Here's a look back at May's political news and the best new music that related to it. You can also listen to a podcast of this column, including the music, here.
1. GOJIRA - FORTITUDE
On May 1, a march in Sydney for International Workers' Day brought the fight for jobs and climate together, but days later, the Australian government announced it was using $2.3 billion of taxpayers' money to keep oil refineries open. On May 19, it said it would use a further $600 million of public funds to build a gas-fired power station, after the private sector refused to sink money into such a risky project. The same day, the world’s largest iceberg broke off Antarctica. Articulating the global climate anguish was the hugely melodic new album from French metal band Gojira. Singer Joe Duplantier, who would find his hands covered in oil after playing on the beach as a kid, said the band wanted the album “to express something that would empower people and inspire them”. He dubbed it a call for “civil disobedience”, designed to invigorate listeners into action. LISTEN>>>
2. GARY NUMAN - INTRUDER
On May 21, thousands of Australian schoolchildren marched in another climate strike. The same day, electronic music pioneer Gary Numan released his new concept album, Intruder, about the environmental crisis. “Intruder looks at climate change from the planet’s point of view," he said. "If Earth could speak, and feel things the way we do, what would it say? How would it feel? The songs, for the most part, attempt to be that voice, or at least try to express what I believe the Earth must feel at the moment. The planet sees us as its children now grown into callous selfishness, with a total disregard for its well-being. It feels betrayed, hurt and ravaged. Disillusioned and heartbroken, it is now fighting back. Essentially, it considers humankind to be a virus attacking the planet. Climate change is the undeniable sign of the Earth saying enough is enough.” LISTEN>>>
3. SOUL CLAP - WTF (WORLD TRANSFORMATION FORCE)
Also despairing at the state of the world was the new album from highly-regarded deep house duo Soul Clap, which brings some long-lost politics back to the dance floor. They said the album, WTF (World Transformation Force), is "our reaction to what’s happening to this planet called Earth and to us, the human beings on it ... It’s a wake up call to action, for all of us to join together on the path. Dance music was born as a subversive movement of marginalised people and we believe it’s our duty to follow in their footsteps and use the power of our culture for positive change. This body of music has arrived during a time when we find ourselves with our hands in the air exclaiming WTF?! Well, the answer is exactly that: WTF! Now is the time, we are all a World Transformation Force." LISTEN>>>
4. AL GHARIB - PALESTINE
On May 24, it was reported that extreme climate events displaced more people than conflicts did in 2020. But the news came days after US-backed Israel pounded impoverished, illegally occupied Palestine with missiles, killing scores of children in the process, including 11 who were enrolled in a program to address past trauma from war. When asked about the conflict, US President Joe Biden threatened to run over a reporter in the electric Ford truck he was test-driving. Trying to repair the damage is the huge new compilation album from Melbourne-based Al Gharib, which aims to raise funds for Palestinian children orphaned in an occupation that human rights groups have condemned as apartheid. The album came as high-profile musicians around the world spoke up for Palestinian rights, but were smeared as "anti-Semitic" for doing so. LISTEN>>>
5. CHTHONIC - MEGAPORT 2021
As US allies threatened a strategic war against China under the pretence of defending Taiwan, activists pointed out that such matters should be left to the Taiwanese people, with peaceful solidarity from the West. One such Taiwanese person is politician Freddy Lim, who also fronts hugely popular symphonic metal band Chthonic. As his band geared up to release a new live album on May 21, Lim said: "In 2016, I successfully won a seat that was dominated by a conservative congressman for five terms and then I got re-elected in 2020, defeating the same opponent. We are still dealing with conservative extremists and they have combined with the pro-China forces. I have been the chairman of Amnesty International. I represent not only the young activists, not just metal-heads, but I support progressive values like same-sex marriage and aboriginal rights." LISTEN>>>
6. MV BILL - VOANDO BAIXO
As Brazil's homophobic president, Jair Bolsonaro, continued to trash aboriginal rights along with the Amazon rainforest, slum-dwelling activist and rapper MV Bill released his new album, on which he raps: "We are cockroaches to this insecticide government." He said the album's title, Voando Baixo, or "Flying Low", counters the idea of "flying high". "So much of rap today is about money, ostentation, objectifying women, material things, pot, alcohol," he said. "It's legitimate for young people to want to fly high. Flying means having dreams. But you can take off and still keep your feet on the ground." However, as leftists hoped for a return of former president Lula Da Silva, the popular rapper lamented: "No president in Brazilian history has managed to address the favelas' problems — shoddy housing, violence, corrupt police, poor medical care, broken schools." LISTEN>>>
7. SOUNDZ OF THE SOUTH - FREEDOM WARRIORS VOL. 4
On May 17, the CEO of airline Virgin Australia called for borders to open amid the coronavirus pandemic, even if "some people may die". Three days earlier, renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky pointed out that not only should people be getting vaccinated before borders open, but "unless vaccines are provided quickly to the poor, suffering areas of the world, such as parts of Africa, it is going to be a disaster, not only for them, but for us — mutations will take place". The same day, South African activist rap collective Soundz Of The South released their new album, which tackles the handling of the pandemic in their country. On "Imvula" they rap: "We're facing an epidemic that will leave us with millions dead. Working-class communities once again in the receiving end ... Profits over human lives is priority, confirmation of neoliberal economies." LISTEN>>>
8. GROVE - QUEER & BLACK
From May 1–4, five non-white transgender and non-binary people were killed in the US as the Republican Party stepped up its attacks on gender diversity and people of colour. Then from May 19 to 23, three locations around Sydney were transformed with images, music and stories of the lives and resistance of the Australian city's Black, queer and grassroots communities. Standing up for such people is the new Queer & Black EP from groundbreaking British electronic artist Grove. "The range of influences for the tracks span from the power felt in decolonising our spaces (with the toppling of the Edward Colston statue), to the feeling of euphoria during a rave for queer people of colour, to calling for a focus on how landlordism and classism is keeping inequality rife in society," they said. LISTEN>>>
9. NAZ & ELLA - (DE)HUMANISE
On May 11, four women alleged rape and assault in an investigation into sexism in the Australian music industry. Four days earlier, grunge folk, queercore duo Naz & Ella released their new EP, which contains the pertinent track "No (Doesn't Mean Convince Me)". On it, they sing: "I’m done with feeling like a piece of meat. I’m human too. It’s time this normalised behaviour is put to sleep. I’m a person. You’re a predator... I know my mind and I won’t play. How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone? Didn’t you hear me the first time? I said no." On May 25, it was announced that sexual consent laws in the state of New South Wales would be overhauled to require a person to show they took active steps to find out if a person consented to sex before they could rely in court on a mistaken but reasonable belief in consent. LISTEN>>>
10. ALLISON RUSSELL - OUTSIDE CHILD
On May 8, more than 100 people gathered at Sydney Town Hall to demand justice for sexual assault survivors. A fortnight later, queer, Black, Canadian pop artist Allison Russell released an album about her traumatic childhood under an abusive stepfather, who she eventually helped prosecute. "Kids are incredibly good at double-think, to borrow from Orwell — to just separate your brain," she said. "And that sort of worked for me until puberty. And then it was like I couldn’t keep the worlds separate any more, and it was crushing.” On closing track "Joyful Motherfuckers", she sings: "Blessings be upon the thief of my childhood, the ragged jackal, that loveless coward. Oh my father, you were the thief of nothing. I’ll be a child in the garden, ten thousand years and counting." She calls the album "a lantern light for survivors of all stripes". LISTEN>>>
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, he released a concept album about the controversial mission to make humans an interplanetary species. You can download the expanded edition free for a limited time here.
Stream our new "Protest albums of 2021" playlist on Spotify here. This replaces the previous "Political albums" playlist, that was getting too big at more than 700 albums.
Read about more political albums here.
Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.
Listen to this column as a podcast here.
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