“Music can help steel the backbone of those in the struggle.” –Tom Morello
For those that don’t know, in addition to being a national organizer I’m also a DJ. For as long as I can remember I’ve always made sense of the world through music. I learned about love through Ritchie Valens. About heartbreak through Al Green. My heritage through Los Hermanos Flores. The same was true for politics.
For me music and political movements are natural partners that feed off each other. The first band to catch my attention in this way was Rage Against the Machine. Their 2nd album “Evil Empire” was an academic discourse on political consciousness. The seeds of distrust for corporate media and my subsequent involvement in the media justice sector were planted when I listened to “Vietnow”:
Turn on the radio
Nah f*ck it turn it off
Fear is your only god on the radio
Nah f*ck it turn it off
In 2000 Rage put on a free concert outside the Democratic National Convention protesting the two-party system. Shortly after their performance the Los Angeles Police Department, unprovoked, decided to literally pull the plug on the concert and disperse the crowd with rubber bullets and batons. I was among the many people forcibly removed but the episode made me realize the power of this medium to create a common narrative and provide “food for the soul” of our movements.
I was reminded of that experience this past weekend after hearing all the activities associated with the NATO Summit in Chicago. Anytime people come together like that, music is not far behind. So in honor of the demonstrations I put together my Top 5 Jams to Protest To (in no specific order).
Brazilian tropicalia samples. Bass line by the great Sean McPherson of Heiruspecs fame. Production by Benzilla and BK-One. And lyrics by the movement prophet I Self Devine. ‘Nuff said.
Move with the music
Get in tune with the movement
Food for the soul
On the grind it’s time let’s go.
Many of the younger generation will recognize this as the original sample of M.I.A.’s “Paper Plane”. True, but before that it was a jam decrying the social, economic and racial injustice in society particularly in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
On a side note, I will not do justice to rock music and its role its contribution to the soundtrack of resistance. Whether it was punk, country, heavy metal…there are countless examples but with my own arbitrary 5-song limit I couldn’t fit in White Lion or Black Sabbath.
Marvin Gaye was a trendsetter. This song and the album of the same name sparked a mainstream political consciousness in RnB that none of his contemporaries had achieved with success. I can’t add much else to its greatness but I can share a unique take on the song.
The song delicately speaks to the complex culture of Latin America as well as its common spirit of resistance. It features afro-Peruvian legend Susana Baca, indigenous Colombian singer Toto la Momposina and Brazilian singer Maria Rita. Many of the struggles in Latin America revolve around the commodification of natural resources and this song speaks directly to that point declaring:
Tu no puedes comprar el viento (You can’t buy the wind)
Tu no puedes comprar el sol (You can’t buy the sun)
This one goes out to all my indigenous brothers and sisters. Struggle no matter what shape it takes or whom it affects is a common denominator. So as you head out to the next protest, keep the words of Redbone in mind and remember to “sing out our story til the truth is heard.”
Now that you know my top song to protest to, what’s yours?