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 - it's 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 January 2022.
1. BARKAA - BLAK MATRIARCHY
Starting 2022 with a bang was Aboriginal rapper Barkaa. Her New Year's Eve performance, broadcast live from the Sydney Opera House, outraged right-wing media worldwide. "Viewers slam ABC for 'woke' 9pm children's fireworks," fumed the Murdoch media. "Australian New Year's Eve show 'for children' sparks outrage over 'woke political' message," thundered Britain's Daily Express. Barkaa's crime? Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Amid the furore, such media outlets failed to mention Australia's record-breaking rates of Indigenous incarceration. Nor did they acknowledge the fact that Barkaa has served time, as addressed on her debut EP. The record, released just days earlier, is a tribute to the strong Black women who have helped her bounce back from such savage inequality. Yet for fragile white people, even telling their kids about Black Lives Matter is a step too far. LISTEN>>>
2. GRACE VICTORIA - LOVE & JUSTICE
Also educating her listeners about racism was African American Grace Victoria. The skillful singer-songwriter released her withering new album on New Year's Day. On "Down in Virginia", she sings: "The people in the country can get pretty mean. A crazy woman called me nigger made me wanna scream. But my anger never brought me a single thing, down in Virginia, baby. When I was older I took a trip to the North. You'll never guess what I found: The liberals are the under the impression that racism is no longer around." On "No", she sings: "Do you know how long it takes for a girl like me to get her foot in the door? More time than I can afford. No. I don't get sentimental about the past, 'cause it reminds me how in history I've always been put last." And on "Let Me Tell You", she seethes: "If and when the crackers attack, they try me, they gonna get smacked. I was born to fight back." LISTEN>>>
3. MARINA - ANCIENT DREAMS IN A MODERN LAND DELUXE EDITION
On January 10, Australia's Defence Minister claimed reverse racism. Peter Dutton, who is spoiling for a war with China, said celebrities were deliberately avoiding discussing the Asian nation's treatment of women. Critics pointed out that Dutton, who once branded a female journalist a "mad fucking witch", should tackle the notorious sexual abuse in his own party before pointing the finger at others. On January 7, the highly political yet hugely popular pop star Marina released an expanded version of her latest album. On the environmental song "Purge the Poison" she ridicules the men who refer to women as "witches". On new track "Free Woman", she addresses the universal sexual abuse of females with the words: "They can touch your body, but they'll never touch your soul." And on new song "Pink Convertible" she spits: "I just wanna forget how fucked up is our planet." LISTEN>>>
4. MATRIARCH INCLUSIVE - MESSY HOUSE
Living far too close for comfort to Dutton and his sexist cronies are Canberra-based grunge rockers Matriarch Inclusive. They warmed up the recent March4Justice national rally against such politicians. But on their rollicking debut EP, they skewer the sexism that runs rife far beyond the walls of Parliament House. On "Mansplained", they sing: "At the hardware store on a Sunday morning I want to buy a drill. Need to fix an awning, it can't be too hard, I know I've got the skill. The store guy saunters up, I ask him for a price. But what I get instead is unsolicited advice. Mansplained! Do I need to be told how the world works, like I'm five years old?" Drummer Leanne Thompson, who used to work in government, said: "The five songs that ended up on the debut EP have a very strong feminist theme running through them. Most of our music has some kind of social justice angle." LISTEN>>>
5. ENDLESS BORE - WHAT DO YOU DIG FOR?!
Dutton is notorious for his past treatment of refugees. But on January 14, international media asked Melbourne punks Endless Bore what they thought of Australia's treatment of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, who had been locked up with long-suffering asylum seekers for a supposed visa breach. "Australia’s immigration policies (i.e. the mandatory detention of 'unlawful' arrivals in offshore processing facilities, including those seeking asylum as refugees) are simply disgusting," answered the band. "Novak’s case has been the media circus I’d expect from an incompetent do-nothing Prime Minister and an entitled sports star." On their new EP, released a week later, they fume against the establishment: "Aspire to be ordinary, mediocre, average. Just coast along, maintain the status quo. Don't dare do anything to rock the boat." LISTEN>>>
6. JOHN MELLENCAMP - STRICTLY A ONE-EYED JACK
On January 3, Australia's "incompetent do-nothing Prime Minister", Scott Morrison, said the government could not provide free rapid antigen tests for people hit by the coronavirus pandemic. His reason? "We just can’t go round and make everything free." Yet days later, his government announced it was spending $3.5 billion on 75 Abrams Main Battle Tanks, 29 Assault Breacher Vehicles, 17 Joint Assault Bridge vehicles, six Hercules Combat Recovery Vehicles and 122 gas turbine engines. On January 21, US musician John Mellencamp released an apt new album for such leaders. On its song "I Always Lie To Strangers", he sings: "I always lie to strangers. I am a man of low degree." Yet adds: "This world is run by men much more crooked than me." Days later, comedy band Doom Perrottet released a tribute single to New South Wales leader Dominic Perrottet and his fatal "let it rip" pandemic policy. LISTEN>>>
7. RIAD AWWAD, HANAN AWWAD AND MAHMOUD DARWISH - THE INTIFADA 1987
On January 13, the chair of the Sydney Festival apologised after more than 30 artists pulled out of the event because it accepted a $20,000 donation from the Israeli embassy. Four days earlier, British record label Majazz Project released a protest album banned by Israel 35 years ago. Riad Awwad, his sister Hanan and famed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish had recorded the album after an Israeli truck crashed into cars carrying Palestinian workers in Gaza, killing four, leading to the First Intifada uprising. As the label puts it: "The Israeli Army immediately confiscated all the copies they could find, the vast majority of which remain in the military archives to this day. Riad was arrested, interrogated and detained for several months." In 2020, artist and music collector Mo’min Swaitat bought thousands of cassettes that had been held in storage. One of these was this album. LISTEN>>>
8. CALM. - CONVERSATIONS WITH A WILLOW TREE
On January 1, as the US continued to fund arms to Israel, Denver duo Calm. released a fitting new album. On the track "Autobiography Of A Bomb", emcee Time - who has interviewed Noam Chomsky in the past - gives such devastating ordnance a voice. "Let the bloody finger put the pressure to the mechanism," he raps. "Pyrotechnic cartridges flash, I was born for state terrorism. Pistons retract, grab my back, then they shove me away. Now I’m flying over Yemen like it's judgement day... I live on as shrapnel in the body of my victims. My soul is dead, I’m just a product of the system. I'm in a sauna in hell they say I’m being reincarnated. I’m going back to Raytheon for a Palestinian vacation." Yet the brilliantly-written album's scope is even wider than the arc of such weapons. The record covers everything from medicine and failed friendships to gentrification and the environment. LISTEN>>>
9. NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE - BARN
Also railing against environmental destruction was US folk rock legend Neil Young on his new album, Barn. On "Human Race", he sings: "Who's gonna save the human race? Where are the children gonna run and hide? The children of the fires and floods." Days later, he made Spotify remove his music in protest against the platform's star podcaster, Joe Rogan, spreading COVID-19 misinformation. The World Health Organisation backed his move and protest singer Joni Mitchell followed suit. Young's record was released in the same week as an album of endangered Australian birds' calls topped the charts, beating even the comeback album from pop legends Abba. Australia's coal-promoting PM, Scott Morrison, then announced $1 billion in funding over a decade to save the Great Barrier Reef in a bid to boost his re-election chances. Critics pointed out that was like "slapping a band aid on a broken leg". LISTEN>>>
10. BEANS ON TOAST - SURVIVAL OF THE FRIENDLIEST
Back in the country that started Australia's environmental destruction, Britain, protest singer Beans On Toast released his latest album. The story of the British stealing other nations' land is well known. But on the song "The Commons", the musician documents its domestic land grab from its common people. "Well if you don't take down this fence, I'll hop over it anyway," he sings. "I've done some reading and things don't have to be this way. You're worried I might climb the wall and stumble across your family tree. I bet you there's some roots down there you don't want me to see. Because your ancestors they stole this land, fenced it off in a power grab. And ripped it from beneath the feet of the folks who used to dwell on it. Drilled it into the consciousness for a couple of hundred years. And now it's so ingrained that no one even questions it." LISTEN>>>
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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 month, Mat Ward released his new album based on protest chants, Why I Protest. You can download it free for a limited time.
Stream our new "Best protest songs of 2022" 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.
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