*The following is a collection of some of the best albums of protest music released in 2019. They were selected by Kevin Gosztola and C.J. Baker, who publishes writing regularly at Ongoing History Of Protest Songs. They are in alphabetical order by artist.

Kishi Bashi — Omoiyari

Kishi Bashi’s stunning concept album is based on the experiences of Japanese Americans, who were placed in internment camps during World War II. Bashi taps into his personal connection as a son of Japanese immigrants and draws parallels with the anti-immigration policy of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Concerning the title of the album, Bashi shared: “I gravitated toward themes of empathy, compassion, and understanding as a way to overcome fear and intolerance. But I had trouble finding an English title for the piece. Omoiyari is a Japanese word. It doesn’t necessarily translate as empathy, but it refers to the idea of creating compassion towards other people by thinking about them. I think the idea of omoiyari is the single biggest thing that can help us overcome aggression and conflict.”

“F Delano” is a stinging rebuke against Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was the President of the Untied States during the time of Japanese internment. (“Named of the leader who favored a nation after his own. Into the desert he pushed all the Nips, he wasn’t alone.”)

The rest of the album is less angry and focuses more on the humanity of the immigrants, who are vilified due to xenophobia. Several songs deal with the pain of being separated from loved ones, such as “Angeline” (“The judge was there to give me time. Away from my Angeline. Angeline, oh, Angeline. She’s the sweetest song that I could ever sing. Feeling the pain. I just want to be able to sing to her again.”) Families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border endure similar pain today.

(C.J. Baker)

Clipping. — There Existed An Addiction To Blood

The third album by the experimental hip-hop trio is a horrorcore concept album. Producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes effectively use field recordings and horror movies samples to create a creepy backdrop for Daveed Diggs to execute his frantic lyrical delivery. 

The horror movie narrative is effectively used to analyze real life horrors. “Nothing Is Safe” and “He Dead” explore themes of police brutality. 

The album’s title is taken from “Blood of the Fang,” which is built around a sample from Sam Waymon’s score to the 1973 experimental vampire film “Ganja & Hess.” Diggs’ lyrics envisions an army of undead black radical activist superheroes battling against villainous politicians and police officers. It references America’s history of racial oppression. “And they thought they could enslave by disconnecting from the truth,” the song declares.

At times, the chilling nature of the album can be an unsettling listening experience, but in order to awaken from society’s reoccurring racial nightmare, we need to be shaken so we come to our senses.

(C.J. Baker)

Ezra Furman – 12 Nudes

Very few artists are as honest and vulnerable as Ezra Furman, making “12 Nudes” an appropriate title for
the album. The songs are some of the most punk and raw tracks he has ever recorded, and they stem from his frustrations with the world around him.

Politics is personal and relatable. On “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend,” Furman opines “I was considering ditching Ezra, and going by Esme.”

Furman, whose listed pronouns are he/she/him/her, is honest about personal gender identity struggle. The song was described in a statement as “a romantic song of transgender longing.” Similar themes are explored on “Transition From Nowhere to Nowhere.”

The album is also shaped by Furman’s Jewish identity, addressing the Israel/Palestine conflict and
exploring the trauma of refugees on “Rated R Crusaders.” The theme of trauma is continued on “Trauma,” which expresses frustration at abuse of power and how those accused of sexual assault continue to remain in power.

But the album’s highlight is the anthemic “Evening Prayer (aka ‘Justice).” It features the galvanizing chorus, “It is time for the evening prayer. Time to do justice for the poor.” Furman perfectly balances anger with a hopeful resolve that change is possible.

(C.J. Baker)

Gauche – A People’s History Of Gauche

The band’s debut album alludes to historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History Of The United States. Gauche saw a parallel between Zinn’s seminal work and the songs they recorded about alienation and marginalization caused by capitalism, racism, misogyny, etc.

Gauche’s lineup includes Daniele Yandel, who is from Priests, and Mary Regalado, who is from Downtown Boys. They are all friends, which gives them a chemistry that allows for improvisation and jamming that helps them find music.

Mariana Timony of Bandcamp summarized what makes them worth enjoying. “They always zoom straight to the point both lyrically and musically, acknowledging feelings of powerlessness while generating good feelings with music that’s defiantly jubilant and celebratory.”

“Pay Day” gets right down to what it is like to be a wage slave. “Rent (v.)” cuts right to the issue of objectifying women. “History” wastes no time in calling out colonialism.

Altogether, the band’s danceable punk music implores us to break free from the culture of late-stage capitalism that holds so many of us down.

(Kevin Gosztola)

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Infest The Rats’ Nest

Faster, heavier, and louder than all previous albums, the Australian rock band’s latest album speaks to the dystopian present or near-future of climate catastrophe. It builds to a story of rebels, who seek to escape a dying Earth.

Vocalist and guitarist Stu Mackenzie shared, “They can’t go to Mars because they don’t have enough money to get in. So they go rogue and build a spaceship and send it to Venus and try to colonize, and they’re not very successful there either. Earth is dead, Venus is shit and everyone dies there, and Mars is full of the wealthy, and then, the story ends.”

King Gizzard weaves heavy metal riffs into an assessment of environmental horror and the way class warfare by the rich dooms most of the population.

“Planet B” names the destruction that has been wrought on Earth. “Superbug” and “Organ Farmer” contain sharp critiques of agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies. And “Mars for the Rich” features a child laborer, who realizes he will always be stuck on a ravaged planet.

“I’m just a poor boy, living frugally. I see Mars on TV. I see people happy. I work fields with blistered fingers. I look starward, that world has no place for me,” he recognizes. “Mars for the privileged. Earth for the poor.”

Technology may help humanity flee, but according to King Gizzard’s concept album, only the richest one percent will reap the benefits of space colonization. The rest of humanity will be on their own, fighting for survival as the oligarchs dine in their Mars wine caves.

(Kevin Gosztola)

Lowkey – Soundtrack To The Struggle 2

British Iraqi rapper Lowkey released his last album, “Soundtrack To The Struggle,” in 2011. He took a break to focus on activism and studying, particularly the economic philosophy of neoliberalism.

The break helped Lowkey gain a clearer understanding of how global capitalism functions, and it also helped him recognize how effective music can be in communicating with those most impacted by capitalism.

Lowkey’s latest album opens with the title track that features renowned scholar Noam Chomsky. It homes in on the drive for short-term profits that encourages corporations to neglect what their actions will mean for future generations.  “Is it the economic system [versus] the ecosystem? How we gonna define deep when the seas have risen? How can we define ‘woke’ when our sleep’s commissioned?”

Lowkey refers to the Grenfell Tower fire. In 2017, the tower collapsed and killed 72 people. “We saw our future in that damn building. CEOs loving profit more than they love their grandchildren.”

The collaborations with vocalist Mai Khalil are exceptional. On “Letter To The 1%,” Khalil sings, “If I can sing this song without you, maybe all is well. If we can sing this song without you, we don’t need your wealth.” And “Ahmed” is a moving song inspired by the Syrian boy, who was photographed in 2015 while lying dead on the beach.

“He was precious. Many die like him every year. Ahmed was a victim of resentment and relentless fear,” Lowkey raps.

According to Lowkey, “There is a broader disenchantment with political orthodoxy than ever before right now.” This radical hip-hop album helps people define and articulate what makes them so disenchanted.

(Kevin Gosztola)

Damon Locks/Black Monument Ensemble – Where Future Unfolds

Damon Locks was inspired to produce the project while working as an art teacher at the Stateville prison in Illinois and research researching the criminal justice system after Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer.

Sun Ra Arkestra and the Freedom Singers, “the latter of which was a big musical draw at civil rights rallies,” were also influences for a project that could speak to toxic times.

Lyrically and musically, “Where Future Unfolds” has a grassroots energy that shakes you to the core. It was recorded at the Garfield Park Botanical Conservatory in Chicago and consists of avant-garde jazz and gospel music for black liberation.

The Black Monument Ensemble features Angel Bat Dawid on clarinet, Dana Hall on drums, percussionist Arif Smith, and alumni from the Chicago Children’s Choir. Samples from civil rights speeches are worked into the compositions. 

On “Sounds Like Now,” the ensemble sings about how the more things change, the more things stay the same. “Every morning there’s more talk of murder. Every morning at least one less alive.” It is the same lies. “Movie show apocalypse. We’re living through the sequel.”

The second half is about transcending and overcoming this pain. For “Rebuild A Nation,” Rayna Golding sings, “I can rebuild a nation no longer working out.” The finale “From A Spark To A Fire” is an anthem of black affirmation. It speaks to the potential that lies within everyone who society dehumanizes or disempowers.

(Kevin Gosztola)

Sarathy Korwar – More Arriving

“More Arriving” is a statement of brown pride in an era of displacement from conflicts and neoliberalism. It also captures “diverse South Asian voices, both from India but also from the diaspora.” It shows, as Korwar says, that there is no “homogenous South Asian voice.”

Tracks like “Bol,” “Mango,” and “Pravasis,” grapple with the otherization that occurs in British society. Stereotypes are turned on their head by directly challenging those who perpetuate a culture that excludes brown people.

The music is somewhere between electronic, jazz, and Indian classical music. It does not fit tidily into a single genre, which makes what Korwar crafts a fine antidote to the prejudice of Western societies that recoil at the mixing of cultures. 

“People have always moved for centuries, and people will continue to move regardless of borders and the state of the world,” musician Sarathy Korwar told Shadowproof. This album builds empathy for the refugees and migrants that will continue to move and flow into countries, like the United Kingdom. 

(Kevin Gosztola)

Our Native Daughters – Songs Of Our Native Daughters

The debut album from the roots music supergroup, which consists of Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Amythyst Kiah, and Allison Russell, is musically spectacular.

But the importance of the album goes beyond its musical brilliance because it is an essential archival project deeply rooted in history.

The album sets out to reclaim early minstrelsy and banjo music, whose roots in black music is often ignored. The songs are also inspired by New World slave narratives, similar to themes explored on Giddens’ exceptional 2017 album “Freedom Highway.”

Apart from a powerful reworking of Bob Marley’s “Slave Driver,” the tunes are original and feature songwriting contributions from all four members. They may be rooted in tradition, but their themes still apply to the present day (for example, “Barbados” links past slavery with modern-day exploitation of child and prison labor).

As pointed out on “Blood and Bones,” part of the failure to heal from past wounds is the “surplus of systematic lies.” Instead of whitewashing history, Our Native Daughters expose past transgressions while hoping we may finally reconcile with our past and move onward to a more just world.

(C.J. Baker)

Snotty Nose Rez Kids – Trapline

When the Haisla Nation rap duo were recording their third album, the initial plan was to create a commercial album of summer party tunes. Quentin “Yung Trybez” Nyce of the duo explained to Exclaim why they abandoned that musical direction:

[Darren ‘Young D’ Metz] and I had a lot of conversations about it, and we wanted to make music people could hear far and wide, not just in the indigenous community. So we were thinking of ‘Rez Bangers and Koolapops,’ a dope, like, summer album where people listen to it far and wide. [Then,] we ended up coming to the conclusion that we couldn’t get too far away from politics, because that’s who we are. We can’t not talk about the land, we can’t not talk about our identity; that’s who we are. We can’t just put music out, we gotta do it right.

It may not have been the same party album anymore, but they kept the banging trap beats, which the duo refers to as “indigenous trap” music. The duo effortlessly blended the beats with their incisive political lyrics.

Several tunes like “Lost Tribes” celebrate indigenous pride while addressing cultural appropriation (“But Halloween is the only time you wanna be me”). The album also elevates women with tracks like “Son of a Matriarch.” (“Son of, son of matriarch. Son of, fuck all that patriarch.”) Altogether, it is a collection of anthems for the marginalized.

(C.J. Baker)

HONORABLE MENTIONS:  | “Songs For Today” – David Rovics | “Complicate Your Life With Violence” – L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae | “Nothing Great About Britain” – slowthai | “LEGACY! LEGACY!” – Jamila Woods | “Colorado” – Neil Young & Crazy Horse | “Mass Manipulation” – Steel Pulse | “Things That Grow” – Tracy Howe | “The Highwomen” – The Highwomen
Shadowproof

Shadowproof

Shadowproof is a press organization driven to expose systemic abuses of power in business and government while at the same time developing a model for independent journalism that supports a diverse range of young freelance writers and contributors. It is intrinsically committed to elevating voices from marginalized communities, as well as dissenting perspectives which deserve greater attention.