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 May 2023.
1. JUANES - VIDA COTIDIANA
On May 1, unionists worldwide rallied for workers' rights in May Day marches. On May 19, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Australian public sector staff were being offered the "biggest pay increase in a decade". Yet in real terms, it was a pay cut. The same day, Colombian chart-topper Juanes released his new album. It opens with the song "Mayo", about the Colombian protests that erupted on May 1, 2021, in which human rights groups reported "1089 instances of police violence, 726 arbitrary detentions, 27 killed and six acts of sexual violence". "Sad afternoon," go the Spanish lyrics. "Streets on fire. Peace bleeds, fear does not go away. It's May and the peace I've dreamed of is going to bleed." The album also features “Canción Desaparecida”, which mourns the country's more than 200,000 disappeared people. "When I realised the number of desaparecidos in Colombia it just blew my mind," said Juanes. LISTEN>>>
2. LAST QUOKKA - RED DIRT
Showing remarkable courage in the face of such police behaviour was Australian climate activist Violet CoCo. On May 3, she spray-painted the logo of Woodside Energy on a Perth police station to protest against the cops shielding the environment-wrecking company from activists. She took the action despite having previously been "threatened with sexual violence" by cops and jailed for 15 months on fabricated police evidence. Two days later, Perth punks Last Quokka released their new album, which blasts such companies for damaging Western Australia. It also skewers West Australian mining billionaire Gina Rinehart, who was named Australia's richest person for the fourth year running just days later. On May 16, CoCo was back at it again, being arrested for protesting against the oil and gas industry in South Australia. When police asked for her name, she replied: "Gina Rinehart." LISTEN>>>
3. XAVIER RUDD - FIRE
On May 3, Australia's Northern Territory Labor government gave fracking the go-ahead, despite fierce objections from First Nations people. A week later, Aboriginal musician Xavier Rudd released his latest themed compilation, Fire, which roasts such practices. On "Up In Flames" he simmers: "This world, up in flames. Reasons unexplained. People grounding down, trying to escape... When will you release them from this? When will you realise your shame?" And on "GBA" he spits: "I fear it everyday. These egos, their minds and games, with all their power could end our days. Still the sun it shines and the moon it sinks with grace. It's such a shame that all this shit exists, here on this earth, this magical place." On May 15, US media reported "Australia’s Pro-Climate Labor Government Approves First Coal Mine", despite protests. The next day, Labor said it was backing unproven "clean coal" technology. LISTEN>>>
4. REGICIDE - IMMORTELS
On May 6, Aboriginal journalist and TV presenter Stan Grant questioned whether Australians should be celebrating King Charles' coronation, given the monarchy’s ties to extermination and land theft. The racist backlash was so relentless that Grant quit his job. Also daring to question the festivities was Glen Matlock, whose band, The Sex Pistols, famously mocked Charles' mother with their 1977 hit "God Save The Queen". While promoting his new album, Matlock reworked the lyrics for Charles while playing the song on coronation day. “There’s just so many people in destitution at the moment in this country," Matlock said of the event. "It’s kind of rubbing their noses in it." Even more direct was the new album from French-Swiss punks Regicide, whose name literally means killing a king. "Love music, hate fascism," says their Bandcamp page. “TUE TON ROI” (“KILL YOUR KING”). LISTEN>>>
5. THE DAMNED - DARKADELIC
After the coronation, right-wing British paper The Daily Telegraph published a story titled "The ugly truth about Boris Johnson and King Charles". It said Charles, who it described as a Guardian reader rather than a Telegraph fan, had "squared up" to the former British Prime Minister over his "appalling" plans to deport refugees to Rwanda. The news came days after the new album from British punk pioneers The Damned, which jeers at Johnson's jocular image. On the album's earworm "Beware Of The Clown", they sing: "Beware of the clown, he's not so charming. The joke's wearing thin, the act alarming... Then one day the clown is gone like magic. Replaced by a clone equally tragic. Beware of the clown, intent on shaking you down." Written by the band's guitarist Captain Sensible - who also founded the leftist, direct democracy Blah! Party - the song is possibly his catchiest since his 1982 hit "Wot". LISTEN>>>
6. INGRID AND THE MINISTERS - BOOFHEAD
Britain's immigration policy has been modelled on Australia's. So it was no surprise that, when a fatal fire engulfed a hostel in New Zealand's capital city of Wellington on May 16, its residents were reported to be Australian deportees. Showing that finding a decent home in New Zealand can be as difficult as it is in Australia are Wellington punks Ingrid And The Ministers on their new album, released days earlier. Describing its song "Jack's House", singer Ingrid Saker said: "The story starts with a mother whose baby has died in horrific housing conditions - in New Zealand tens of thousands of children get severely ill from poor housing conditions every year. The song traces the chain of power all the way back to its roots... The recording was great fun because we wanted to make it sound a bit like a protest march." LISTEN>>>
7. DEATH PILL - DEATH PILL
One refugee who managed to make it to Australia is Natalya Seryakova. She is one-third of Death Pill, a self-described "all-female hardcore power punk trio of considerable muscle from Kyiv, Ukraine". The group, also known as "Ukraine’s best-known female punk band", had to go their separate ways when Russia invaded their country. But they reunited on May 20 to play a benefit concert in Kyiv raising money for anti-drone weapons, before touring Europe to promote their new album. “Russia is trying to destroy our culture," said the band's drummer, Anastasiya Khomenko. "This has been going on for 300 years. We want to spread news about the war and our resistance to imperialism.” On May 5, Belfast-based composer Jamie Thompson released his new refugee-themed album under his moniker Adjunct Ensemble. The experimental sound collage is as fractured and dislocated as the refugee diaspora themselves. LISTEN>>>
8. GRAHAM NASH - NOW
On May 9, Donald Trump, the former US president who claimed he'd build a wall to keep our refugees, was found liable for sexually abusing a woman in a department store. Yet polls were showing 44 per cent of US adults would "definitely or probably" vote for Trump in the upcoming US presidential election, compared with only 38 per cent for his rival, Joe Biden. Raising the alarm was the new album from Graham Nash - of folk rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - released on May 19. In "Golden Idols", he takes aim at Trump's "Make America Great Again" insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol building in 2021. "They're trying to re-write recent history when the MAGA tourists took the hill," he sings. "They will not stand up 'cause they're bought and paid for, golden idols control them still." Discussing the album, he said: "There must be Republicans with brains, but they aren’t using them." LISTEN>>>
9. DROPKICK MURPHYS - OKEMAH RISING
On May 22, an arguably not-too-brainy "Nazi-admiring" man was charged for allegedly threatening to kill US President Joe Biden. The 18-year-old had crashed a pick-up truck into a security barrier near the White House and began waving a Nazi flag. He allegedly later told Secret Service agents he wanted to “get to the White House, seize power, and be put in charge of the nation”, and said he would “kill the president, if that’s what I have to do”. Ten days earlier, US Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys released their second album of Woody Guthrie songs, featuring anti-Nazi anthem "Run Hitler Run". "The fascist boys think they're double tough," they sing. "But they just ain't tough enough. Get me a machine gun and do a song. Play to little Adolf all night long." The album came just days after Russian feminist art punks Pussy Riot won the 2023 Woody Guthrie Prize for their political messaging. LISTEN>>>
10. NYOKABI KARIUKI - FEELING BODY
Perhaps swayed by right-wing sceptics, the World Health Organisation ended the global emergency status for COVID-19 on May 5. "Yet it’s still killing at least one person every four minutes," reported Bloomberg on May 23, "and questions on how to deal with the virus remain unanswered, putting vulnerable people and under-vaccinated countries at risk." The news followed the release of the new album from classically-trained, experimental Kenyan musician Nyokabi Kariuki, which documents her struggles with long COVID. “I was nervous about people not wanting to engage with the record due to what it’s about," she said. "That’s something that happened before, last year. I’d made a sound journal about the pandemic and a gallery in London was interested in showing some of my work and I had proposed a sound art film. They said, ‘I think we’re all a bit tired of hearing COVID-related stuff.’" LISTEN>>>
Video: THE DAMNED 'Beware Of The Clown' - Official Video - New Album 'Darkadelic' out now!. earMUSIC.
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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. This month, 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.
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