Do you think there's no good protest music these days? So did I, until I started looking for it. The truth is, it's always been out there, but it's sometimes just a bit difficult to find. Every month, I search it out, listen to it all, then round up the best of it that relates to that month's political news. Here's the round-up for January 2023.
1. WINKY D - EUREKA EUREKA
On January 1, Zimbabwean musician Winky D released his new album, which blasts the ZANU-PF government and its derailing of the country’s decolonisation. Its track “Dzimba Dzemabwe” asks: “Is this the land we cry for, we die for?” The song “Ibotso”, meanwhile, rails against divisive policies that keep the poor killing each other “whilst the authors of their misery and poverty remain unscathed”. The album sparked a backlash from pro-government forces, including the Economic Empowerment Group, which arranged a press conference where it called for Winky D to be de-platformed. Its move followed similar actions against Zimbabwean protest musicians in the past. A week later, the African People’s Socialist Party held an update on a copycat crackdown on the African diaspora in the US. The move came after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted party members in raids last July. LISTEN>>>
2. RASHA NAHAS - AMRAT
On January 26, Israeli soldiers killed seven Palestinians, including two civilians, Palestinians said. The move followed controversial Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power with the country’s most right-wing government yet, supported by Australia. A week earlier, Palestinian musician Rasha Nahas released her new album, recorded in the occupied Golan Heights. The record expresses her longing for home and on its title track, she sings of reclaiming the city of Haifa. The album followed the release of US-based Sri Lankan rapper Ras Ceylon’s new long player, which addresses similar repression in his home country. There was hope to the north, however, as Nepal voted in a new communist government. That followed the release of a new EP by radical Nepalese hardcore punks Chepang. Discussing it, they said: “We represent the underclass… and a vision of a world without borders.” LISTEN>>>
3. RUSSKAJA - TURBO POLKA PARTY
“No Borders” is also a standout track on the new album by self-described “Russian Turbo Polka Metal” band Russkaja, released on a January 5 single as Russia continued to wage war on Ukraine. On it, they sing: “Bombs are falling again, can you understand? It's the 21st century and nothing has changed. Digital media is blinding our eyes, turning friends into enemies with all those lies. The hunt is on just like in ancient times. Open fire on our brothers who cross the line. We're puppets of dictators again and again. I see the more things change the more they stay the same. No borders, no wars, we’re equal, all the same. No nations, no fighting, just stop this fucking game.” The record came as activists fought for the release of Ukrainian journalist and human rights campaigner Maksym Butkevytch, now held by Russia as a prisoner of war. Butkevytch founded the No Borders Project, which defends refugees. LISTEN>>>
4. ANTI-FLAG - LIES THEY TELL OUR CHILDREN
On January 6, a Pentagon document revealed that the US had lied about Afghan civilians killed in a 2021 drone strike. The same day, US political punk stalwarts Anti-Flag released their aptly-titled new album, Lies They Tell Our Children, which also blasts borders and wars. On the opening track, "Sold Everything", they holler: "Well, they sold all our bodies, collected our names, sold all our fears, stole all our birthdates. Every thought we have exchanged for windfall. If they gave you nothing, you'd have nothing at all. Fuck all their borders and fuck all their wars, the violence of Wall Street and profiteer cures. Neoliberal white saviours, Murdoch and Fox News. Fuck the Pittsburgh Police and the President, too." Discussing the record's intent, they said: “Music and art can change people, and those people can change the fucking world.” LISTEN>>>
5. MARGO PRICE - STRAYS
On January 23, women marched to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roe v Wade ruling. The 1973 US Supreme Court decision protected abortion rights, but the court reversed the decision last June. On January 13, US country musician Margo Price released her new album. It includes the song “Lydia”, inspired by body autonomy after she passed by a women’s health clinic before the Roe v Wade decision was reversed. “The song feels like a premonition now, with women’s rights being stripped and all the abortion bans happening,” she said. The album followed the release of a new LP by punk pioneer Nina Hagen, which includes the anthem “United Women Of The World”, and the fiercely feminist new album by Berlin-based punks Fatigue, titled Precious Rage. On January 13, their fellow feminist punks Matriarch launched their new EP in Canberra amid an ugly new anti-abortion debate among Australian politicians. LISTEN>>>
6. DISPLEASURE - VORTEX OF SHIT
On January 19, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced she was resigning. The move prompted countless eulogies in the media contrasting male world leaders' cruelty with her more "compassionate" politics. Taking a more critical view of her country’s political scene is the new album from radical Kiwi band Displeasure, the “digital subsidiary” of punk trio Unsanitary Napkin, who released a scathing album last year. They say the new record tackles “the swirling mess of scaremongering bullshit rearing its increasingly ugly head in political discourse in Aoetearoa … things have reached the point where disgruntled science-denying farmers are teaming up with perverse toilet-obsessed transphobes, raging anti-vaxxers and evangelical megachurch despots in a horrific whirlpool of shit ideas manipulated by white supremacists and alt-right trolls”. LISTEN>>>
7. SERJ TANKIAN - MADOFF: THE MONSTER OF WALL STREET
On January 4, streaming giant Netflix launched a show about infamous Ponzi scheme fraudster Bernie Madoff. The series is impressively soundtracked by Serj Tankian, who also fronts the hugely successful political metal band System Of A Down. “It’s right that this deep dive is more concerned with the how than the why,” said The Guardian, which called the series “jaw-dropping”. Yet surely, given the way the average global citizen is constantly bombarded with messages to consume, the only surprising thing about Madoff’s tale is why more people like him haven’t been exposed. Australia’s own Madoff, the pathetic Melissa Caddick, was clearly brainwashed by luxury brands’ advertising. And America’s latest version, alleged fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried, has ridden the worldwide belief in climate-wrecking cryptocurrencies. Yet financial experts have slammed crypto as the biggest Ponzi scheme yet. LISTEN>>>
8. IGGY POP - EVERY LOSER
Netflix’s Madoff show came as such mindless capitalist consumerism continued to wreck the planet. On January 5, it was reported that Australian gas exporters’ earnings had hit a record. The same day, The Sydney Morning Herald reported a “hopeful” end to China’s Australian coal ban. On January 17, activists were sentenced for stopping a train from the Australian coal mine owned by billionaire Gautam Adani, just before he was accused of share price manipulation. The same day, police detained climate activist Greta Thunberg for protesting against coal in Germany. On January 25, it was revealed US president Joe Biden had granted more oil and gas permits than his predecessor, Donald Trump. And on January 6, the same day that Western Australia was hit by its worst floods on record, punk legend Iggy Pop released his new album, which laments climate change-driven floods in his beloved Miami. LISTEN>>>
9. ZIGGY RAMO - SUGAR COATED LIES
Also despairing at the eco-vandalism is the new album from Aboriginal rapper Ziggy Ramo. Released on January 26 — the day some Australians celebrate the 1788 arrival of the country’s European invaders, while others protest against the celebration — it came with a warning. “This album isn’t for your protest, it’s for mine,” said Ramo. “Every day is invasion day on stolen land. I’m Blak all the time, not just on the 26th of January. I’ve never called myself political, I’ve never called myself an activist. I am a human being. I make music about my lived experience, which is inherently deemed political because I’m Blak ... I don’t want to change the date, I want to change the entire state." It followed albums by Aboriginal rockers Wildfire Munwurrk, which laments the destruction of the land, and Canadian Indigenous rappers Snotty Nose Rez Kids, which raises the enviro alarm on its song “Hot Planet”. LISTEN>>>
10. SONGS OF DISAPPEARANCE - AUSTRALIAN FROG CALLS
Joining the chorus of alarm is the fundraising album Australian Frog Calls by Songs Of Disappearance, whose previous album about endangered birds soared to No.2 on Australia's ARIA charts. "The majority of recordings on this album are high-quality public recordings of threatened frog species submitted to the national FrogID project," said the record's producers. "This project, being promoted as part of FrogID Week, shows that Australians will not allow these precious voices to be silenced." The album, which eventually "hopped" as high as No.3 on the ARIA charts, came after the COP15 United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. That summit, which received far less attention than the COP27 climate conference just weeks earlier, highlighted the dire state of species loss. It came as companies began mining seabeds, threatening further environmental collapse worldwide. LISTEN>>>
Video: Winky D ft Shingai-Dzimba Dzemabwe - winkyonline.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left since 2009. He also wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country and makes political music. You can stream or download Mat Ward's latest album based on protest chants, Why I Protest, free for a limited time.
Stream our new "Best protest songs of 2023" playlist on Spotify. This replaces the previous "Political albums" playlist, that was getting too big at more than 700 albums.
Read about more political albums.
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