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 October 2023.
1. COLLECTIVE ACTION - DON'T GO IT ALONE
On October 4, workers for so-called "non-profit" Kaiser - which made a $US3 billion profit in the first half of this year - staged what business media called "the largest US healthcare walkout in history". Over the following week, thousands of people in Kashmir carried out a general strike, Italian workers rallied in a mass demonstration in Rome, and supermarket staff across Australia walked off in a "superstrike". By October 13, the Kaiser healthcare workers had won a 21% pay rise over four years. Urging the same solidarity worldwide is the short, sharp new EP Don't Go It Alone from aptly-named US hardcore punks Collective Action. Heeding such calls, Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir walked off the job on October 24. In doing so, she was joining tens of thousands of Iceland's women and nonbinary people who were striking to protest against gender wage gaps and violence. LISTEN>>>
2. DREAM NAILS - DOOM LOOP
Some men may say they are personally not sexist. But they are missing the point, as they are living in a sexist system, say stylish English queerpunk quartet Dream Nails on their new album, released on October 13. Talking about its opening track, "Good Guy", vocalist Ishmael Kirby said: "The song makes the point that toxic masculinity is systemic. The lyrics are: 'It’s not a lone wolf, it’s the whole damn pack. It’s not a bad apple, it’s the whole damn tree.'” Growing up, guitarist Anya Pearson and bassist Mimi Jasson found such sexism barred them from joining all-male bands. "We felt like we would always be destined to stand in the audience cheering them on." And Kirby says of "Case Dismissed": “This song stemmed from reporting rape and sexual assault cases to the police in lockdown... I’m not angry at just the injustice I faced, I’m angry at the injustice we all face.” LISTEN>>>
3. PROBLEM PATTERNS - BLOUSE CLUB
Similar injustices inspired anarchic Belfast punks Problem Patterns, who released their new album on October 27. Their “collective fury” at a high-profile rape trial in 2018 was the catalyst for them to get serious as a band. The members now all share frontperson duties and their anti-hierarchical ethos even extends to tackling inequality within feminist circles. On the song "TERFs Out", they take down transgender-exclusionary radical feminists with the words: "A real woman is not down to her reproductive system. A real woman does not look a certain way. A real woman is whoever she wants to be. And real feminism would never leave her out, because feminism is for everybody. Every single body - and not just the bodies that you are comfortable with." Days before the album's release, Spotify removed the artwork for Christian rapper Tyson James' anti-trans song “Still 2 Genders”, but not the song itself. LISTEN>>>
4. THE BOY OF MANY COLORS - THE BOY OF MANY COLORS
If there is a hierarchy of racism in Australia, the country's Aboriginal people are at the bottom, as shown by the overwhelming vote to reject an Indigenous Voice to Parliament on October 14. The next day, Yuin rapper Nooky protested by playing Yothu Yindi's song "Treaty" non-stop on his radio show for national broadcaster ABC. “Our people are the most caring, welcoming, loving, generous, strong and resilient people," he said. "And in the darkness, we hold the light. We always have." The new single from his group 3% highlighted Indigenous incarceration as an Aboriginal family vowed to fight for their teenage boy who died in detention. A fortnight later, Yidinji Bar Burrum and Mamu rapper The Boy Of Many Colors released his immaculate new album, whose radical politics are more inevitable than prescient. Talking about it, he lamented: "Blackfullas are political when they're born." LISTEN>>>
5. PHREX, SAWRA!, CUTKACHI - HURRYIA FOR GAZA
Aboriginal people have often compared themselves to the oppressed Palestinians, whose resistance movement, Hamas, launched a breakout assault from their "open-air prison" of the Gaza Strip on October 7. Hamas' war crime of killing Israeli civilians at a music festival and elsewhere was condemned worldwide. But when the United Nations then pointed out that Israel cutting off food and water for the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza - half of them children - was also a war crime, it went barely reported. When an impoverished Palestinian hospital targeted by the Israelis was then bombed, much of the Western media accepted the Israelis' claim that a "misfired Hamas rocket" was to blame. Raising funds for the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, Médecins Sans Frontières and Medical Aid for Palestine were the new albums For Palestine, released on October 14, and Hurryia for Gaza, on October 20. LISTEN>>>
6. CHECKPOINT 303 - GAZA MIXTAPE EP
There are Jewish people who support Palestinians' human rights, as seen in protests and petitions worldwide. One example is Tel Aviv punks Jarada, whose new Hebrew-language album rails against Israelis’ illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the song "Tear Down the Settlements and Sentence Their Leaders". Another is Yocheved Lifshitz. When the elderly Israeli hostage shook the hand of the Hamas soldier who released her and wished him peace, the media feted it as "a moment of grace in an ocean of hatred and belligerence". Such coverage is reminiscent of a quote from Black rights activist Malcolm X, who once declared: “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” That same quote graces the liner notes of the new fundraising Gaza Mixtape EP, released by Checkpoint 303 on October 8. LISTEN>>>
7. NITIN SAWHNEY - IDENTITY
Likewise, Australian media celebrated the return of Israeli-Australians on October 17, after the federal government secured their evacuation from five-star hotels to Australian airports. But it barely mentioned the plight of Palestinian-Australians, who were left stuck in the war zone. The Australian diplomatic mission said that, in contrast with the treatment of Israeli-Australians, it was trying to secure buses to transport Palestinian-Australians to the Jordanian border at their own expense. Such disparity is tackled on the new album by award-winning British-Indian musician Nitin Sawhney, released on October 20. The headline-grabbing guest is sports commentator Gary Lineker, who was suspended from his job at the BBC after he criticised Britain's immigration policies. The track "Illegal" features the voices of Asian women asylum seekers and ends with Lineker saying: "No one is illegal." LISTEN>>>
8. THE MARY WALLOPERS - IRISH ROCK N ROLL
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on October 19 that in his war against the Palestinians, "we want you to win". There was no dissent from Sunak's rival, Labour opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer. The former human rights lawyer had already backed Israel's "right" to commit war crimes, egged on by the British media, as noted by award-winning media analysts Media Lens. That British oppression would come as no surprise to Irish band The Mary Wallopers, hailed as the successors to legendary Irish rockers The Pogues. On the Mary Wallopers' acclaimed new album, released on October 6, they sing: "The poor man died and he went up to heavenium... The rich man died and he didn’t do so wellium... Old Nick came and dragged him down to Hellium... The moral of the story is the rich are fucking cuntiums... But we're on our way to heaven cause we're all stony brokium." LISTEN>>>
9. FALSE FED - LET THEM EAT FAKE
Australia's third-richest person, Anthony Pratt, was exposed on October 22 when recordings leaked of him describing how he uses his money to influence "useful" politicians. He said his payments included $1 million to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, $23,000 a month to former Australian Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, and $8000 a month to former Australian Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott. But it was his donations to then-US president Donald Trump - resulting in reduced tax for Pratt's US companies - that hit headlines worldwide. Trump hit back that Pratt was a "red-haired weirdo" and the story was "fake news". Such statements are lampooned on the new album Let Them Eat Fake by US punks False Fed, released a week earlier. Trying to patch up Australian-US relations was Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who flew to Washington to grovel to US President Joe Biden on October 23. LISTEN>>>
10. VARIOUS ARTISTS - STRAIGHT EDGE AND PROUD
Highest on Albanese's agenda was ensuring that Australia would still be giving the US hundreds of billions of dollars of Australian taxpayers' money for its highly controversial AUKUS nuclear submarines. His visit included a lavish state dinner at which pop group the B-52s were to perform. Their performance was cancelled after someone decided that it would not be a good look for drunk politicians to be dancing to a band named after the United States' notorious bomber while US-backed Israel was bombing children in Gaza. If this all makes you feel like drowning your sorrows in drink, you may be put off by October 19th's sobering news that cancer warnings could be coming to wine bottle and beer can labels. Two days earlier, a new compilation album marked Edge Day, a celebration of the "straight edge" punk subculture that promotes sobriety as a more effective way to fight society's ills. LISTEN>>>
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[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.
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