Protest Song Of The Week: ‘John Brown’ By Marc Ribot Featuring Fay Victor
Marc Ribot is a guitarist, who has released 25 albums that span more than 40 years. His work fuses genres from soul to punk to jazz to roots music.
With his latest project, “Songs Of Resistance 1942-2018,” Ribot attempts to connect current resistance against President Donald Trump’s administration to musical traditions of protest.
The album was released on September 14. It reworks songs popularized by the civil rights movement in the United States as well as songs of the anti-fascist resistance in Italy during World War II. Several original songs are featured as well.
Fay Victor’s contributions are absolutely a highlight of the album. On “John Brown,” she displays her powerful and dynamic range as a jazz vocalist.
“John Brown” is an original song written and composed by Ribot. It recognizes Brown as a revolutionary, who was an abolitionist that spurred the end of slavery through his acts.
It opens by highlighting how he killed five slaveholders at Pottawatomie Creek. He set the slaves free.
“Good people of Missouri thought John Brown was insane,” Victor sings. “Meanwhile, in their backyards, they had human beings in chains.”
The lyrics go on to highlight the raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, which Brown undertook to arm the slaves and launch a rebellion.
In this part of the tune, Victor recalls how Brown wanted to give power, freedom, and rights to slaves. “We’re gonna rise up. We’re gonna fight. Liberate all the people. Freedom now.”
Brown was convicted of treason and sentenced to hanging.
Following his conviction, he proclaimed, “If it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit. So let it be done!”
He was executed in 1959, and even Abraham Lincoln viewed him as insane for his revolutionary acts.
Ribot’s song says John Brown’s “spirit walks today” because the need for liberation and justice is as crucial as ever, whether it be through the movement for black lives or movement against mass incarceration.
A postscript for the album written by Ribot notes many of the songs from the new project acknowledge “human frailty.” They demonstrate a “vision of a beauty beyond victory,” which may give people hope for struggles and keep tradition of resistance alive both in music and society.
*Listen to “John Brown” from “Songs Of Resistance 1942-2018”: