1. SYMPTOMEN - WELCOME TO BRAZIL
At the start of the year, Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro used his inauguration to declare his country free from “socialism and political correctness”. As the neo-fascist leader began moves to "privatise everything", scrap gun laws and open up the Amazon for mining, Brazilian heavy metallers Sympotomen dropped their satirical new album, Welcome To Brazil. Taking aim at politicians of all stripes, they sing: "My second name is scam. Brazil I am. Here's not a place for battles or war. Our people have nothing to fight for. Since the world robbed almost everything we had. And now our rulers are stealing what's left." At the end of the month, the US and Australia tried to carry out a coup in neighbouring Venezuela by calling little-known opposition MP Juan Guaidó "interim president", despite the opposition boycotting legitimate elections that made socialist Nicolas Maduro president. But Bolsonaro went one step further, declaring Guaidó president outright. MORE>>>
2. T-REXTASY - PREHYSTERIA
A day after the inauguration of sexist Bolsonaro, US pop star R Kelly was fully unmasked as a serial sex abuser in the documentary series Surviving R Kelly, released on January 3. A day later, feminist funsters T-Rextasy - hailed for "sticking it to sexism in the music industry" - launched their new album, which tackles not only sexism but homophobia and racism. “It’s a completely different ballgame when you are a femme person of colour,” says drummer Ebun Nazon-Power. “All I have to say for this moment is that it is really, really hard to work within an industry where most of the people who hold positions of power are white men.” The record followed the release of Voices From Eris, a compilation of women producers that drops in samples of unsettling dialogue, such as "My eyes are up here..." "Yeah, but your boobs are down there." Towards the end of the month, another documentary, Leaving Neverland, revealed new accusations of sexual abuse by pop idol Michael Jackson. LISTEN>>>
3. THE YOUNG 'UNS - THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY LONGSTAFF
Amid the rise of Bolsonaro-style fascism worldwide, British folk trio The Young 'Uns released a concept album on January 7 about one man's fight against fascism in the 1930s. The catchy, moving and often funny record tells the tale of Englishman Johnny Longstaff, whose son approached the band hoping they'd write a song about his late father. Captivated by Longstaff's story, The Yung 'Uns instead wrote a full piece of modern folk theatre and captured it for a worldwide audience. "Johnny was a great man of ethics, who took bold action to defend causes that he felt were implicitly right," says the group's David Eagle. "This led him to fight fascism at Cable Street and in the Spanish Civil War, despite it being illegal and involving incredible personal sacrifice." Johnny's life, which can be explored on the trio's interactive website, is "a remarkable human story oozing with modern relevance", say the band. And their strong music, often a capella, is refreshingly different. MORE>>>
4. BAILDSA - WARZONE
As Johnny's country battled over Brexit, some of the reasons for it wanting to leave Europe were on display in austerity-battered Greece, where striking teachers were tear-gassed on January 14. Soundtracking the country's woes are Thessaloniki band BAiLdSA, who blend balkan sounds with rock, reggae and rap on their new album, WarZone. On "No Pasaran" they sing: "A massive weapon that’s called solidarity, in our hands wait to fight this atrocity. If united we stand, they shall fall and the story will end once and for all. No pasaran, no fear. No pasaran, no tear. No pasaran, no war. No pasaran, just love." And amid "fortress Europe" continuing to shut out refugees, they sing on "We're Heading North": "We crossed the fields of borderless lands, hailed the sun with a hundred hands. Fought for life and fought for death, singed along with a wineful breath. Across the seas, we lost the keys, no matter where 'cause we don’t care - we're heading north!" LISTEN>>>
5. MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD - STAY HUMAN VOL. II
Also breaking down borders is Michael Franti, with his new album of festival-friendly reggae, released on January 25. On "This World Is So Fucked Up (But I Ain't Ever Giving Up On It)", the protest music veteran sings: "My mind is runnin' round in circles tryna make sense of the people who are runnin' everything today. All these politicians tweetin' got their message on repeat and try dividin' us with fear and the hate... I can't believe how we livin' today. I got this anger and sadness and pain. They can build walls but we can build bridges and we can be part of the change." Its release came as US President Donald Trump continued his government shutdown to try to get funding for his US$5 billion border wall, saying: "The people that won’t get next week’s pay or the following week’s pay, I think if you ever really looked at those people, I think they’d say: Mr President, keep going. This is far more important.” MORE>>>
6. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY
One of Trump's highest-profile critics, Bruce Springsteen, reveals on his new album that his stage persona is a "fraud", stolen from his own factory worker father - the kind of hand-to-mouth employee hit hardest by Trump's shutdown. This recording of Springsteen's recent one-man, one-year show on Broadway, where tickets sold out for prices up to US$1700, can now also be watched for free on Netflix, reaching a potential audience of 130 million versus the 2.5 million who saw his last world tour. Many will find Springsteen's Democratic Party politics naive, but his mid-set tirade against Trump got my eight-year-old clapping. Of course, it's fashionable to speak out against Trump, but Springsteen has never exactly been fashionable and has always spoken out, even when it's been unfashionable to do so. That deserves applause. However, his dyed-in-the-wool Catholicism - which inspires him to end his set with the Lord's Prayer - will have some viewers looking to the heavens. MORE>>>
7. THE CASTELESS COLLECTIVE - MAGIZHCHI
If religion is the opiate of the masses, then Hinduism - with its rigid, hierarchical caste system keeping everyone in their place - is the ultimate pacifier. All the more remarkable, then, that on January 8, 150 million Indians went on strike against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s anti-labour policies. Also casting off those caste cuffs are Chennai group The Casteless Collective, who formed just one year before the strike by taking the traditional funeral music of the lowest-caste Dalits and blending it with driving guitars and scathing rap. On January 27, police shut down their gig in Chennai. "The fundamental problem of Indian society is caste," says band leader Tenma. "We are demanding the destruction of the caste system and the band is enabling this idea." On January 10, his fellow Indian insurgents Orchid released their acclaimed new progressive metal album, which disses everything from spiritual gurus and planned obsolescence to slave labour and Wall Street. MORE>>>
8. LEYLA MCCALLA - THE CAPITALIST BLUES
Also raging against the capitalist machine is classical and folk musician Leyla McCalla, with her new album The Capitalist Blues, released on January 25. On the title track, she sings: "You keep telling me to climb this ladder, I've got to pay my dues. But as I rise, the stakes get higher, I've got the capitalist blues. And if I give everything, I won't have much more to lose." On “Money Is King”, she laments: “If a man has money today, people don’t care if he has cocobey [lizard skin]. But if you are poor, people will tell you ‘Shoo! A dog is better than you.'” Her slow waltz “Heavy As Lead” addresses the lead poisoning suffered by her daughter and, farther afield, Flint, Michigan. And on her Creole composition “Mize Pa Dous” she sings: “Tout la jounen m’ap travay. Tout la jounen, m’ap bouriké [All day long I work like a donkey].” Similar multilingual, yet universal, politics can be heard on Like Memory Foam, the new album from indie surf rockers didi. MORE>>>
9. FEVER 333 - STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Rallying the troops to fight back are supergroup Fever 333 with their new album Strength In Numbers, released on January 18. With all the rage of Rage Against The Machine and all the melodiousness of Linkin Park, they seethe: "You treat me as a felon, what about your fuckin' delegates? Let's address the elephant. You treat me as a felon, what about our fuckin' president? Oh, we did it, y'all. We did it together. That's how we win. We the people fight the power to maintain our power. And when we win, because you know we will, it's all power to all people." On "Burn It", they urge: "You know sometimes you gotta burn it down to build it up again. Lights go out in the town we're living in. Burn it down when no one's innocent. Burn it down." On "Out of Control", they contend: "We built our future by burning down our past." And on "One Of Us" they remind elites: "You are the minority. We are the majority. Fuck your lies and fuck your greed." MORE>>>
10. SONBOY - KID FROM THE BLOCK
On January 26, Australia's Aboriginal people and their supporters railed against the greed of their colonial overlords with protest marches against Australia Day, which celebrates the invasion of the country by Europeans. In Sydney, the march ended at the ever-growing Yabun Festival, where Indigenous hip-hop pioneers The Last Kinection praised the protesters as they marched through the crowd in the middle of their set. Joining the Last Kinection on stage were the mothers of TJ Hickey, killed in a police pursuit, and David Dungay, killed in jail, as Australia marked 400 Aboriginal deaths in custody with not a single prosecution. Following the Last Kinection on stage was local up-and-comer Sonboy, who showcased his strong debut record Kid From The Block, which celebrates his famed Aboriginal neighbourhood of Redfern in the face of creeping gentrification. Its release came amid a slew of strong Aboriginal hip-hop albums, from Lady Lash and Eskatology to Provocalz. MORE>>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009. He also wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country and makes political music. This month, he released a new album about surveillance and an EP with Aboriginal rapper Provocalz. Follow him on Spotify here.
Read about more political albums here.
Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.
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