Looking for 2023's best protest music? Here are 10 albums

November 29, 2023
Protest albums from November 2023

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 November 2023.


Jewish people occupied Australian defence minister Richard Marles’ office On November 1, to protest against his government's support for Israel’s war on Gaza. In the following weeks, more and more Jews took part in huge rallies worldwide as Israel killed thousands of Palestinian children. In response, activists Amplify Palestine released a fundraising album on November 3. "Inspired by the 1985 Sun City album from artists boycotting apartheid South Africa", its sales support Palestinian cultural initiatives. On its second track, Palestinian emcee Prince Alfarra raps: "In the alleyways of streets, barriers prevent the dreams of residents and farmers... my kuffiyah [head-dress] is my address, and your barriers will never be able to erase that." A week later, Belfast artist David Holmes released his new album, which opens with the song "When People Are Occupied Resistance Is Justified". LISTEN>>> 


As Holmes was releasing his album, punk-rap duo Bob Vylan were criticising their fellow British musicians Sleaford Mods and IDLES for not speaking out on Palestine. Over the next fortnight, Pulp, Bikini Kill, Tom Morello, Zack de la Rocha and Brian Eno joined thousands of other artists calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The sentiment was summed up by English folk-punk musician Sam Draisey, who calls for listeners to "Question Everything" on his new protest album, released on November 3. On "Where's The Border Anyway?" he sings: "There must be a better way than living like this day to day. Yeah, well that's why I'm here to say: Where's the border anyway?" A fortnight later, British punks Fatal Blow released a new album on which they blast the global "Rich Man's War" that crosses borders to kill millions. It came as activists protested against profit-seeking arms exporters worldwide. LISTEN>>>  


As Merri-bek council in Naarm/Melbourne voted to fly the Palestinian flag on November 8, independent councillor Monica Harte - who is originally from Ireland - said such a debate “would never happen in an Irish council, because they have known repression and the country is full of Palestinian flags”. Making similar connections is US rapper Time, who addressed Palestine throughout his sublime album Still Everything Blessed in August and namechecks Irish political prisoner Bobby Sands on his latest high-quality long-player, released on November 10. On the same day, experimental Irish folk musician John Francis Flynn released his innovative new LP, which skewers the gentrification of Dublin and "warped" view of the Irish overseas. A fortnight later, his fellow Irish folk musicians Lankum had a gig in Germany cancelled by the venue due to the band's "political stance" in supporting Palestine. LISTEN>>>


A woman whose parents were refugees from the Nazis revealed on November 3 that her fellow Jews lambasted her when she spoke up for Palestinians at a council meeting in Gadi/Sydney a week earlier. "My comment that, like many of them, many of my family were consumed in the Holocaust ovens, was greeted with 'Pity you weren’t!'," Vivienne Porzsolt said. "There were even howls of protest when I began my speech with an Acknowledgement of Country." Such disdain for Australia's Aboriginal people would come as no surprise to award-winning Bundjalung rapper JK-47, who released his sophomore album on November 3. On its opening track he raps: "Seen too many victims because of the system. Their mental's imprisoned, I'm givin' 'em keys." Ten days later, the family of yet another Aboriginal person to die in police custody, Wayne Ugle, said he had been begging for his medication before he died. LISTEN>>> 


Likewise, it was revealed on November 10 that staff were watching movies when an Indigenous 16-year-old took his own life in a West Australian cell a month earlier. The reputation of the law sank further on November 15, when a New South Wales senior constable was accused of raping a woman and allegedly telling her he "knew how the system worked" and no one would believe her. That came days after the headmaster at a private Sydney school where a male sports coach killed his female colleague said the man was “an absolute delight” and “not a monster”. The headmaster's intention had been to emphasise that abusers are not easy to spot. But it brought to mind a lyric on the new album by US rockers Empty Country: “Forget who he molests, he’s a hell of a guy.” Musicians likely to use such defences against sexual assault accusations in November included Axl Rose, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Jamie Foxx. LISTEN>>>  


One musician who's fought violent cops was reported by the BBC to have died just two days before his latest album was released on November 16. But he was alive. Nigerian emcee Oladips, 28, raps about political issues such as the #ENDSars protests against police brutality in the west African nation. His last single was titled "Die Young", which came just weeks after protests over the death of another popular Nigerian musician, Mohbad. On Oladips' 2023 song "Mr Jide" he addresses the governor of Lagos state, Babajide Sanwo Olu, about armed forces' killing of peaceful protesters in Lagos. "Started with police brutality, then we protest," he raps. "We didn't know we were dealin' with government with no sense... Thank you for your concern, condolence and the pain. But you don't even post full event on your page. Then your went on LIVE and you lied 'nobody died'. This generation is broke bro." LISTEN>>>  


Also addressing police brutality is the new album from heavy New York indie rock activists The Resistance Company, released a fortnight earlier. On "Pig Roast" they seethe: "Don't you see all the blue in front of me, and on the side of me coming from behind me. Don't you try to cuff me little piggy. ACAB 'cos they are targeting me. They Keep pushing and shoving barricading me. Burning down the blue line and their billions." It came after cops arrested climate activist Greta Thunberg for protesting against oil in Britain, for which she faced court on November 15. The band lash out at such insanity on the song "Heatwave", with the lines: "The Earth is warming. That's why we're swarming. This your final warning. In a heatwave (our cities are flooding). We're in a heatwave (the Arctic is burning). Burning in a heatwave (super storms are raging). Living in a heatwave (our future is on hold)." LISTEN>>>


Graphically illustrating their point was Taylor Swift. The US pop megastar was filmed gasping for breath at her concert in Brazil's Rio De Janeiro on November 17, minutes before a fan died from the climate change-induced 59C heat. The concert's profit-hungry organisers had banned attendees from bringing their own water, leading Swift to throw her own bottles into the crowd. Two days later, neighbouring country Argentina elected a wild-haired, Donald Trump-loving new president, Javier Milei, who calls climate change "a socialist lie". Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva temporarily put relations between the two countries on hold, in a sign of his former socialist self. Representing the kind of politics that once got Lula jailed are Brazilian punks Escabroso, whose incendiary new EP is "driven by the country’s long colonial history of brutal racism and subjugation". LISTEN>>> 


Cut from the same Trump-loving cloth as Milei is Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders. The anti-Muslim Eurosceptic - who wants to leave the EU, Brexit-style - began talks to form a government in the Netherlands after his shock election win on November 22. The same day, Dutch punks No Turning Back, who host Europe's largest annual indoor hardcore punk festival, released their new EP, which blasts such divisive politics. On its closing track, "Mental Block", they rage: "Creating rumours and starting wars. Ignorance is bliss that's how it always was. Divide and conquer, eliminate each other. It's one rule for the rich while the rest fight and suffer. These mental chains only bring pain. This mental block, this world is going insane. Get out of my way, don't hold me down. Demons among us, I can see them now... Our society's problems, this world will burn. Times are rough, we will never learn." LISTEN>>> 


Such is the state of the world's politics that even long-in-the-tooth, apolitical mega stars have begun putting out political albums. Lol Tolhurst, who co-founded chart-topping goths The Cure, released his new album on November 3, which features insurrectionary vocals from Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie on "Country Of The Blind". Tolhurst's fellow 1980s pop legends Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark released their "most explicitly political record" a week earlier, which rages against environmental destruction on songs such as "Anthropocene" and "Evolution Of Species".  And at the end of the month, country music icon Dolly Parton released an album of heavy rock covers plus one original song, the seething "World On Fire", which she wrote after seeing so many "natural disasters" last year. "Greedy politicians, present and past," she sings. "They wouldn’t know the truth if it bit ’em in the ass." LISTEN>>> 

This column is taking a break and will return at the end of January.

Want to get this column every month? Just email matwardmusic@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my monthly email that includes a link to this column here at Green LeftYes, I want to read this column every month.

[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, Mat Ward released his new album, Climate Wars.]

Stream our new “Best protest songs of 2023” 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.

Stream Green Left TV’s political music playlist.

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