10 new albums that tackle racism, sexism and ignorance

February 25, 2021
February 2021 political albums artwork

Here's a look back at February'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.


February's US politics was dominated by the move to impeach former president Donald Trump. Instead, his lawyers put Black Lives Matter protesters on trial by playing clips of prominent Black Democratic representative Maxine Waters delivering fiery speeches to argue such people were no better than the white supremacists who'd invaded the Capitol building. On February 19, actor and singer Andra Day released her soundtrack to new film The United States vs. Billie Holiday, which tells the story of how the legendary jazz singer stood up to the racist establishment. “The story is about how this woman, this icon, was much too outspoken, and so the government came after her,” said screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks. “It’s about how we African-American folks love this country that doesn’t really love us back.” The film is anchored by Holiday's iconic protest song "Strange Fruit". MORE>>>


Black US pop singer Mobley released his new EP on February 19, which was written in Thailand as he looked from afar at racism in his home country. “America looks different to everybody else than it does to us on the inside, and being abroad was in part about getting in touch with that perspective,” he said. “Hearing it talked about the way that people could talk about it when it wasn’t their country doing it was refreshing. In American coverage, the background is so often, ‘We don’t want to piss off half the people who are watching.’” On "James Crow" he gives the US Jim Crow segregation laws a twist by emulating the incongruous, upbeat catchiness of Motown. "The singers got up in front of these audiences and they were smiling and singing these songs that everybody loves, and the backdrop of that was this violent, explicitly apartheid status quo," he said. MORE>>>


As Mobley prepared to release his EP, Fox News illustrated the musician's point about US media by falsely claiming that millions of Texans had lost power because renewable energy wind turbines had frozen as extreme cold weather hit the state. Days earlier, Canadian folk musician The Weather Station released her new climate change-themed album, fittingly titled Ignorance. On "Robber", a song about the climate being so devalued that its destroyers escape scot-free, she sings: “I never believed in the robber. I figured everything he took was gone." Released the same day was Californian musician Chuck Johnson's new instrumental album The Cinder Grove about the climate change-induced wildfires in his home state. It was inspired by his grief at not being able to buy his dream home studio in the woods because it could not be insured due to the threat of such blazes. LISTEN>>>


Problems such as not being able to buy your dream home studio are put into perspective on the new album by Femi and Made Kuti, which opens with a song about the fight for clean water in their home country of Nigeria. The son and grandson of legendary protest musician Fela Kuti seek to continue their forefather's fight against corrupt government on the fittingly titled album, which was released as political protests were banned in South Africa and reggae star Bobi Wine was placed under house arrest after running for election in Uganda. But it also aims to move on from Fela Kuti's shameful sexism. One of Made’s songs is called "Young Lady", about the plight of women who are sexually harassed by lecturers in Nigerian universities. It ends in a message of self-love, which, as one reviewer put it, "isn’t the sort of thing you’d imagine Fela, a vocal anti-feminist, writing". MORE>>> 


Such sexism was on full display in Australia in February as more than 200 former Sydney schoolgirls said male pupils had sexually assaulted them, and four women complained of being sexually assaulted by a former Liberal Party staffer. Neither came with any immediate retribution for the perpetrators and the stories came amid the usual never-ending tales of violence towards women. English folk trio The Staves — made up of sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor, who have provided backing vocals for Welsh crooner Tom Jones in the past rail against such misogyny. On the album's title track, "Good Woman", they sing: “Well, I cover my mouth and I straighten my back. Well, I cover my mouth and I straighten my back. I'm a good woman. I'm a good woman. Be kind. I'm a good woman." MORE>>>


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has refused to reveal how many children he has fathered, is skewered in style on the song "Where Do We Go From Here?", which is found on the new album by South London post-punks Goat Girl. "Lyrically, it’s quite specific," said vocalist and guitarist Lottie Pendlebury. "It’s about imagining dissecting Boris Johnson. It was quite objective in that sense. It’s like: What would his insides look like? Is he evil through and through? Would he just be covered in thick sludge? And it’s about the kind of evil that lies in Conservatives. It’s like they’re like lizards or something." On the track, she sings: "I'm sure it stinks under his skin, where pores secrete all the hate from within. We open up the muscle work, coated in all this thick sludge and dirt, hurt." LISTEN>>> 


Country superstar Dolly Parton's hit song "9 to 5" is a rousing critique of the workplace, which concludes: “It’s a rich man’s game, no matter what they call it — and you spend your life putting money in his wallet.” But on February 7, she reworked the song as "5 to 9" with an ad for Squarespace websites during the US Super Bowl American football game. Instead of railing against the daily grind, her new lyrics encouraged people to keep working side hustles on top of their day jobs, by starting a Squarespace website. Dismayed fans might find solace in the new album released two days earlier by British rockers Kid Kapichi, which mocks such misguided celebrities and the drudgery of work. On "Sardines" they sing: "Work all day in a shift nine to five. Boss don't care if you live or you die. Morning toast with that cyanide. You're angry, you're angry and you don't know why." LISTEN>>>


Four days earlier, Kid Kapichi's fellow British musician Joe Solo released his new album, which also rages against the machine. On "The Revolution Will Come", the musician, whose We Shall Overcome movement has raised £575,000 ($1 million) for the poor and who runs an annual event to celebrate International Workers' Day, sings: "The revolution will come, just like it's always done. And if your eyes won't allow your heart to believe that right now, they haven't won. The revolution will come." Activists in Australia blockaded a weapons maker on February 10, adding poignancy to Solo's new song "Old Empire Island". "Forty-five more men, women and children died fleeing a war zone last night," he sings, "while some bloke who panic-bought 300 bog rolls says: 'They should have stayed there to fight.'... And old empire island ships bombs to the war zone and the whole thing starts over again." LISTEN>>>


In Australia, the old empire continued to crush the colonised. An inquest on February 22 heard an Aboriginal man was “very sick” and had yellow skin in the days before his death in custody, but when another inmate saw him slumped over and asked for help it took about an hour for nurses to arrive. On Spinifex Gum's new live album, the group — which is made up of established indie musicians and an all-female, all-Indigenous choir — sing at the Sydney Opera House of a similar death in custody, that of Ms Dhu in Western Australia. The album, on which they also team up with Aboriginal rapper Briggs to sing of the Stolen Generation on "The Children Came Back", was released as people in Sydney marched in protest against policies that make it legal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be stolen from their families. MORE>>>  


Challenging such white supremacy is the new album from Melbourne doom metal duo Divide And Dissolve. Its title, Gas Lit, refers to the process of undermining someone's belief in themselves. “There are all these experiences people have that they might struggle to put words to,” said saxophonist and guitarist Takiaya Reed, who is of Black and Cherokee heritage. “So ‘Gas Lit’ is creating that spaciousness for those experiences. You might be being impacted by colonisation, white supremacy [and] genocide, and society will tell you, ‘No, you’re not. You’re fine’, when everything is not OK.” On "Did You Have Something To Do With It", guest poet Minori Sanchiz-Fung says: "The legacy of greed has grown from its seed to infiltrate every place, every face... a frightening history that fractures hope, first, by attacking the body and then, by distorting the mind." LISTEN>>> 

Video: Andra Day Performs "Strange Fruit" | United States vs. Billie Holiday | Hulu Original. Hulu.

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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