Hey, New Statesman, here are 10 new political albums
By Mat Ward
Putting the boot into British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at the start of this month, New Statesman echoed The Guardian in asking: "What has happened to political pop music?" But Green Left Weekly covers at least 10 new political albums every month. Here's this month's round-up, which actually features far more than 10 albums (count them). What albums would you suggest? Comment on Twitter or Facebook. Next month's albums will include a look back at the whole year. Videos not playing? Try a bigger screen.
1. A.B. ORIGINAL - RECLAIM AUSTRALIA
On November 5, activists in Melbourne rallied to welcome recently released refugees into the community. But they were met by protesters from Reclaim Australia, who want to "reclaim" the country from Muslims - despite the fact that Muslims were here, trading peacefully with the Aboriginal people, way before whites arrived with their land-stealing genocide. Enter Aboriginal rappers Briggs and Trials with their supergroup A.B. Original, whose debut album, Reclaim Australia, reclaims the title for the only people that could legitimately use it. Somehow managing to blend righteous anger with super-slick production and laugh-out loud humour, the album has been widely acclaimed. Yet even when Australians are praising it, some still don't seem to get it, saying it's about "past atrocities", when the atrocities are still going on. If you really want to gauge how strong it is, just compare its lyrics with those of the white Australian hip-hop albums that topped the charts this month. MORE>>>
2. ARCHIE ROACH - LET LOVE RULE
A.B. Original's album opens with a quote from Aboriginal country music pioneer Archie Roach, saying its "in their face" strength reminds him of his days protesting in the 1970s. But Roach also released one of his strongest albums yet this month, whose gospel-tinged message of unity is the exact opposite of the divided-and-ruled racists. On the album's title track, he sings: "I cover up my ears, so I cannot hear the voices of hate and the voices of fear. I cover up my eyes, so I cannot see what's happened to this country that used to be free. You know I love this country, every rock and every tree, the grasslands and the desert, the rivers and the sea. You know I love the people, wherever they are from. Yes, I love all the people who call this land their home." Melbourne's New Dub City handed the microphone to a refugee to tell his own tale on their new album out this month, released days after dynamic Delhi producer Ravana also put out an album of political dub music. MORE>>>
3. HUGH MASEKELA - NO BORDERS
South African jazz trailblazer Hugh Masekela also questions the hysteria around border protection on his new album No Borders, out this month. Explaining the title, he says: "I don't believe in borders because we didn’t create them. African borders were created in 1886, in Germany, but we don’t know that and we fight over those borders. Borders are artificial. We even have a map from 1590 in the album sleeve to show [what] Africa looked like in 1590." The album, a mixture of jazz, soul and Africa's sun-soaked zouk music, was released weeks after refugee African anti-racist protester Jafri was pepper-sprayed by police in Melbourne. It also came as Australia tightened its already illegal border controls and sought a refugee swap with the US, sparking protests nationwide. Masekela opens the album with the words: "I've been working in your house 500 years. You never gave an aboriginal a break. No way, you're a cold-hearted mofo." MORE>>>
4. DAVID CROSBY - LIGHTHOUSE
Standing in solidarity with the aboriginal people of South Dakota this month was US musician Neil Young, who marked his 71st birthday by touring the Native American protest site against the Dakota Access Pipeline and releasing the song "Indian Givers". The move came as Australia was dubbed "fossil of the day" for trying to promote coal at international climate summit COP22, then spent a full hour in parliament debating whether climate change actually exists as temperatures in the Arctic hit 20C above average. Long-time conservationist Young was mocked this year by his old bandmate David Crosby, after Young agreed to let his music be used in the US presidential campaign of Donald Trump, who has investments in the Dakota pipeline. Weeks later, Crosby released his new, mostly acoustic album, featuring "Look In Their Eyes” about Syrian refugees coming ashore in Greece, and “Somebody Other Than You”, an indictment of warmongering politicians. MORE>>>
5. VARIOUS ARTISTS - 30 DAYS, 30 SONGS
Trump was the inspiration for author Dave Eggers to call for 30 songs against the Republican Party presidential candidate to be released daily in the 30 days up to the US election. The response was so overwhelming that the project swelled to 50 songs of a quality that suggested yet more tunes may have have been culled. In the few days before the election, Trump's rival, Hillary Clinton, was officially endorsed in a desperate-looking scramble by musicians including Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and supposed future presidential hopeful Jay-Z, whose "bad language" was slammed by Donald "Grab Em By The Pussy" Trump. Almost all the mainstream media backed the war-loving grandma - and most voters. But it was all to no avail, as the reportedly rigged Electoral College states made the racist granddad president anyway, despite only 25.7% of registered voters voting for him. The result led some to question whether political albums have any effect at all. MORE>>>
6. ALICIA KEYS - HERE
Trump's victory was followed by days of protests outside Trump Tower, where activists were joined by musicians including Cher and Lady Gaga. Clinton supporter Katy Perry cancelled concerts in China, sparking speculation she was depressed. Punk label Fat Wreck Chords relaunched its "Not My President" T-shirt to raise funds for anti-Trump activists. Alicia Keys abruptly swapped a performance of her new single on The Voice for "Holy War", one of several political songs on her new album, "due to the current climate". Trump voters were hoping they'd hurled a wildcat among the political pigeons. Instead, they were left looking at something more like the neutered ginger tomcat on Trump's head. It continued to sit obediently as the waters of the political swamp he'd vowed to drain rose ever higher while he grovelled to former foes. None of which put off rapper Kanye West, who declared his love for Trump, before being hospitalised with a suspected nervous breakdown. MORE>>>
7. COMMON - BLACK AMERICA AGAIN
Facing an orange-skinned white supremacist in the White House, the Black Lives Matter movement grimly said its work would "be harder, but the same". Taking inspiration from Black Lives Matter, hip-hop soul star Common released his most political album in years, to wide acclaim. The cast of Black musical Hamilton took vice-president elect Mike Pence to task when he attended their show, leading Trump to tweet angry demands for an apology and others to note that for the president, firing a nuclear weapon will be about as hard as firing off a tweet. But not everyone was depressed. Black rapper Azaelia Banks, who recently suffered a breakdown, said she was "proud as fuck" of Trump and "truly inspired". And investors recovered from their post-election panic to start getting excited about soaring shares in coal, oil and an Israeli wall-building company, just as Australian Zionists eulogised the recently deceased, mostly leftist musician Leonard Cohen for supporting Israeli troops. MORE>>>
8. A TRIBE CALLED QUEST - WE GOT IT FROM HERE... THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE
Common's fellow hip-hop soul pioneers A Tribe Called Quest returned after an 18-year absence with a widely-praised album fitting the politically-charged times, even ending with a suitably twisted track called "The Donald". Leaked emails had revealed that A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip had offered his services to help Clinton. Rage Against The Machine bassist Tim Commerford, who has been touring with A Tribe Called Quest's rap pioneer peers Public Enemy and Cypress Hill in their collective supergroup Prophets Of Rage, released the first album by his band Wakrat, who have been opening for Prophets Of Rage. Named after the band's drummer Mathias Wakrat and compared to political punks Fugazi, they are is as uncompromisingly radical as might be expected. At the end of the month, Elton John, who appears on A Tribe Called Quest's new album, denied that he would be playing at the president's inauguration, despite claims by Trump's transition team that he would. MORE>>>
9. ESKATOLOGY - REALITY CHECK
Elton John may balk at Trump, but the famed royalist is not one to balk at privilege. The same can't be said for Aboriginal rapper Eskatology, who released his latest album this month featuring bitter lead single "Her Majesty". Over a typically strong melody, he raps: "My ancestors watched as ships land on the southern land, gun in hand, racial chants at the Black man. When we're left with all the casualties, I'm looking at Her Majesty and checking my reality." Back in the so-called "motherland", the intensifying inequality was laid bare in the new album from Underclass UK; punk rappers Sleaford Mods likened the grim, circular rat race of life to a children's car racing toy on their new EP TCR; and Manchester indie scallywags Cabbage took aim at the royals with their Necroflat In The Palace EP. Its title track is about "the fact that Jimmy Savile had such a cushy relationship with the royal family", they say. "Someone's got to question that! You can’t just sing about love." MORE>>>
10. ELYSIA CRAMPTON - ELYSIA CRAMPTON PRESENTS: DEMON CITY
Holding it down for aboriginal people on the other side of the world is US-raised Bolivian artist Elysia Crampton, whose new album is based on Bolivian indigenous revolutionary Bartolina Sisa. She wrote the album - a unique collage of electronica featuring what sounds like Jim Henson puppets and Star Wars villains laughing maniacally in the background - while caring for her grandmother in Pacajes, Bolivia. Across the border in Brazil, thrash metal band Lacerated And Carbonised released their latest political album about Rio De Janeiro, Narcohell, as protests against the coup-installed government intensified. Equally heavy political albums also blasted forth this month from Warrior Soul, Cerebral Fix, Warhead and Napalm Death. Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia in 1967, but his comrade Fidel Castro outlived him until the end of this month. Silvio Rodriguez - one of many musicians to have recorded tributes to Castro - blogged, simply: "ETERNAL GLORY FOR FIDEL." MORE>>>
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.
Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.
3CR radio's Global Intifada show is a knowledgeable and diverse source of topical political music. Listen to it online here.