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 - it's 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 2022.
1. MAVIS STAPLES - CARRY ME HOME
On May 15, a racist live-streamed himself shooting 10 African-Americans dead in Buffalo, New York. He was inspired to do so by two Australian expats. First, Brenton Tarrant, who live-streamed himself slaying 51 Muslims in New Zealand. Second, Rupert Murdoch, whose media outlets have been spreading the "Great Replacement" theory that the West is being taken over by non-whites. Skewering such racism is the new album from Black protest soul singer Mavis Staples. On album opener "This Is My Country", she sings: "Some people think we don't have the right to say it's my country. Before they give in they would rather fuss and fight than say it's my country. I've paid 300 years or more of slave robbing sweat and welts on my back. This is my country. I hear a lot of people saying they want to take their country back. Well back to the fifties and sixties don't sound like progress to me." LISTEN>>>
2. FREE RADICALS - WHITE POWER OUTAGE, VOL 2
Just days after the slaughter in Buffalo, 18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos shot 19 children and two teachers dead at a school in Texas. Police were criticised for hesitating to take action. Cops in Chicago showed no such hesitation just days earlier, when they shot a 13-year-old Black boy who allegedly had his hands up. Tackling such racism is the high-quality new album from Texas jazz musicians Free Radicals, who are a live staple at protest rallies around Houston. "We live in a country that has had no reckoning with our history of apartheid and genocide," they told protest music website Shouts in an interview published on May 25. "In Germany, there are zero statues of Nazis that are still standing... Here, in the South, every attempt to teach real US history in schools is attacked, statues of slave owners and Indian killers abound." LISTEN>>>
3. BRUCE LEE BAND - ONE STEP FORWARD. TWO STEPS BACK
Just two days after the Texas school slaughter, at a National Rifle Association rally in the state, statue-loving former US president Donald Trump rejected calls for gun regulations. Firing back at him was the new album from ska punk veterans Bruce Lee Band, released the same day. On the song "Lie Big and Do It Often", they quote Trump in singing: "The least racist man in the world. It's true, I can promise you that. Who believes in me? Lie big and do it often." It came a week after African-American academic Cornel West lashed out at Trump, saying although he wasn't "out there with a gun", he was leading a campaign of "war against Black and coloured people". "Race is the most explosive issue in the history of this country, from war to civic strife to Buffalo," said West. "The Democratic Party was not even able to act decisively to uphold voting rights for Black people." LISTEN>>>
4. JER - BOTHERED / UNBOTHERED
Citing Bruce Lee Band as a big influence is US multi-instrumentalist Jer. On their new album, released on May 27, they take their politically-savvy ska sound and twist it multiple colourful directions. On "Decolonize Yr Mind" they rant: "Fuck colonisers. Fuck the empire. Hell yeah nigga. Free Palestine. Abolish the police. Abolish the prisons. Abolish the lies that this country is free. We can not be free if we exist on stolen land. We can not be free if we rely on stolen labour. We can not be free if we refuse to let the exploited global south be free of the capitalist's exploitation. The system that is in place for the ruling class has a lasting effect on all of us. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia: A liberation of that system will be a liberation for the people. But before we decolonise this world, we must first decolonise our minds." LISTEN>>>
5. FLORES - THE LIVES THEY LEFT
On May 25, US protest musician David Rovics pointed out the hypocrisy of the "Great Replacement" theory. Its proponents had replaced the indigenous people they had colonised, he said. Making the same point was US-Mexican soul singer Flores, on her impeccable new album, released on May 11. The El Paso musician, who was raised by an activist mother, mocks the contradictions on her song "Brown". “I wrote this song to the 10-year-old me," she said. "The young indigenous kids who are from Mexico and Latin America who are all too often left out of the conversation. That we are from this land, we are not invaders, illegals and deserve to be treated with dignity and humanity." Her advocacy for refugees came as a bid to stop border expulsions was rejected on May 21. Three days later, Australia's supposedly progressive new Labor government turned back its first boat of asylum seekers. LISTEN>>>
6. JOE RAINEY - NIINETA
On May 20, Minneapolis-based Ojibwe musician Joe Rainey released his new album, an innovative take on indigenous powwow music. Reflecting his people's predicament, the album opens with “Jammer From The Slammer”, a phone call with a relative from inside Jackson Correctional Institution. The singing, recorded down the the phone line, is haunting. Days later, Australian Aboriginal rap megastar The Kid Laroi - said to be the country's biggest-ever musical export - returned home from Los Angeles to kick off an Australian tour. He did so by visiting a McDonald's in his old stomping ground of Sydney to promote his new sponsorship with the fast-food giant, following its similar deals with other rappers. Sadly, the move came as McDonald's urged investors to reject a racial audit of the company and was criticised for its "cynical" new products featuring Australian Indigenous ingredients. LISTEN>>>
7. SAMORA PINDERHUGHES - GRIEF
Also railing against racist incarceration is the new jazz album from multidisciplinary US artist Samora Pinderhughes. The long-time prison abolitionist interviewed more than 100 people of colour who had experienced “structural violence” and created the Healing Project. It includes an art exhibition, online experience and this album. He hopes to take it on tour around the US, he told media on May 19. “I want to build a space that actually engages, and is able to offer the healing practices that I’ve learned through the interviews,” he said. Pinderhughes' interviewees include Keith LaMar, an author and activist on death row. Discussing the musician, LaMar said: “He’s talking about speaking truth to power, he’s talking about your agency, putting it in perspective, the unequal distribution of wealth and how it’s basically the foundation of all the inequalities that exist in this country." LISTEN>>>
8. BRIAN JACKSON - THIS IS BRIAN JACKSON
Another musician who has previously teamed up with LaMar, Brian Jackson, released his long-awaited new album on May 27. Jackson, who was the composer and musical director for the late, legendary "godfather of rap", Gil Scot-Heron, is still full of their revolutionary fire. “I’ve raised three other kids in that hateful, spiteful situation that we call America right now,” he said on May 25, as he told media he was leaving the country. “If I just didn’t have kids, I probably would stay in the States and fight it out. But I don’t want to do that to anybody else who didn’t have a stake in that decision.” Days earlier, another veteran African-American protest musician, Tomas Doncker, released his new album. Discussing its cover of Bob Dylan's "anti-slavery" song "Maggie's Farm", he said: "The thing that really made the song stick was his mocking view of the slave masters." LISTEN>>>
9. SOMI - ZENZILE: THE REIMAGINATON OF MIRIAM MAKEBA
Revisiting the continent where the slave masters got their slaves is chart-topping, Grammy-nominated jazz maestro Somi. Her new album pays tribute to Miriam Makeba, who was exiled from South Africa and dubbed Africa's first global superstar for her music and activism. "She became, in many ways, single-handedly, the face and the voice of the anti-apartheid movement," said Somi in an interview on May 17. "There are so many reasons that we should know more about Miriam Makeba." The album, which is accompanied by a theatre production, shines in tracks such as "Pata Pata", which samples strident snippets of Makeba, and the protest song "Piece Of Ground". "White man don't sleep long and don't sleep too deep," it intones. "For your life and possessions, how long will you keep? Cause I've heard a rumor that's running around, for the black man's demanding his own piece of ground." LISTEN>>>
10. IBEYI - SPELL 31
May 25 marked the second anniversary of the police killing of African-American George Floyd, which sparked protests worldwide. Asked by the media whether anything had changed since Floyd's death, activists said things had "gone backwards". On May 6, Cuban-Venezuelan twins Naomi and Lisa Diaz released their new album as Ibeyi. On it, rapper Berwyn pays tribute to Floyd on a cover of Black Flag's song "Rise Above". "For him, listening to this song made him think of George Floyd, and it’s beautiful," said Naomi. "I think the thing is, with this song, you can think about everything. It could be for women. It could be for minorities. It’s a song for the oppressed.” Finally, if we're considering the oppressed, spare a thought for our fellow animals. New albums supporting animal rights include Escalate's The Damage Is Done, ClearXCut's Songs Of Desire Armed, and star-studded fundraiser For The Birds. LISTEN>>>
Video: Flores - Brown (Visualizer) - FLORES
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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 year, Mat Ward released his new album based on protest chants, Why I Protest. You can download it free for a limited time.
Stream our new "Best protest songs of 2022" 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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