Sunday morning music

An e-mail conversation with a blog reader raised the question of protest songs.  She wanted to know about the music of Antifa, BAMN, BLM and other contemporary protest groups.  What songs were they singing?  Did music play a role at all?

I couldn’t answer her question, but it started me thinking about the long and incredibly rich history of protest music.  It’s been around almost as long as humans have had something to complain about!  I’m aware of some dating back to Wat Tyler and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, inspired by the sermons of John Ball, who famously asked, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?”  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any recordings of those songs online.

Later movements such as the Luddites and Chartists of the 19th Century left more protest songs.  Here’s Martin Carty performing the Chartist anthem “The Song of the Lower Classes”.  Lyrics may be found here.

Let’s move along to songs with which more of us will be familiar.  During the 1950’s, a gospel song was adapted into the protest anthem “We Shall Overcome“, a staple of of the Civil Rights movement in the USA, and of left-wing and socialist movements around the world during the second half of the 20th century.  Here’s Pete Seeger singing it.  (In another video, he talks about the history of the song, and how it became the anthem of a generation.  It makes interesting listening.)

During the 1950’s and 1960’s Bob Dylan wrote many protest songs.  One of the best known is ” The Times They Are A Changin’ “.

Protest tended to become more individualized and anti-society during and after the 1960’s;  more in favor of “me, me, me” and “freedom”, and more against the structures of society and “The Man”.  Here, from 1970, is the Five Man Electrical Band with “Signs“.

From 1981, here’s Peter Frampton with “Breaking All The Rules”.  The music video appears to be an eerie harbinger of later dystopian movies such as “The Hunger Games”.

And, from 1987, here’s Def Leppard with “Run Riot”, from their album “Hysteria“.

In the country of my birth, South Africa, a great deal of protest music was generated in the struggle against apartheid.  I’ve chosen two to reflect that era, both by local supergroup Juluka.  First, from 1981, “High Country”.  This reflects the divide between the understanding (or lack thereof) of a  colonial-era white woman, and the black child/young man to whom she speaks – and the violence that such patronizing attitudes made inevitable.

And, from 1983, “Bullets for Bafazane”.  It’s about a black guerrilla/freedom fighter/terrorist (depending on one’s point of view), and the efforts to kill him by apartheid security forces.  It tries to emphasize his humanity in the midst of the violence.

There are literally thousands more protest songs in almost every language, from almost every culture on earth.  This is just a very small selection.  Wikipedia has more information on protest songs in general, on music in the movement against apartheid, and on US protest songs.  It’s a fascinating field.



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