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 August 2023.
1. MR GREG - MR GREG & CASS MCCOMBS SING AND PLAY NEW FOLK SONGS FOR CHILDREN
Thousands of children were evacuated from the World Scout Jamboree in South Korea on August 7, as climate change-induced extreme heat and a typhoon threatened the 40,000 attendees. A week later, kids scored a win in a climate lawsuit in Montana as a judge ruled that they had a right to a clean environment. Three days after their victory, musician Cass McCombs teamed up with his childhood friend, who is now a teacher, to release an album of progressive folk songs for children. The songs include the environmentally-themed “Things That Go In The Recycling Bin”, the LGBTQ rights-promoting “Wave A Flag For Harvey Milk” and “Requiem For Ruth Bader Ginsberg”, a tribute to that progressive judge before the Supreme Court lurched to the right. Let's face it, kids are more likely to listen to Rick Astley's “Never Gonna Give You Up” 159 times in a row rather than this, but you can always try. LISTEN>>>
2. RAYE ZARAGOZA - HOLD THAT SPIRIT
Raye Zaragosa, who rose to prominence as a young Native American artist protesting against the Dakota Access oil Pipeline, released her new album on August 11. As well as the social justice anthems she has become known for, the record gets more personal in songs about her relationships and eating disorders, leading one reviewer to call it “a protest album against the unrealistic standards to which women are held”. A fortnight earlier, jazz musician Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah released his new album, which explores the links between African Americans and Native Americans. On August 18, Aboriginal soul music star Dan Sultan put out his new LP, which opens with his childhood memory of finding a racist note left on his doorstep in Naarm/Melbourne. Two days later, Australian former federal Labor minister Gary Johns said Aboriginal people wanting a Voice to Parliament should “learn English”. LISTEN>>>
3. SKINDRED - SMILE
The same day that Sultan released his album, Irish singer Hozier put out his new LP, whose song “Butchered Tongue” addresses the Wexford Rebellion of 1798, in which body parts of Irish rebels were cut off and proper burials were denied. It inspired one reviewer to compare the persecuction of the Irish to that of Indigenous people in Australia and the US. Singer Benji Webbe also blasts such oppression on his new album with his Welsh ragga metal band Skindred, released on August 11. On “Black Stars”, Webbe sings, “Where you think me come from, from ah tree? Dragged on a slave ship, me never come here for free,” before adding: “The real criminal he is in Downing Street.” The album came a week after Greenpeace activists targeted that “criminal in Downing Street”, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, by draping his mansion in black fabric to protest against his pledge to drill for more oil and gas. LISTEN>>>
4. GEOFF BERNER - 7 PLAGUE SONGS
As Sunak continued the Tories' war on Britain's National Health Service, the US faced a similar healthcare crisis. It was reported that about 100,000 registered nurses had left the workforce in the past two years on August 3, “because of stress, burnout and retirement, and more than 610,000 more plan to leave by 2027 for the same reasons”. The news came a week after Canadian folk musician Geoff Berner released his new coronavirus-themed EP, which includes an adaptation of Florence Reece’s union song “Which Side Are You On?” called “Nurse Side Are You On?” “The nurses, our foot soldiers in our struggle with this plague, have been exploited, abused, burned out and sickened,” he said. “We need to support them in their fight for safety and dignity.” On August 11, Western Australia's nurses and midwifery union was seeking to start a political party after the state government refused to budge on pay. LISTEN>>>
5. THE DECLINE - MAGICAL MISERY TOUR
The Australian Greens party sought to refer a chief architect of the war on the poor, former PM Scott Morrison, to the privileges committee on August 7. They said he had made “false statements” over his role in the “Robodebt” scheme that drove some welfare recipients to suicide. Morrison is a follower of the Pentacostal faith, which sees the “ungodly” poor as needing liberation from the welfare state. On August 17, Morrison's “mentor”, Brian Houston, who founded the controversial Hillsong Church, was acquitted of charges that he concealed knowledge of his father’s child sex abuse crimes. A week later, Perth punks The Decline released their new album, which mocks the Hillsong Church’s light shows and smoke machines. On “Hillsong Of The Damned”, guest vocalist Jay Whalley of Frenzal Rhomb sneers: “Real churches don’t have smoke – you hide behind the smoke – A God behind a smoke machine.” LISTEN>>>
6. NUCLEAR POWER TRIO - WET ASS PLUTONIUM
Morrison was also a chief architect of the secretive AUKUS defence pact, which locked Australia into spending at least $368 billion on nuclear submarines, despite the country's longstanding anti-nuclear policies. On August 18, anti-war activists protested as the ruling Labor Party, which ousted Morrison from office, voted to approve AUKUS in full. If you didn't laugh, you'd cry, which seems to be the sentiment behind progressive thrash metal band Nuclear Power Trio, who released their new album, Wet Ass Plutonium, just days earlier. The band ridicule such leaders by performing blisteringly fast and complex songs while wearing unnervingly realistic masks of Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin. The album came as Putin appeared to cement his nuclear power by allegedly assassinating Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of a military mutiny against him, by blowing Prigozhin's plane out of the sky. LISTEN>>>
7. DIDIRRI - CAUGHT IN THE ACT
Days after Prigozhin's plane crash, Putin admirer Trump made history by becoming the first US president to have his mugshot taken. He retaliated by returning to social media platform Twitter, renamed X under new billionaire owner Elon Musk, to share the photo and link to his fundraising mugshot merchandise. Trump had been charged for allegedly trying to overthrow the 2020 US election result, an event which inspired the new album by Australian indie artist Didirri, released on August 4. Discussing its song “Under Falling Skies”, he said: “I wrote that on January 7th, after the American storming of the capitol on January 6th. I, like a lot of people now, have some form of climate anxiety every now and then. A lot of people feel this deep sense that the world is collapsing around them... It’s a really aggressive song, and it’s really targeted at people like Donald Trump.” LISTEN>>>
8. PINK WILLIAMS - SUN STUDIO SESSION
The day after Trump's musghot was released, country musician Oliver Anthony condemned the Trump-admiring politicians and pundits who had sent his viral song “Rich Men North Of Richmond” to the top of the charts. “I wrote that song about those people,” protested Anthony, though it wasn't hard to see why its lyrics damning welfare recipients and high taxes had been feted by the likes of Fox News. The song prompted veteran protest singer Billy Bragg to release his own, radically altered, pro-union version. Bragg's fellow longtime activist and musician David Rovics countered that Oliver's song was “excelleny” and needed only a couple of lines changing, which he did in his own version. However, if you prefer your country music less ambiguous, check out the new, firmly leftist album by queer communist Pink Williams, which follows hot on the high heels of his previous album, released weeks earlier. LISTEN>>>
9. ALVA NOTO - THIS STOLEN COUNTRY OF MINE (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK)
The kind of insurrectionist politics promoted by Trump came to a head in Ecuador on August 9, as a presidential candidate known for speaking up against corruption was assassinated. Days earlier, musician Alva Noto released his soundtrack to the documentary This Stolen Country Of Mine, which portrays Ecuadorian resistance fighters and journalists who oppose the sell-off of the country’s resources. Referendums on banning oil drilling in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park and metal mining in the Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve were carried out on August 20. In both consultations, Ecuadorians overwhelmingly voted against the exploitation of natural resources. The same day, Luisa González of the left-wing Citizens Revolution Movement party won the first round of the presidential elections, with 33.31% of the votes. She now faces a runoff vote against right-wing candidate Daniel Noboa on October 15. LISTEN>>>
10. VARIOUS ARTISTS - INTENDED CONSEQUENCE
González's fellow strong women on the other side of the world released Intended Consequence, a fundraising album by 10 female Iranian artists, on August 15. “Intended consequences are outcomes that arise from choices we make to do something or be someone despite the risks posed to us,” they said. “Intended Consequence is a collection of music dedicated to the choice and continuum of Iranian women’s fight for freedom in the day-to-day.” Four days after its release, Iran made mass arrests of women's rights defenders and began legal action against a male musician for his pro-women protest song. The album followed a new compilation LP by Tunisian woman Badiaa Bouhrizi, which “questions the political contract that led to Balfour and the displacement of millions of Palestinians” in nearby Palestine. Meanwhile, Australia's Labor Party voted not to recognise the Palestinian state. LISTEN>>>
Want to get this column every month? Just email email@example.com and I’ll add you to my monthly email that includes a link to this column here at Green Left. Yes, I want to read this column every month.
[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.
The multi-award-winning journalist John Pilger says: “There are few other newspapers — radical or any other kind — that draw together news and analysis that is as well informed, credible, and non-sectarian as Green Left. Its work has influenced mine and has been a beacon to those who believe the press ought to be an agent of the people.”