Music for the Weekend #015 — Protest Songs: We are in this Together
When the status quo wants everything to remain comme il faut, a protest song will always appear asking for change. It was always like that, from medieval ballads dedicated to a fictional Robin Hood to modern hip hop, because a song can be an extraordinary vehicle for the awareness of a problem or a cause, in order to expose injustices, almost always in an authentic desire to find solutions in the construction of a refrain that exposes the emotions felt and shared by many so that those feelings mature in conception.
From inflexible and hard to chew portraits about racial hatred, to blunt messages against injustice or the idiocy of war, music has always played an important role in the demand for change. Be it a black gospel denouncing the suffering of slavery, a “stadium anthem” with a subversive message about female iniquity or even a small music limerick that aligns us with the need for environmental solutions, the best protest songs speak not only about issues of their eras, but transcend the time when they are written to become timeless political expressions. Hip-hop may continue to be the most politically engaged music of our age, but over the course of several decades, jazz, folk, funk and rock have contributed to some of the best ideological protest songs of all time.
Roland Barthes argued that ideology is a second-degree semiotic system, however the approach to sung protest acts is of particular interest, not only because of its content, but mainly because of how it reaches its recipient so much better. As if to claim Umberto Eco when he argued that both the medium and the message itself may be loaded with cultural meanings, a protest song to be efficient must feel the “whole” that afflicts society but encapsulating these feelings in a simple and understandable way , almost bite-size. Black Lives Matter, a short sentence with kilos of implied meaning means a lot when professed in a country where a former president said that “without debate or criticism no nation can succeed and no republic can survive”.
However, the protest almost always puts the “protestants” in check as well, because the establishment repeatedly refutes the ideas expressed as disobedience to “higher” values. Thoreau wrote that “disobedience is the true foundation of freedom. The obedient will be slaves “and, during the Vietnam War or, in our particular case the war in Africa, many artists brandished their quill against the sword until not a single mother thought she could lose another child in a conflict led by idiots. The song is a weapon that serves, abusing the title of Cesar Cruz’s brilliant poem, to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. And as long as there are social, economic or racial disparities, whenever we march towards some sort of inevitable doom, there will be music to be made for the voice of anyone who still wants to change the world.
People get ready, there’s a train comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
It was inevitable for me this week that I address the theme of the protest song. Because, reaffirming the previous point of view that we are dealing with timeless songs, we can conclude that L’empire du côté obscur, IAM’s 1997 rap, is not at all about Star Wars, nor TRB’s Power in the Darkness, complete with a political parody about an old fuddy duddy complaining about the state of the country he lives in, a full assertion of it’s tongue in cheek by being a 1978 portrait of those who voted for Brexit 38 years later. I start with I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free sung by Nina Simone and continue straight away with For What it’s Worth, written by Stephen Stills and which is often referred to as an anti-war song. In fact, Stills wrote that Buffalo Springfield hit in response to the Sunset Strip curfew riots of the late 1960s, hence the lines “There’s battle lines being drawn / Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”.
From the great late Sharon Jones with her Dap Kings playing the classic by Woodie Guthrie that is even taught in school to many kids who fail to understand the rebellious alternative to God Bless America written by the singer representing the American worker and his equal rights in front of the more affluent social classes to Luta Livre, a new project by Luis Varatojo and from whom I leave Iniquidade, I always chose songs that make us think about the subjects they deal with.
Stand up straight, let’s investigate, let’s know, let’s learn! Hey!
Let’s listen, let’s understand, let’s think! Hey!
Allow us to understand, free us to learn more
Words by Samy Bishai for Natacha Atlas, wisdom is power, learning is being in constant revolution. I end with a magnificent rendering of Strange Fruit by Kandance Springs. The original was written by Jewish writer, professor and composer Abel Meeropol in 1937 and recorded two years later by Billie Holiday as a protest to the lynching of African Americans in southern states. This song is considered “the beginning of the civil rights movement” in the United States.
This weekend everyone could have the right to remain silent however I do not recommend it.
Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth
Edwin Starr – War
Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
IAM – L’empire du côté obscur
Chico Buarque – Apesar De Você
he Specials – Ghost Town (Extended Version)
Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come
Tom Robinson Band – Power in the Darkness
Joni Haastrup – Free My People
A Tribe Called Quest – We The People…
Radiohead – Idioteque
Eddie Kendricks – My People… Hold On
K.I.M. – Meat Is Murder
Natacha Atlas – Batkallim Recharged (Dogbeats vs. Natacha Atlas)
Boris Vian – Le déserteur
Advanced Chemistry – Fremd im eigenen Land
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son
hompson Twins – Revolution
James Brown – It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World
X-Ray Spex – Oh Bondage, Up Yours!
Stevie Wonder – Living For The City
Luta Livre – Iniquidade
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
The Staple Singers – Masters Of War
Prince – Baltimore
The Impressions – People Get Ready
Kamal Keila – Agricultural Revolution
Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name
The Isley Brothers – Fight The Power
Public Enemy – Fight The Power
Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young – Ohio
The Gossip – Standing In The Way Of Control (Le Tigre Remix)
NWA – Express Yourself (Extended Mix)
Mickey 3D – Respire
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – This Land Is Your Land
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message
The Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen
The Alexander Review – A Change Had Better Come
Kandance Springs – Strange Fruit