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 April 2023.
1. VARIOUS ARTISTS - MANIF HITS (LA BO DES LUTTES)
On April 2, Norwegian pop star Girl In Red was playing a gig in Paris as strikes against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms intensified across France. When she asked her audience to teach her some French, they erupted in chants of “Macron, démission!” (“Macron, resign!”). Two days later, French dance music record label DÔME released a compilation album featuring songs based on the strikers' chants. It includes the feminist slogan and dance “À cause de Macron” (“Because of Macron”), which highlights the ways in which his pension reforms target women. "As we were afraid the movement would run out of steam, we thought of a compilation whose profits would be donated to the strike funds," said the label. "Beyond the financial help, the objective is above all to keep the flame alive." It was released on respected music platform Bandcamp. Yet Bandcamp workers were also planning to strike. LISTEN>>>
2. RACHEL BAIMAN - COMMON NATION OF SORROW
On April 7, the DÔME artists' fellow French musicians Maladroit released their new punk album, which blasts anti-union billionaires. On the song "Rich Assholes Won't Save the World", they sing: "Jeff Bezos won't make a change. Modern slaves cry in the warehouse... Elon Musk won't make a change, sending cars in outer space." It came as Musk, who is facing lawsuits for sacking employees without adequate notice, lost $US13 billion ($20 billion) as drama unfolded across his empire. Days earlier, Musk's fellow US citizen Rachel Baiman released her new folk album, which takes aim at his ilk. On the catchy "Self Made Man", the daughter of a political activist sings: "How many men do you think it takes to make a self made man? How many fingers must he step on to do the best he can? Do you think you want to sit around and play your part in a corner of his self made plan?" LISTEN>>>
3. CARSIE BLANTON - BODY OF WORK
On April 21, Baiman's fellow US folk artist Carsie Blanton released her new album, which is cut from the same activist cloth. The Philadelphia-based veteran protester describes her music as "anthems for a world worth saving". On the album's song "Down In The Streets", she sings: "Now they call it a riot 'cause we ain’t keepin’ quiet. But if you’re out there listenin' we know you don’t buy it. And they say we been stealin', but who’s the real villain? When we can’t even make a livin' and they’re out there makin’ a killin'. So all my friends in the streets tonight we go singin'. All my friends who’re down and out, we’re gonna fight." On April 12, Blanton's fellow Philadelphians Poison Ruïn released their new album, which adds a twist to their chosen genre of medieval-inflected punk. “Instead of knights in shining armour and dragons, it’s a peasant revolt,” said vocalist Mac Kennedy. LISTEN>>>
4. THE UNDERCOVER HIPPY - POOR LITTLE ENGLAND
Over in the medieval motherland that inspires Poison Ruïn, British PM Rishi Sunak's wife lost £49 million ($91 million) on April 17. The fact the couple can afford such losses sparked renewed debate about the wealth gap in Britain. On April 28, Britain's biggest-selling singles artist of the 1980s, Shakin' Stevens, released a new album that slams such inequality. On its single "All You Need Is Greed", he seethes: "Welcome to the firm, welcome to the house of lies. Greed is all you need, to take the suckers for a ride." His new direction is perhaps not as surprising as some have made out, since he started his career playing Young Communist League events. Still less surprising is Poor Little England, the new album from former drum and bass emcee The Undercover Hippy, which skewers generations of British leaders, from former PMs Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson to the current rule of "Rishi Rich". LISTEN>>>
5. DAVID ROVICS - KILLING THE MESSENGER
Showing the continuing dire state of British politics, April 11 marked four years since WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was imprisoned in London's high security Belmarsh prison. Four days earlier, veteran protest singer David Rovics released his new Assange-themed album, Killing The Messenger, on streaming services. "Wikileaks was too effective, it had to be beaten out, let there be no doubt," he sings on the title track. "Now they want to kill the messenger, while most of us stand by, just waiting for this prisoner to die." On April 18, award-winning media analysts Media Lens - who have long pointed out the media's role in smearing Assange - showed how journalists were killing another messenger. Rather than publishing the highly classified military documents leaked by US airman Jack Texeira a week earlier, The Washington Post and New York Times had helped get him arrested instead. LISTEN>>>
6. YAEJI - WITH A HAMMER
Texeira's leak showed how the US was spying even on allies such as South Korea, all while sabre-rattling against China and accusing it of spying. On April 24, Australia upped the Beijing-bashing by announcing an extra $19 billion for missiles to point at its biggest trading partner, China, on top of the $368 billion it is spending on nuclear-powered submarines to aim at it. The Sydney "Warmongering" Herald, which has been red-baiting China for months, reported the news as "admirable". The hypocrisy would not be lost on New York-based South Korean artist Yaeji, who released her new album on April 7. Its title and artwork reference the large hammers she has fashioned to deal with her anger at anti-Asian racism. Expressing such views is unlikely to limit her audience for one big reason: Her cutting-edge, innovative electronica is probably the coolest-sounding music you'll hear all year. LISTEN>>>
7. REG MEUROSS - STOLEN FROM GOD
Apparently trying to make amends for such racism, British aristocrats who benefited from slavery were pushing their country to pay reparations, news website Quartz reported on April 24. "Britain traded more slaves than nearly any other country, transporting 3.1 million Africans to its colonies in the Caribbean, as well as to North and South America." Documenting it all is the new album from white British folk singer Reg Meuross, released on April 7. The album, subtitled "a song cycle unfolding the history of England’s involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade", generated rave reviews. But for an insight from those directly affected, check out Dave Okumu's album, released one week later. "I Came From Love is a tapestry of the Black experience that explores ancestry, the legacy of slavery, what it means to exist in an unjust society, and Okumu’s own family history," say its liner notes. LISTEN>>>
8. NAKHANE - BASTARD JARGON
In the most notorious outpost of colonial racism, South Africa, queer house music musician Nakhane discussed their new album on April 5, which "probes deep cultural and political questions". Discussing the song "Tell Me Your Politik", which suggests finding out someone's politics before having sex with them, they said: "Especially as a South African, my entire existence has been politicised. So 'Tell Me Your Politik' was just a song that I felt was supposed to sound ferocious but fun at the same time." They were speaking to National Public Radio, which said on April 12 it was no longer posting content on Twitter after the social media platform's owner, Elon Musk, mislabelled it "state-affiliated media" and then "government-funded media". Quartz pointed out Musk's companies receive more government funding than NPR. That came after Musk made Twitter a more hostile place for trans people. LISTEN>>>
9. TERRY - CALL ME TERRY
Musk often complains about establishment media. So he surprised many when he was pictured sitting next to media baron Rupert Murdoch at this year's Super Bowl, despite Murdoch's papers calling Musk a "$61 billion joke". Murdoch was back in the headlines on April 18, when he paid $US787 million ($1.2 billion) to voting machine firm Dominion for falsely reporting that it rigged the 2021 US presidential election. On April 14, Melbourne indie band Terry released their new album, which takes aim at Murdoch. "Call Me Terry is the most political album yet from a band that was already nearly monomaniacal in its study of Australia’s rotted colonial legacy," said US music publication Pitchfork. "It’s spread across the album’s sleeve, each song paired with a photo of a politically toxic site — like the headquarters of mining giant BHP or a building belonging to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp." LISTEN>>>
10. SCARLETT COOK - REQUIEM FOR THE EARTH
Also dissecting Australia’s rotted colonial legacy is Terry's fellow Melbourne musician Scarlett Cook, on her new gothic classical album. "We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which this album was written and recorded," she writes in the liner notes for the record, released on April 19. "Sovereignty never ceded." On the opening track, the multi-instrumentalist soars from a whisper to a wail as she froths: "We can’t escape what we have done. We must face what we have become. Desensitised emotionally numb. Slave to the machines and the guns... We can no longer take from her. We can no longer deface her. We can not replace her. Earth Mother." A fortnight before its release, activists were fined for taking non-violent direct action for the climate. Meanwhile, the Green Party said dealing with Australia's Labor government was "like negotiating with the fossil fuel industry". LISTEN>>>
Video: David Rovics in concert with Kamala Emanuel | Killing the Messenger tour - Green Left Extras.
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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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