The music itself is created to help people heal," said Blanchard, who has composed the music for all the movies made by radical Black director Spike Lee since the 1990s. In a similar vein, jazz artist Idris Ackamoor's new album contains the song "Soliloquy For Michael Brown", dedicated to the teenager who was killed by a cop in 2014. Likewise, Dana Murray's new jazz album Negro Manifesto contains a suite dedicated to footballer and Black Lives Matter activist Colin Kaepernick. MORE>>>
4. MOLLY JOHNSON - MEANING TO TELL YA
Such dire circumstances usually produce angry music, but Canadian jazz singer and philanthropist Molly Johnson takes the opposite tack on her new album, producing some of the most joyous protest music ever recorded on the mellifluous "Protest Song". "People, it's time to sing your protest song," she beams, like she's addressing a bunch of revellers. "Yeah people, something to sing while you march along. You're gonna march all through the night, nothing but a candlelight and a fire in your soul, burning so bright." The album came as her country prevented its Venezuelan immigrants from voting in Venezuela's election after the right-wing opposition boycotted the May 20 poll, which re-elected socialist president Nicholas Maduro with a huge majority. The US, which had likewise tried to sabotage the election, immediately enforced sanctions against Venezuela, despite international observers and even the opposition offering no evidence of electoral fraud. MORE>>>
5. D.O.A. - FIGHT BACK
It was up to Molly Johnson's fellow Canadians D.O.A. to come up with some angry protest music, with their 17th album released just days earlier. On Fight Back, the band - who started the whole hardcore punk movement with their second album Hardcore '81 - tackle "economic inequality, racism, sexism, and all those kinds of things", said singer Joey Shithead, who is running for mayor as a Green candidate in his town of Burnaby. "We're at real loggerheads with [Canadian PM Justin] Trudeau right now because he approved this pipeline that runs right through my hometown," he said. But he also doesn't spare the leader south of the border, on songs like "Just Got Back from the USA". Stomping on similar ground are Californian hardcore supergroup The Fever 333, whose Black guitarist says he didn't always fit into the scene, experiencing "blatant racism". "Hardcore is supposed to be all inclusive, and I think it has good intentions, but I can't say it extends to everyone," he said. MORE>>>
6. U-ROY - TALKING ROOTS
Tackling that racism head-on was reggae stalwart U-Roy on his new album, which depicts Donald Trump on the cover. The artwork shows the US president presiding over a wall that looks less like his flimsy prototype for the Mexican border and more like the apartheid wall separating Israelis and Palestinians. That was timely, given the hell unleashed when Trump opened the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, causing 62 Palestinian protesters to be gunned down on May 14. The deaths came just two days after Israel won the Eurovision song contest, hailed by The New York Times as a "diplomatic victory". "Never mind the preparations for the controversial opening on Monday of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem," it said. "The win by Netta Barzilai for her #MeToo-themed hit, 'Toy', seemed to ease, at least for now, deep-seated Israeli fears of cultural boycott and isolation." Days later, more artists joined the boycott of Israel as Brazil's Gilberto Gil cancelled his concert there. MORE>>>
7. FRANK TURNER - BE MORE KIND
Also dumping on Trump was British singer-songwriter Frank Turner, who returned to politics on his new album, released on May 4. On "Make America Great Again" he sings: "Well I know I'm just an ignorant Englishman, but I'd like to make America great again. So if you'll forgive my accent and the cheek of it, here's some suggestions from the special relationship. Let's make America great again, by making racists ashamed again. Let's make compassion in fashion again. Let's make America great again." As for the backlash, he said: "I have played 2000 plus shows, I've written these songs, and I’ve worked my arse off and I’ve received this platform and therefore I have the right to say whatever the fuck I want with this platform and to use it to engage whatever political issues I want... you fucking go out there and write a damn fucking record and play 2000 shows and then you can do whatever the fuck you want with that platform, but I’ve earned this one." LISTEN>>>
8. SONS OF KEMET - YOUR QUEEN IS A REPTILE
Back in Frank Turner's Britain, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding reportedly attracted 2 billion viewers on May 19. Were you one of those sucked in by the spectacle? Perhaps you were curious after Markle urged her 2 million Instagram followers to read Noam Chomsky's book Who Rules the World, causing even the Chomster himself to speculate that she could "shake up" the British monarchy? Or did you avoid the whole thing, disturbed by the unsettling notion that humans may actually have the same tiny monarchist minds as ants or bees? If you were one of the party poopers, you might find solace in the new album Your Queen Is A Reptile, by London jazz quartet Sons Of Kemet. The title is a deliberate shot at the British monarchy, a system that reaffirms the notion that one’s birthright is enough to define class and status, said saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. He wrote each of the album’s nine tunes for an alternate matriarch from the African diaspora. MORE>>>
9. SVALBARD - IT'S HARD TO HAVE HOPE
There was no word on whether the politically-silenced Markle - a one-time feminist activist - was celebrating the defeat of anti-abortionists in Ireland's referendum on May 26. Definitely delighted, however, were British post-hardcore band Svalbrad, whose new album released a day earlier tackles "wage theft, violent misogyny, feminism, reproductive freedom, 'designer' pet breeds and the endemic problem of sexual assault at shows". On the song "Pro-Life?", singer Serena Cherry asks: "Is it pro-life to have no rights? To bear unwanted children in the name of Jesus Christ?" It followed the new album from New York folk-pop artist Aisha Badru, led by feminist protest single "Mind On Fire", which has clocked up millions of streams. On second single "Fossil Fuels" she likens resource depletion to a draining relationship, singing: "You turn me on like a faucet and you left me running, drip, drip, til my fossil fuels were exhausted, you filled your cup to the tip." LISTEN>>>
10. XAVIER RUDD - STORM BOY
Despite the draining state of the world, Australian Indigenous environmentalist Xavier Rudd returned as energised as ever with his new album on May 25. Promoting the record, which tackles the endless assault on the environment and his people, he said: "The most pressing theme is climate change, the most serious. The policies brought forth by US president Donald Trump scare me." Trump famously told Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull "you're worse than me" on immigration, a fact which manifested itself in yet another refugee death in Australian detention on May 22. Just five days earlier, Tuareg musician Bombino - who first cradled a guitar as a teenage refugee in Algeria - released his new acclaimed album of desert blues. In the Tuareg rebellion, two of Bombino's bandmates disappeared and are assumed to have been executed by Nigeria's army. "I always believed that there was a path out through music, so that’s why I decided to take my guitar and go,” he said. MORE>>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009 and authored the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country. He also makes political music and is about to release a future bass album about Elon Musk. Follow him on Spotify here.
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