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Top Ten Protest Albums Of 2016

*The following is a collection of some of the best albums of protest music in 2016.

Anohni – Hopelessness

“I wanted to do something that had a seductive sound, using contemporary pop language, and then embed within that this hardcore, very direct language,” Anohni said of her album. She succeeded. “Hopelessness” is one of the boldest albums ever produced about the destruction humanity is wreaking on the planet and human lives.

Anohni takes the perspective of a 9 year-old girl in Afghanistan in “Drone Bomb Me” and begs for a drone to choose her and end the misery she endures in endless war. “Watch Me” flirtatiously goes after the National Security Agency’s total surveillance. On “4 Degrees,” she sings of wanting to see the sky burn and the animals and birds die, possibly taking the perspective of a soulless capitalist.

Unlike many protest albums, Anohni fearlessly places herself at the center of the maelstrom of injustice plaguing the world, and in doing so, she implicates civilization. She jolts us with her somber and distressed cries against the cannibalistic nature of our social and political culture.

P.J. Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project

P.J Harvey approached this album like a work of journalism. She traveled to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Washington D.C. with photographer Seamus Murphy. The title of the album comes directly from the United States government’s Hope VI Project, seen by a number of residents as a means of spurring gentrification.

With “The Wheel,” Harvey appears to reference the cycle of violence in war that kills tens of thousands of children. Both “The Ministry Of Defence” and “A Line In The Sand” are also devastating presentations of war, particularly in Afghanistan. “Sand” opens with the line, “How to stop the murdering?” She recognizes if we have not learned anything from all the bloodshed then we are a sham.

Fatima al Qadiri – Brute

Qadiri is a Kuwaiti artist, who now lives in New York. As she has described, her album was inspired by her experiences protesting “in person and witnessing them online.” It deals with the police state. The cover to her album takes a Teletubbie and transforms it into an authoritarian monster, and that fits the bleak sonic tableau she creates.

She uses samples, like comments on police from MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell and Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey of the LAPD, to amplify the grimness of the instrumentals. Altogether, the music forms a soundtrack for struggle in the face of police forces aimed at controlling dissent. It is the kind of album that will carry even more resonance in the era of President Donald Trump.

Rev. Sekou & the Holy Ghost – The Revolution Has Come

Drawing from the uprising after Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson, Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, Jay-Marie Hill, and his band, The Holy Ghost, produced this album. It consists of gospel and soul music and was released by Farfetched, an independent music and art group in St. Louis, Missouri, which is not far from Ferguson where the uprising against Brown’s death unfolded.

The opening track, “We Comin’,” is a song for the movement for black lives and incorporates known chants from protests (“They think it’s a game/They think it’s a joke.) “Hell No” is a song against the racket of war. The title track draws from the tradition of freedom songs popularized by the civil rights movements of the 1960s to create an uplifting song for the latest chapter of the fight for black liberation in the United States.

Elza Soares – A Mulher do Fim do Mundo (The Woman At The End Of The World)

Brazilian music icon Elza Soares’ album sang about racism, domestic violence, drug addiction, global warming, and sexual freedom—what she deemed the “real issues facing Brazil in its Olympic year.” She brought attention to marginalized people to show black Brazilians exist and to demonstrate gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Brazilians deserve a greater voice in society.

“Benedita” is a song about a transgender person addicted to crack willing to face down cops in the war on drugs. “Maria da Vila Matilde” is about a woman with an abusive husband who threatens to throw hot water on him to defend herself. Each track of “dirty samba” music is an anthem for those rendered disposable by society.

 

Solange – A Seat At The Table

Solange, sister of Beyoncé Knowles, created this album to deal with the daily trauma of black life in America. As a mother, she said it came from a place of not wanting that trauma to be passed on to her son. She incorporated her dad’s experiences fighting for civil rights as well as rapper Master P speaking about black empowerment.

Through “Mad,” Solange deals with rage, why she should not have to apologize for feeling angry, and how to deal with that anger. “Don’t Touch My Hair” is about black identity and not allowing people, particularly white people, to violate her space by touching her hair without consent. She also deals with balancing life along with struggle in her song, “Borderline (An Ode to Self Care).”

Swet Shop Boys – Cashmere

Swet Shop Boys is a rap duo comprised of Himanshu Suri, who is known for his work with Das Racist, and actor Riz Ahmed, who goes by the moniker, Riz MC. Ahmed is a British Pakistani. Suri is of Punjabi-Indian descent. Their album is inspired by their ethnicity, brown skin, and the Islamophobia faced on a daily basis.

“T5” is a cheeky rap about airport security racially profiling them. “Shottin'” highlights law enforcement entrapment against Muslims (“Phone tap, entrapped by the boys in blue”). “Phone Tap” draws from the paranoia of life under constant surveillance. But it’s “Shoes Off”—where Ahmed takes the common demand of, “Shoes off!” and explores racial profiling and his personal struggle to live a free life as an actor without interference from British security forces—that truly stands out.

Tanya Tagaq – Retribution

Tanya Tagaq, an indigenous throat singer known for standing with indigenous people in their struggles against extraction companies, recorded an album of music that confronts the pillage and plundering of Earth and the rape of land by what could be described as settler colonial forces.

The title track warns of the consequences of humanity’s non-consensual relationship with the planet (“Our mother grows angry. Retribution will be swift”). On “Cold,” Tagaq opens with a description of the science of global warming, particularly the melting of the polar ice caps. “Human civilization as we know it will no longer exist,” she declares.

Just as chilling is her cover of Nirvana’s “Rape Me,” which she slows and strips down to an ominous beat. A song Kurt Cobain wrote about a woman standing up to her rapist becomes a political statement about how much humanity must truly hate this nourishing world if we’re willing to abuse it so much.

A Tribe Called Red – We Are The Halluci Nation

A Tribe Called Red that says they make music to promote inclusivity, empathy, and acceptance among all races and genders in the name of social justice. They are an indigenous Canadian DJ collective that believe indigenous people must define their identity on their own terms. And, according to the collective, if you share their vision, you are a part of the Halluci Nation.

“The Virus” featuring Saul Williams acknowledges the trauma of colonialism while declaring indigenous people refuse to be conquered. “R.E.D.” is a hype track but nevertheless a memorable one because it represents the bridging of cultures across continents in defiance of movements for increased border enforcement. Yet, it is “How I Feel” that carries the most power, with its attention to the daily trauma of indigenous life and the pledge of solidarity each day of the struggle.

Various Artists – Stand With Standing Rock

This album represents a truly a remarkable accomplishment. It is a collection of psychedelic rock/experimental music from a coalition of musicians that was put together to support resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The album was released digitally and on a limited edition cassette and proceeds went to legal defense funds for those putting their bodies on the line.

As outlined on the project’s Bandcamp page, “The movement defending the land around Lake Oahe continues to stand in what has become a historic display of cross-tribal (and cross-cultural) unity against the endless exploitation of indigenous peoples by the United States government and the continued desecration of natural habitats and resources by corporate interests. What was once a simple protest has become a movement, one that will likely continue to have an impact on national and inter-tribal politics well beyond the DAPL issue.”

The project appears to be a model for future collaborative efforts to create art, which can support and foster resistance to injustice and oppression.

Honorable Mention: A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from here…, Poor Lily – Dirt On Everyone, Common – Black America Again, A.B Original – Reclaim Australia
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."