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 March 2023.
1. LONNIE HOLLEY - OH ME OH MY
On March 11, a song by a group of men convicted for the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, featuring former President Donald Trump, reached the top spot on the iTunes music charts. Not everyone was impressed. “Let the sonsabitches rot in jail for what they tried to do,” sings radical US folk singer Grant Peeples on his new album, released days earlier. Also condemning the kind of white supremacy that fuelled the January 6 attack is the powerful new album from blues singer Lonnie Holley, released on March 10. On it, he recounts how he is still suffering night terrors, at the age of 73, from his time at an Alabama juvenile correctional facility that tortured poor, Black children. A fortnight later, Black country singer Eric Bibb released his new album, which tells the story of John Howard Griffin, a white author who was severely beaten as a “traitor” after he posed as Black to highlight racism. LISTEN>>>
2. OL SING BLONG PLANTESEN - OL SING BLONG PLANTESEN
On March 21, people felt the legacy of another John Howard when they celebrated Harmony Day. Outside Australia, the day is marked as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. But in 1999, then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard made it Harmony Day, because he didn't like the “Black armband view of history” that looked at Australia's past and current racism. One album that does just that is Ol Sing Blong Plantesen. Released on March 3, it chronicles songs from the South Sea Islander slaves who worked Queensland’s cane fields. Two days after its release, Labor Senator Pat Dodson slammed Australia’s continuing racism by urging his own government to stop the “national disgrace” of Indigenous deaths in custody. And on March 23, Indigenous Senator Lidia Thorpe was attacked by Canberra police as she protested, saying transphobes were not welcome on Aboriginal land. LISTEN>>>
3. FEVER RAY - RADICAL ROMANTICS
Also tackling trans rights is the new album from Swedish experimental artist Fever Ray, released on March 10. On its opening track “What They Call Us”, the revered socialist musician asks: “Did you hear what they call us? Did you hear what they said? My plan was flexible. Don't get stuck anywhere.” Asked about it, they said: “I’m not a binary person. Being brought up as a girl and not having the words for understanding what you are, it’s just something very itchy. And every time you try to break out from that you’re being punished in some way.” On March 21, trans rights protesters were punished heavily for their beliefs when they were assaulted by Christian thugs at a rally for the bigoted One Nation party in Sydney. Two days later, sports governing body World Athletics voted to ban transgender women from competing in elite female competitions if they have gone through male puberty. LISTEN>>>
4. JEN CLOHER - I AM THE RIVER, THE RIVER IS ME
On March 3, queer Melbourne-based indie musician Jen Cloher released her new album, which celebrates her sexuality and Maori heritage. The video for lead single “Mana Takatapui” features people prominent in queer Maori culture (takatapuitanga), including NZ Greens MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, activist Quack Pirihi, drag queen trio The Tiwhas, non-binary model Tangaroa Paul and noted choreographer and dancer Jacob Tamata. Describing the acclaimed record, Cloher said: “A person who identifies as ‘takatapui’ is a Maori individual who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender... On a walk with a queer, trans Samoan friend, I told them of my new discovery. I took a deep breath remembering the speaker on my [Maori Dictionary] app and said 'takatapui' aloud for the first time. A sense of belonging ensued, like a question being answered. There was a warmth in my chest, the feeling was pride." LISTEN>>>
5. VARIOUS ARTISTS - WOMAN, LIFE, FREEDOM
On March 8, unionists in Iran joined oppressed women worldwide in marching for women’s rights on International Women’s Day. To mark the day, electronic Iranian musicians Nesa Azadikhah and AIDA were interviewed about their non-profit compilation album, Woman, Life, Freedom. The record takes its name from the protests that arose over the death last year of Jina Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested by Iran's morality police for not wearing a hijab. “As Iranian women artists, we had a deep desire to contribute to the uprisings by using our platform to raise awareness within the music industry,” they said. “That is what sparked the initial idea for the compilation; to gather and release the music of fellow Iranian women artists. Overall, the characteristic of Apranik Records – our record label that started as a result of this project – is that of power, defiance, ferocity and inspiration of women.” LISTEN>>>
6. LOS FASTIDIOS - REVOLT
Power, defiance and ferocity were also in full effect throughout March as the French protested attempts to raise France’s retirement age from 62 to 64. The protests came as French punks Livotsk promoted their new mini-LP, which condemns “patriarchy, bigotry and social determinism”. Across the border on March 7, insanely catchy Italian ska-punks Los Fastidios released their new album, which is about as fun as protest music gets. Its football terrace chant “Antifa Hooligans Ska” crucifies fascists as Italy’s “most right-wing prime minister yet” is feted by the corporate media. Elsewhere in Europe, Sweden’s Dennis Lyxzen — revered for his radical work with electronic-punk genre-blenders Refused — put out an innovative album with a “post-punk dream team” of musicians known as Fake Names. “Kick the scraps off the table,” it seethes. “Give just enough so that we are able to work ourselves to death.” LISTEN>>>
7. DAWN RAY’D - TO KNOW THE LIGHT
Such lyrics will resonate with impoverished British workers, who struck nationwide on March 15 just before it was revealed that their Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, had made millions of dollars from his non-political work. Days later, British anarchist black metal band Dawn Ray’d released their new album, which blowtorches such inequality. “The men who stole our lives cannot be allowed to enjoy their prize,” they froth on “Requital”. “A spiteful pull at a thread of wool will see the shirt now spoiled.” Similar sentiments could be found on the new live album from aptly-named Melbourne punks Worker & Parasite, released on March 10. And as workers worldwide rallied for pay rises in line with inflation, British anarchist rapper Pavlov’s House put out his new album, Workers States & Heartbreaks. “Quit your job, don't give a toss,” he raps on “Quit Your Job”. “Go kick your boss right in the gut.” LISTEN>>>
8. SLEAFORD MODS - UK GRIM
Such straight talk is the bread-and-butter of Sleaford Mods, who released their chart-topping new album, UK Grim, on March 10. “You're all getting mugged by the aristocracy,” they spit on “Right Wing Beast”. “But what’s gone on, what can I see? You’re all getting mugged by the right wing beast.” Their fellow Brits The Levellers, who have fired up counter-cultural crowds for decades, showed they’d lost none of their fire on their new acoustic album, out on March 10. On “Wake The World” they sing: “So I took a look around to see who’s still listening. Found them swaddled in lies they find so comforting. The electric eye will always tell you so. Don't want the truth around me, no, I don’t want to know. So tell me when, oh, when are we gonna wake the world?” There seemed little chance of that on March 10, when the BBC suspended soccer presenter Gary Lineker for tweeting about refugees. LISTEN>>>
9. SAINT LEVANT - FROM GAZA, WITH LOVE
One refugee who’d appreciate Lineker’s outspokenness is Palestinian musician Saint Levant, who grew up playing soccer in refugee camps. His new album, From Gaza With Love, released on March 10, mixes the political with the highly personal, as he admits he quickly falls deeply in love with women. “It’s a bad thing, right? Because you shouldn’t find home in another person,” he said. “But I do find myself doing that because I’m so scattered and I don’t necessarily feel like I have a place to call home.” Addressing another Palestine is US poet Jesse Jett. His typically topical new album, released on March 24, draws the dots between Palestinians and February’s environment-wrecking, health-endangering, chemical-burning train crash in East Palestine, Ohio. “Today the town of East Palestine will know the skies of wartime,” he fumes, “wear the shoes of Palestine, and know the smell of war crimes.” LISTEN>>>
10. FORMIDABLE VEGETABLE - MICRO BIOME
Trying to stop such environmental destruction was the March 20 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which delivered a “final warning” for humanity. But it was later revealed that an earlier draft of the report urging people to shift to a plant-based diet had been blocked by the meat industry and removed. On March 10, West Australian band Formidable Vegetable released their brilliant new album, pushing the kind of message deleted from the IPCC report. Basically, if you locked mega-selling children’s band The Wiggles in a permaculture allotment and force-fed them macrobiotic food for a month, the resulting record would sound like this. Yet even “liberal” musicians such as Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne may need educating. Confronted by an environmental protester on stage at a Canadian music awards ceremony on March 14, she responded simply: “Get the fuck off, bitch.” LISTEN>>>
Video: Jen Cloher - Mana Takatāpui (Official Video) - Jen Cloher.
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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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