As US President Donald Trump continues to piss off musicians by using their music at his rallies, here's a look back at August's political news and the best new music that he definitely won't be playing. What albums would you suggest? Comment on Twitter, Facebook, or email.
1. NAIMA SHALHOUB - SIPHR
On August 4, ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Beirut exploded, killing at least 181 people, leaving 300,000 homeless and sparking protests across Lebanon. Negligent officials appeared to be the culprits. But, without evidence, US President Donald Trump instantly blamed terrorists. Two days later, Lebanese-American soul singer and activist Naima Shalhoub released her debut album, whose track "Eight (Arab-Amerikkki)" tackles American prejudice towards people from Arab countries. The daughter of refugees from Lebanon, Shalhoub had been planning to return to the country after she composed one of the album's songs with prisoners there, but had been grounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Her lyrics on "Three (Loved)" take on a particular poignancy in light of the explosion: "Buildings will stand and then they'll fall, but how have we loved at the end of it all?" LISTEN>>>
2. 47 SOUL - SEMITICS
On August 13, Trump hailed a "historic breakthrough" in establishing full diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Palestinians denounced the deal as a betrayal and condemned the Emiratis for acquiescing in Israel’s ongoing occupation - and bombing - of Palestinian land. A week later, 47 Soul released their new album of protest music, which features Palestinian rappers and singers set to "Shamstep" - the band's unique blend of hip-hop beats and Middle Eastern melodies. The album is called Semitics because, as the band put it: "The term is used in a strange way, and in so much propaganda. People need to know that semite doesn’t just mean Hebrew alone – Arabs are included. After all, ‘semitic languages’ include both Hebrew and Arabic and all the people who spoke those languages mixed a lot – it was one of the most metropolitan areas in history." LISTEN>>>
3. THE LEVELLERS - PEACE
Over in Britain - the country that established Israel - Queen guitarist Brian May shared a video of fires surrounding his home on August 11, as the "normally damp" forest burned. Three days later, British festival favourites the Levellers released their first album in eight years, which rails against climate change on the song "Generation Fear". "The East and West they posture, to point score," they sing. "They ruined our planet for profit. Was it worth it?" Discussing the album, they said: "It’s the most anxious-sounding record we’ve done in a long time. It’s the way the world is." It came in a month when Canada's last fully intact Arctic ice shelf collapsed, Mauritius was destroyed by an oil spill, a huge hurricane hit the US and the first big bushfire of winter arrived in Australia's state of New South Wales, as Aboriginal people fought for the environment. MORE>>>
4. VARIOUS ARTISTS - CANNOT BUY MY SOUL: THE SONGS OF KEV CARMODY (2020 EDITION)
On August 20, National Indigenous Television broadcast Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky, a powerful new documentary marking 250 years since Captain Cook "discovered" Australia, presented by comedian and slam poet Steven Oliver. The film looks at "songlines" - the songs that helped Aboriginal people navigate and survive in the country for millennia - and creates new compositions with contemporary Indigenous musicians including rappers Birdz and Trials, singers Mo'Ju and Alice Skye, and famed protest singer Kev Carmody. The next day, Carmody released Cannot Buy My Soul: The Songs Of Kev Carmody (2020 Edition), featuring six new cover versions of his songs, including new offerings from Birdz, Trials, Mo'Ju and Alice Skye. "It's a little bit disconcerting that stuff I wrote over 40 years ago is still relevant," said Carmody. MORE>>>
5. GORDON KOANG - UNITY
On August 10, the Federal Court ordered Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to release a 68-year-old immigrant from a North Melbourne detention facility after it determined he had a high risk of contracting the coronavirus. Instead, Dutton moved him 3000km away from his family to a remote detention centre in Western Australia. Four days later, blind Sudanese refugee Gordon Koang released his new album after a six-year struggle to get residency in Australia. On album opener "Asylum Seeker", he sings: "My dear asylum seekers, we know you're waiting for your permanent protection visa. We know you've been waiting for a long time." Discussing the album, he said: "When you are an asylum seeker you don't have a job, you don’t have a friend, you don’t have any money." A day later, activists stared down police intimidation as they campaigned to free refugees in Brisbane. LISTEN>>>
6. VUSI MAHLASELA - SHEBEEN QUEEN
Back in Gordon Koang's Africa, revered South African musician Vusi Mahlasela released his new album on August 14, recorded live at his late grandmother's shebeen — or informal drinking den — in the slums. "In 1976, when I witnessed the Soweto Uprising, my political education began and I realised how important music was," he said. "I began writing songs of justice, of freedom, of revolution, of love, of peace and of life. For these songs, I was arrested and thrown into solitary confinement. Magogo was always there for me — she fought for me, protected me and stood up for what was right. She was and still is my greatest hero. I decided I wanted to record some of these great Township songs in an effort to preserve this important music.” Released as fresh protests swept South Africa, this protest music is the most sublime you will hear anywhere on earth. LISTEN>>>
7. LOS FASTIDIOS - FROM LOCKDOWN TO THE WORLD
In Italy, Los Fastidios - a band who fight fiercely against racism meted out on African immigrants - released their new album of live songs recorded in lockdown, on August 11. The typically upbeat and catchy, singalong punk album, which opens with the irrepressibly optimistic "Joy Joy Joy", was released on the same day that worldwide cases of coronavirus hit 20 million. Other artists releasing pandemic-themed records this month included John McCutcheon, who mourns the death of musician John Prine on his album, Cabin Fever: Songs From The Quarantine, and Martyn Joseph, with his When We Get Through This EP. On "Nye (Song For The NHS)", Joseph sings: "No society can call itself civilised, if the sick are denied through lack of means. And if you don’t believe me take a plane my friend, go break your arm, see what it costs in New Orleans." LISTEN>>>
8. BILLY NOMATES - BILLY NOMATES
Billy Nomates' song about calling in to work sick took on a whole new meaning as she released it on her debut album amid the pandemic on August 7. “See I’ve been up all night with one of the worst cases this town has ever seen," sneers the post-punk multi-instrumentalist on "Call In Sick". "And if I come in Debbie, if I come in Debbie, I’m gonna take down the whole team." Similarly, "Supermarket Sweep" sticks the knife into dead-end jobs, with a typically acerbic guest appearance by former dole office worker Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods. And on "FNP" Nomates spits: “I was born with a fork not a spoon, and things fall through.” It's a fitting soundtrack as governments worldwide try to push workers back into jobs that often pay worse than the dole, risking their health in the process. LISTEN>>>
9. JAMES DEAN BRADFIELD - EVEN IN EXILE
On August 14, it was reported that Communist Party politicians were trying to raise $US6 billion ($8 billion) by taxing the ultra rich in Chile, which has the second highest income inequality in the OECD. The same day, Manic Street Preachers frontperson James Dean Bradfield released his new concept album about Victor Jara, the Chilean protest singer and communist activist who was killed by the regime of Augusto Pinochet in 1973. The album, and an accompanying three-part podcast series, aims to tell Jara's life story, rather than dwelling on his infamous death. "If you just focus on his death, you ignore the journey, you ignore the ambition, you ignore the songs, and you kind of ignore Chile," said Bradfield. The album came as Mapuche prisoners in the country entered their 100th day of hunger strike, while the US-backed coup regime in neighbouring Bolivia tightened its grip. MORE>>>
10. REGINA CARTER - SWING STATES
As South America's main tormentor, the US, geared up for its presidential election, Michigan jazz violinist Regina Carter released her new voting-themed album, Swing States. While Trump ratcheted up claims that the poll would be rigged in Democrats' favour (the opposite has long been the truth) Carter said: "Voter suppression, especially in African American communities, racism and Black people being disproportionately killed by police are not new injustices in this country. And the racist rhetoric spewed by the current occupant of the White House has played a role in encouraging violence. It is extremely important for ALL of us to be vigilant, educate ourselves about issues and exercise our right to vote, especially now." The album came as multiple musicians tried - and failed - to stop Trump using their music in his election campaign. 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 media hailed as "edgy, daring and new". You can download the deluxe version free for a limited time here.
Stream our new "Protest albums of 2020" 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.
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