Here's a look back at March's political news and the best new music that related to it. You can also listen to a podcast of this column, including all the music, here.
1. WITCH CAMP — I'VE FORGOTTEN NOW WHO I USED TO BE
On March 1, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed a rape claim against one of his cabinet ministers, saying he categorically denied it. A fortnight later, 110,000 women marched in protest against such sexual violence, as activists pointed out that in some societies, rape is unthinkable. Morrison refused to attend the protest and instead said the women were lucky they didn't live in a country where they'd be shot. On March 12, highlighting the worldwide war on women, an album of songs was released by women who have been accused of witchcraft in Ghana, where police opened fire at a protest last year. Such women are accused of the dark arts because they have a mental illness, a physical disability or simply because their families want them out of the way. The song titles, such as "Hatred Drove Me From My Home", are as haunting as the music. LISTEN>>>
2. LOUISAHHH — THE PRACTICE OF FREEDOM
On March 12, as activists pushed for sexual consent laws to be changed, US techno artist Louisahhh — who hosts a podcast on sex and politics — released her debut album, featuring tracks such as "A Hard No". Asked by one album reviewer how she envisioned a better world, she replied: "Gender equality and consent-based sex practices as social and economic norms would be a good start. I think that the movement towards sex positivity and feminism is important, but it takes a lot of unwinding from a culture that is inherently sex-phobic and dominated by a capitalistic, white supremacist patriarchy that thrives on telling people they're not enough." A week earlier, British music professor, classical musician and electronic music producer Kate Simko released her soundtrack to Underplayed, a new documentary about sexism in the dance music scene. LISTEN>>>
3. LEANNE BETASAMOSAKE SIMPSON — THEORY OF ICE
On March 9, British pension funds pressured Rio Tinto over its proposed giant copper project on sacred Native American land, worried it would repeat the outrage it caused when it blew up a scared Aboriginal site in Australia last year. Their move came six days after Native American protest musician Leonard Sumner released his new roots-rap album, Thunderbird. On March 12, multi-award-winning indigenous author and musician Leanne Betasamosake Simpson released her new album, which tackles such injustices in her native Canada. A highlight is her cover of "I Pity The Country" by famed indigenous Canadian musician Willie Dunn, who released a posthumous anthology a week later. On the song, Simpson intones: "I pity the country, I pity the state and the mind of a man who thrives on hate. Small are the lives of cheats and of buyers, of bigoted newspress, fascist town criers." LISTEN>>>
4. VATICAN SHADOW — SR-71 BLACKBIRD SURVIVORS
March 19 marked the 18th anniversary of the Iraq War, which Australia joined despite some of the biggest anti-war protests in its history, rivaled in size since only by March's women's march. On March 5, US techno artist Vatican Shadow released a typically sinister new album named after America's evil-looking SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, which still holds the title of world's fastest plane more than 55 years after its first flight. Vatican Shadow's song titles are usually taken from media headlines and the album closes with a track named "The SR-71 Blackbird Was Almost Brought Back For The War On Terror". The album was released just weeks after new US President Joe Biden launched a bombing raid on Iranian-backed militias in Syria that killed 22 people, then proceeded to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a killer. Putin responded that "it takes one to know one". LISTEN>>>
UPDATE July 17, 2021: On July 10, 2021, journalist Jean-Hughes Kabuiku shared a blog post highlighting connections between Vatican Shadow, who has long been feted by the left-leaning music press, and a number of ideologically questionable musicians. This column will not feature the artist's music in future.
5. DAVID ROVICS — REBEL SONGS
On March 15, the son-in-law of former US President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, praised Biden's opening bombing move against Iran as "smart diplomacy". Kushner, who inherited his real estate wealth, added that the conflict between Israel and Palestine was nothing more than "a real estate dispute". On March 8, prolific US protest singer David Rovics released his new album, which includes the song "To All the Jared Kushners of the World". With the rare addition of a backing band, Rovics sings: "To all the Jared Kushners of the world for whom the ceiling is the sky, for you, life comes so easy, inherited from birth, why would you ever ask why? Do you think you earned it all, it's up to you how much you charge, it's all yours to keep? Would you climb any mountain of corpses no matter how slippery, no matter how steep?" LISTEN>>>
6. NITIN SAWHNEY — IMMIGRANTS
As the kind of anti-Asian racism that Trump fuels hit headlines worldwide, British Asian musician Nitin Sawhney released his new album, Immigrants, on March 19. "The last few years have seen an unprecedented level of political confusion and negative representation of immigrants across leading Western countries," said the multi-instrumentalist. "These representations are entirely at odds with the historical benefit of migration to Europe, North America and Australasia." The beautifully-produced, emotional album is punctuated with sampled quotes from racists and personal testimonies from immigrants, including one man who closes the album with the words: "Before I arrived here, it was a land of a dream and you believed that it was a land of milk and honey, that the street was paved with gold and that you'd have a wonderful time here." MORE>>>
7. GAZELLE TWIN & NYX — DEEP ENGLAND
On March 25, notoriously racist British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised "greed and capitalism" for the fact that his country had secured enough doses of coronavirus vaccine as poorer countries went without. In response, physician Julia Grace Patterson said: “The enormous efforts of scientists and healthcare workers have delivered success. What will ensure that vast swathes of the world’s population cannot access vaccines safely? Capitalism and greed.” A week earlier, experimental British electronic musician Gazelle Twin released Deep England, a "coral expansion" of her 2018 album Pastoral, which skewered Johnson's Brexit. "Here," she said, "tracks from Pastoral, an album whose political themes have only intensified since its original release, are radically reworked." The nightmarish sounds on the album are as unsettling as British politics. LISTEN>>>
8. JASON RINGENBERG — RHINESTONED
On March 12, former cop Derek Chauvin was given a third degree murder charge over the death of African-American George Floyd, offering jurors an extra option for his conviction. A week later, Australian Aboriginal country musician Troy Cassar-Daley released his new album, which references Floyd's death. It came just days after calls for accountability in Australia following three more Aboriginal deaths in custody. On March 5, Cassar-Daley's fellow country musician Jason Ringenberg, who has been called "the Godfather of Americana", released his new album. Inspired by the "racial strife" in the US, it includes a song about the Freedom Riders. "I believe the Civil Rights Movement was the Second American Revolution and all who participated in it were true American heroes," said Ringenberg. "The song was written right before the major racial unrest during the summer of 2020." LISTEN>>>
9. ADRIAN YOUNGE — THE AMERICAN NEGRO
Ringenberg's record followed the release of multi-instrumentalist Adrian Younge's new album The American Negro, which offers a withering Black perspective on the history of US racism and how little has changed. Accompanied by a four-part podcast, the album features an arresting cover showing Younge hanging from a tree, which imitates the "lynching postcards" white Americans would send to friends and relatives after attending the public hangings of African-Americans. In a sign of some progress perhaps, on March 14, US singer H.E.R. won song of the year at the Grammy Awards for "I Can't Breathe", written in response to the death of George Floyd. She also appears on a new compilation of radical hip-hop inspired by the film Judas And The Black Messiah, which tells how revolutionary socialist and Black Panther deputy chairman Fred Hampton was betrayed and killed. LISTEN>>>
10. SOLE — MBFX
Strong though the Judas And The Black Messiah album is, it still contains the kind of lines glorifying status symbols (eating "Michelin-star" food and earning "millions") and spouting sexism ("bitches" with "tight pussies") that mars even the best political hip-hop. It's a tedious fact that even emcees who rap about their own experiences of prejudice will often spend half their songs putting down women. The irony isn't lost on prolific rapper and activist Sole, who released his latest album on March 5. On "Fragmentation" he sneers: "Most rappers just spit conservativism, I swear to god they're coming back, like racism." And whereas most money-chasing emcees unquestioningly parrot the Wu-Tang Clan anthem "C.R.E.A.M" ("Cash Rules Everything Around Me"), Sole takes it and twists it with the words: “Capitalism kills everything around me.” 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 500 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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