10 new albums for a burning world

June 28, 2023
June 2023 protest albums

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 June 2023.


Climate activists rallied in Sydney for World Environment Day on June 5. Eleven days later, Sydney pop star Jack River released her new album, which was inspired by the climate crisis and parenthood. (Shameless plug: I'm also based in Sydney and just released an album inspired by exactly the same thing.) The same day, iconic Icelandic band Sigur Ros released their latest ambient album, which also tackles the environment emergency. “We’re always thinking about climate change, doom-scrolling and going to hell," they said. "The world felt a bit bleak making this album, but maybe there is hope." Little hope was offered by the news three days earlier that wells owned by Santos had been leaking gas into the ocean off Western Australia for a decade. The company said the wells near the Pilbara coast could not be fixed. But the environment regulator’s position is that indefinite leaking is “unacceptable”. LISTEN>>> 


New York City reported the world's worst air pollution on June 7 as smoke from Canada's climate-fuelled wildfires shrouded the metropolis. Days earlier, Canadian First Nations hip-hop producer Boogey The Beat released his new album, which features the track "The Sage Is On Fire". On it, Indigenous emcees Snotty Nose Rez Kids turn the traditional healing practice of burning sage into a Molotov cocktail as they rap: "The sage, the sage, the sage is on fire! We just want clean water, let that motherfucker burn!" The wildfires, which were expected to scorch more Canadian land than ever, forced mines to close in eastern Canada on June 7. But a week later, oil giant Shell announced it was dropping its supposed efforts to become environmentally-friendly and pivoting back to oil. It was doing so to "invest in the models that work - those with the highest returns". LISTEN>>> 


Amid such climate-wrecking greed, it was unsurprising when Nature reported on June 6 that an ice-free Arctic was set to become normal "within most of our lifetimes”. Slightly more surprising was the news on June 18 that a billionaire and three fellow tourists had paid $US250,000 ($365,000) each to visit the Titanic, which sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg that had drifted from the Arctic. Even more surprising was the fact they had been stupid enough to do it in a submersible that wasn't even certified and had subsequently vanished, sparking a search that cost taxpayers "millions". In stark contrast to the scant attention paid to hundreds of refugees dying on a sinking boat days earlier, the media went into a live-blogging frenzy over the story. Such inequality is lambasted on the new album from blues artist Melody Angel, released on June 16, which laments those living in "ghetto poverty". LISTEN>>>   


In the five days that authorities spent millions of taxpayers' dollars looking for the four rich tourists and their risk-loving sub pilot, about 108,000 people worldwide died from hunger. That's according to Oxfam's figures from September last year, which estimated one person dying of malnutrition every four seconds. The search ended when debris from the sub's implosion - an apparent result of its uncertified design - was found on June 22. The day before, activists in nearby Portland, Maine, rallied for the homeless. A fortnight earlier on the other side of the US, activists in Portland, Oregon, protested a ban on homeless people camping amid soaring rents and house prices. On June 16, Grammy-winning protest singer John Mellencamp released his politically powerful new album, whose song "The Eyes Of Portland" addresses the city's housing crisis "in this land of plenty where nothing gets done". LISTEN>>>    


Also blasting such inequity is the sublime new album from Brookyln poet Aja Monet, released on June 9. "If you wanted to take land from a people bent on resisting colonialism," she asserts over immaculate, snaking jazz, "insert McDonald's, Walmart or the Jones Act. Or blame it on a storm of a woman named Maria, who grew up in Spanish Harlem, who reminded us of the western story that as the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Never mind the wealth that ain’t so common under the foot of US force, the way loss runs through steep hill sides or rivers swell the veins between vacant towns. We blame the thirsty but not the corporations that tax water, the shocking doctrines of profit over people." On June 21, it was reported that investors who had bought up rights to water in Phoenix, Arizona, were now making big profits as climate change meant new housing estates were running dry. LISTEN>>>  


As Aja Monet skewered the suffering of African Americans, the plight of South Africa's people hit new lows. "Cholera largely disappeared in developed economies with modern sewage systems," reported Bloomberg on June 15. "Its return near Pretoria shows how far a nation has fallen." A fortnight earlier, South African protest musicians BCUC released their new album recorded in Soweto, describing it as "music for the people by the people with the people". That was followed by the new long player from Nigerian group BANTU, which includes the song "Africa For Sale". "See our government selling land and people," they sing. "Slave masters, middlemen never stop their evil. Dem go sign secret contracts wey no make sense at all. Give away our sovereignty for peanuts and shopping malls." The album came as Bloomberg reported that "Africa needs to monetise its trees to help slow global warming". LISTEN>>>


Excoriating the exploitation of Africa in a similar way is the new album from "one of the most successful punk rock groups of all time", Rancid, released on June 2. On "The Bloody & Violent History", they recall the Barbary Coast, the site of the first military land action overseas by the United States, to reclaim American slaves in captivity, in 1805. "Who orchestrates the orchestrators," they sing, "intimidates intimidators, when you can't trust the lawmakers and the grifters and the takers? Watch your back! The bloody and violent history of the Barbary Coast." Back in Rancid's home state of California on June 5, 240 Black workers alleged rampant racism at Elon Musk's Tesla electric car factory. Their testimonies filed in Alameda County Superior Court alleged frequent use of racial slurs and references to the San Francisco manufacturing site as a plantation or slave ship. LISTEN>>>


Colonial brutality also looms large on David Bridie's new album of "reflections on Australia". For the album, released on June 2, he asked 13 collaborators to "write something that's you". On "Freedom", Kurdish artist Farhad Bandesh speaks about his seven years as a refugee in detention on Manus Island. On "Mission Baby", Mutti Mutti musician Kutcha Edwards narrates an eight-minute letter to the mother he was taken from as a child. Aboriginal injustice is also tackled on the new solo album from Pond singer Nicholas Allbrook, released a week later. “We have a great weight, which is acknowledging what’s happened in terms of white settlement, massacres and other catastrophic injuries to the Indigenous people and the overall soul of the country," he said. “I don’t think we can progress unless there’s some kind of truth-telling. We all share it... It’s like we’re trying to hide something.” LISTEN>>>


Aboriginal Senator Lidia Thorpe had apparently had enough of people hiding things on June 14, when she used parliamentary privilege to accuse Liberal Senator David Van of sexual harassment. She was attacked by the media for doing so. But in the following days, women from Van's own party came forward to accuse him of the same thing. To stop further damage to a party already suffering in the polls from its sexism, Van was forced to resign. With leaders like that, it's hardly surprising that, a week later, chart-topping Sydney rapper Kerser released his 10th and final misogynistic album to universal acclaim. It was lauded by the Australian music press, yet it features a song about taping a woman's mouth shut. Hitting back is the fiercely feminist new album from Aussie pop punks Dream Wife, released on June 9. Discussing it, they said: "If you're not political in your music, what's the point?" LISTEN>>>    


Showing the dire state of politics worldwide, on June 19, Britain's parliament approved a report that former prime minister Boris Johnson misled parliament. He “committed a serious contempt” when he told MPs COVID-19 rules were followed, despite revelations of illegal parties in 10 Downing Street. Venting people's anger was British chart-topper Tom Walker, with his song "Number 10". “The reaction to that song made it abundantly clear that it wasn’t just me feeling cheated by the Conservative government,” he said on June 27. In a similar vein, on June 16, veteran protest musician Yusuf / Cat Stevens released his new album, which calls for such leaders to be "locked in London Zoo". And on June 2, London band Steve White & The Protest Family released their latest album of radical, rabble-rousing folk punk, which "surveys post-pandemic, post-Brexit Britain and finds it wanting". LISTEN>>>

Video: Trickle-Down Town. Steve White & The Protest Family.

Want to get this column every month? Just email matwardmusic@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my monthly email that includes a link to this column here at Green LeftYes, I want to read this column every month.

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. This year, Mat Ward released his new album, Climate Wars.

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.

Stream Green Left TV’s political music playlist.

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