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, but it's sometimes 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 2024.
1. SMALL ISLAND BIG SONG - SMALL ISLAND BIG SONG (LIVE)
On New Year's Eve, Aboriginal rapper Nooky kicked off Sydney's fireworks by performing with his new trio, 3%. The group's name comes from the percentage of Australia's population that is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. But their performance highlighted how their people make up 33% of all prisoners in Australia. The outrage was predictable. The Murdoch media said the performance had brought its broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "under fire". The Daily Mail slammed its "woke political activism". Far more respectful of Indigenous people and their rights is the new live album from music collective Small Island Big Song, released days later. On it, they bring further attention to how their people are being affected by climate change worldwide. It came as Sydney sweltered through its muggiest day ever and scientists predicted 2024 would break all previous climate records. LISTEN>>>
2. GREEN DAY - SAVIORS
Also causing a stir on New Year's Eve were US pop-punk chart-toppers Green Day. Their performance on the Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve TV show, in which they sneered at Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" politics, was similarly slammed by the Murdoch media. “People are so sick of being preached at about politics from rock bands,” said one Fox News host. “Stick to what you’re good at. You’re not a political analyst. You’re probably not really well read on the issues that Americans really care about.” Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who graduated from Harvard University with a political science major, replied on X: "Oh really?" Others pointed out that Fox had hosted many right-wing musicians, including pro-gun rights guitarist Ted Nugent. Days later, Green Day released their anthemic new album, which - among many other issues - tackles gun deaths in the US. LISTEN>>>
3. CHUCK D - SUMMER OF HAMN: THE OFFICIAL BOOKTRACK
Also tackling the shocking rates of gun violence in the US is the new album from Public Enemy rapper Chuck D, which accompanies his latest graphic novel on the same topic. Discussing the book, he said: "Only last week a black woman was shot down because she was shoplifting. She was just shoplifting! And it was the police!” When Public Enemy rose to fame in the mid-1980s, racial violence was flaring in Black neighbourhoods: “But our message was, it’s not about me having a gun it’s about me being a thinker... Words were our bullets." On January 18, a US Justice Department probe found “cascading failures” in the police's handling of a 2022 gun massacre at a Texas elementary school. The next day, bisexual feminist punks Sleater-Kinney released their new album, whose opening track fires back at the horror that gun deaths create for parents. “Hell is desperation, and a young man with a gun,” they sing. LISTEN>>>
4. SCOTT FREE - SONGS TO FIGHT OPPRESSION
"Ban The Guns That Kill Our Kids" is one of the many strident tracks on the all-political new album by queer singer-songwriter Scott Free, released on January 2. The former house music and rap musician's diverse, radical record touches on pretty much every topical topic. On January 10, a former Qatar Airways chairman received a 20-year jail sentence for laundering more than $US5.6 billion, bringing to mind the album's track "When CEOs Go To Jail". Australian maritime workers took strike action on January 1. The album addresses such struggles on "General Strike". On January 28, climate change activists hurled soup at the famed Mona Lisa painting in Paris. The album tackles such anguish on "Save The Planet". And as Russia continues to bomb Ukrainians and Israel keeps on slaughtering Palestinians, listeners may find solace in the album's song "I'm Already Against The Next War". LISTEN>>>
5. DAVID ROVICS - NOTES FROM A HOLOCAUST
They may also find solace in the new album by veteran protest singer David Rovics. Notes From A Holocaust was released just days before the International Court of Justice issued a ground-breaking decision in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel. On January 26, the court ordered Israel to comply with six provisional measures to safeguard the right of Palestinians to be protected from genocidal violence. The move came as big pop stars, from Dua Lipa to Montaigne, protested against the killings. Rovics' album, written and recorded between October 13 and December 31 last year, is highly topical, even covering such recent events as the Houthi Army's blockade of Red Sea shipping routes in protest against Israel. The lyrics are exceptional. But the polished production by Rovics' friend, who took it upon himself to upgrade the raw recordings, also makes this possibly Rovics' best album yet. LISTEN>>>
6. ANA TIJOUX - VIDA
Days after the release of Rovics' record, Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux - whose song “Somos Sur” compares the resistance in Palestine to that in Chile - released her politically-charged new album. It followed the release of fundraising compilation De Chile A Palestina, which notes that "Chileans and Palestinians have a long shared history". On January 14, miners resumed extracting lithium in the Atacama Desert after protests by Chileans who feared the mines' environmental impact. Unearthing such struggles is the new album by Chilean black metal outfit Ecologist. "Each country faces different risks under climate change and Chile will face some of the worst," they noted in a January 19 interview with protest music website Shouts. The albums all came as leftist Latin American leaders such as Chilean president Gabriel Boric tackled US imperialism and rising neofascism in the region. LISTEN>>>
7. NEW MODEL ARMY - UNBROKEN
Lashing out at such colonialism is the new album from English punk diehards New Model Army, released on January 26. "If I have to see another fucking Union Jack flying on the orders of the government, I'm going to be sick," they sing on "Reload". "The favourite colours of the heirs of the slavers, taking everything and stashing it away in a pretty little Caribbean island." The same day, the lead singer of Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals, Gruff Rhys, released his new solo album, which blasts the British government. Discussing it, he said: “Political activists are my heroes. We live in very, very sobering times.” Expressing similar sentiments about the state of British politics is the latest EP from English pop starlet So Good, on which she spits: "We had the worst prime minister ever. And then we had the worst prime minister ever. And now we’ve got the worst prime minister ever... ever!" LISTEN>>>
8. BEANS ON TOAST - THE TOOTHPASTE AND THE TUBE
The criticism of Britain's Tory government came as the man set to become its next prime minister, Sir Keir Starmer, pledged what one socialist website called his "loyalty to Zionism and Israel’s Gaza genocide" at a Labour conference on January 14. Days later, Starmer refused to say whether the killing of a Palestinian walking under a white flag was a war crime. That came after British protest musician Beans On Toast released his new album, which features the song "Against The War". "Now I'm sitting in your car watching war crimes on my phone, wondering when they'll send in the drones," he sings. "I'm not sure if there's good guys and bad guys any more, who's getting paid and who they're rooting for. I stand with the victims, whoever they are. And I'm against the war." Yet the album also mixes the personal with the political, in songs about pubs, parenthood, and playing joyous gigs nationwide. LISTEN>>>
9. RADICAL KITTEN - UPPERCAT
Also mixing the political with the personal are French feminist punks Radical Kitten. Their new album, released on January 26, opens with the song "Never On Time", which blasts those who think their time is more important than yours. It closes with the song "Worst Friend", which condemns those who wreck friendships in the pursuit of money. But in between are patriarchy-smashing anthems, such as "No Means No!" and the title track, "Uppercat", which declares: "All my fellows in the fights, you’re awesome. The sisters in the riots, you’re awesome." A fortnight earlier, the band's fellow feminist, US punk Amanda Palmer, released her new album, which describes her new life in New Zealand. On "Little Island", she sings: "Jamie says the Kiwis loved Americans: the moonshot, JFK, and Lucky Strikes. Now there’s just this pity and embarrassment: The Proud Boys, COVID deaths, and Oscar night." LISTEN>>>
10. FATHER FURY - SMASH YOUR IDOLS
Hundreds of thousands of people rallied against the far right in Germany on January 21, after Proud Boys-style extremists called for millions of immigrants to be deported. Five days later, Australian police intercepted neo-Nazis as they got off a train in Sydney, hours after Melbourne activists had sawn off a statue of Captain Cook at the ankles. The neo-Nazis had planned to disrupt protests against Australia Day, which celebrates the first arrival of white people. Days earlier, US punk Father Fury released his aptly-named new album, Smash Your Idols. On the Trump-baiting song "Fascists Are Fragile", he sings: "You're such a tough guy. Proud Boys on stand-by. Your dog whistle. You're in the basement. Tweeting crazy shit. But your reich is gonna go." Is there really hope for change? Perhaps. On January 10, it was reported that 4 billion people are about to vote in the biggest election year ever. LISTEN>>>
[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 single, I Wanna Be Like Violet CoCo.]
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Read about more political albums.
Stream our new “Best protest songs of 2024” playlist on Spotify. This replaces the previous “Political albums” playlist, that was getting too big at more than 700 albums.