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Protest music

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Protest music

A protest song is a song which is associated with a movement for social change and hence part of the broader category of topical songs (or songs connected to current events). It may be folk, classical, or commercial in genre. Among social movements that have an associated body of songs are the abolition movement, women's suffrage, the labor movement, the human rights movement, civil rights, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the sexual revolution, the gay rights movement, animal rights movement, vegetarianism and veganism, and environmentalism.

Protest songs are frequently situational, having been associated with a social movement through context. "Goodnight Irene", for example, acquired the aura of a protest song because it was written by Lead Belly, a black convict and social outcast, although on its face it is a love song. Or they may be abstract, expressing, in more general terms, opposition to injustice and support for peace, or free thought, but audiences usually know what is being referred to. Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", a song in support of universal brotherhood, is a song of this kind. It is a setting of a poem by Schiller celebrating the continuum of living beings (who are united in their capacity for feeling pain and pleasure and hence for empathy), to which Beethoven himself added the lines that all men are brothers. Songs which support the status quo do not qualify as protest songs.[1]

Protest song texts have significant cognitive content. The labor movement musical Pins and Needles deftly summed up the definition of a protest song in a number called "Sing Me a Song of Social Significance." Phil Ochs once explained, "A protest song is a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for sh*t".[2]

An 18th-century example of topical song intended as a feminist protest song is "Rights of Woman" (1795), sung to the tune of "God Save the King", written anonymously by "A Lady", and published in the Philadelphia Minerva, October 17, 1795. There is no evidence that it was ever sung as a movement song, however.[3] A more recent song advocating sexual liberation is "Sexo" (1985) by Los Prisioneros.

Types of protest song

The sociologist R. Serge Denisoff saw protest songs rather narrowly in terms of their function, as forms of persuasion or propaganda.[4] Denisoff saw the protest song tradition as originating in the "psalms" or songs of grass-roots Protestant religious revival movements, terming these hymns "protest-propaganda", as well.

Denisoff subdivided protest songs as either "magnetic" or "rhetorical". "Magnetic" protest songs were aimed at attracting people to the movement and promoting group solidarity and commitment, as for example, "Eyes on the Prize" and "We Shall Overcome". "Rhetorical" protest songs, on the other hand, are often characterized by individual indignation and offer a straightforward political message designed to change political opinion. Denisoff argued that although "rhetorical" songs often are not overtly connected to building a larger movement, they should nevertheless be considered as "protest-propaganda". Examples include Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" (which contains the lines "I hope that you die / And your death'll come soon") and "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye.

Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison, in Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Tradition in the Twentieth Century (1998), take issue with what they consider Denisoff's reductive approach to the history and function of song (and particularly traditional song) in social movements. They point out that Denisoff had paid little attention to the song tunes of protest music, considered them strictly subordinate to the texts, a means to the message. It is true that in the highly text-oriented western European song tradition, tunes can be subordinate, interchangeable, and even limited in number (as in Portuguese fado, which only has 64 tunes), nevertheless, Eyerman and Jamison point out that some of the most effective protest songs gain power through their appropriation of tunes that are bearers of strong cultural traditions.[5] They also note that:
There is more to music and movements than can be captured within a functional perspective, such as Denisoff's, which focuses on the use made of music within already-existing movements. Music, and song, we suggest, can maintain a movement even when it no longer has a visible presence in the form of organizations, leaders, and demonstrations, and can be a vital force in preparing the emergence of a new movement. Here the role and place of music needs to be interpreted through a broader framework in which tradition and ritual are understood as processes of identity and identification, as encoded and embodied forms of collective meaning and memory.[6]

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the freedom songs this way: "They invigorate the movement in a most significant way [...] these freedom songs serve to give unity to a movement."[7]

Protest songs by location

Algerian Raï protest music

Raï (Arabic: رأي‎), which is the Arabic word for "opinion", is a form of folk music, originated in Oran, Algeria from Bedouin shepherds, mixed with Spanish, French, African and Arabic musical forms, which dates back to the 1930s and has been primarily evolved by women in the culture. Raï has been forbidden music in Algeria, to the point of one popular singer being assassinated, although since the 1980s it has enjoyed some considerable success. The song "Parisien Du Nord" by Cheb Mami is a recent example of how the genre has been used as form of protest, as the song was written as a protest against the racial tensions that sparked the 2005 French riots. According to Memi:
It is a song against racism, so I wanted to sing it with a North African who was born in France [...] Because of that and because of his talent, I chose K-Mel. In the song, we say, 'In your eyes, I feel like foreigner.' It's like the kids who were born in France but they have Arab faces. They are French, and they should be considered French."[8]


Indigenous issues feature prominently in politically inspired Australian music and include the topics of land rights, and aboriginal deaths in custody. One of the most prominent Australian bands to confront these issues is Yothu Yindi. Other Australian bands to have confronted indigenous issues include Tiddas, Kev Carmody, Archie Roach, Christine Anu, The Herd, Neil Murray, Blue King Brown, the John Butler Trio, Midnight Oil, Warumpi Band, Powderfinger and Xavier Rudd.

In addition to Indigenous issues, many Australian protest singers have sung about the futility of war. Notable anti-war songs include "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" (1972) by Eric Bogle, and "A Walk in the Light Green" (1983) by Redgum, most often remembered by its chorus "I was only nineteen".

Britain and Ireland

Early British protest songs

English folk songs from the late medieval and early modern period reflect the social upheavals of their day. In 1944 the Marxist scholar A. L. Lloyd claimed that the "The Cutty Wren" song constituted a coded anthem against feudal oppression and actually dated back to the English peasants' revolt of 1381, making it the oldest extant European protest song.[9] He offered no evidence for his assertion, however and no trace of the song has been found before the 18th century.[10] Despite Lloyd's dubious claim about its origins, however, the "Cutty Wren" was revived and used as a protest song in the 1950s folk revival, an example of the importance of context in determining what may be considered a protest song. In contrast, the rhyme, "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?", is attested as authentically originating in the 1381 Peasant Revolt, though no tune associated with it has survived.[11] Ballads celebrating social bandits like Robin Hood, from the 14th century onwards, can be seen as expressions of a desire for social justice, though although social criticism is implied and there is no overt questioning of the status quo.[12]

The era of civil and religious wars of the 17th century in Britain gave rise to the radical communist millenarian Levellers and Diggers' movements and their associated ballads and hymns, as, for example, "The Diggers' Song".[13] with the incendiary verse:

But the Gentry must come down,
and the poor shall wear the crown.
Stand up now, Diggers all!

The Digger movement was violently crushed, and so it is not surprising if few overt protest songs associated with it have survived. From roughly the same period, however, songs protesting wars and the human suffering they inflict abound, though such song do not generally explicitly condemn the wars or the leaders who wage them. For example, "The Maunding Souldier" or "The Fruits of Warre is Beggery", framed as a begging appeal from a crippled soldier of the Thirty Years War.[14] Such songs have been known, strictly speaking, as songs of complaint rather than of protest, since they offered no solution or hint of rebellion against the status quo.[15]

The advent of industrialisation in the 18th and early 19th centuries was accompanied by a series of protest movements and a corresponding increase in the number of topical social protest songs and ballads. An important example is 'The Triumph of General Ludd,' which built a fictional persona for the alleged leader of the early 19th century anti-technological Luddite movement in the cloth industry of the north midlands, and which made explicit reference to the Robin Hood tradition.[16] A surprising English folk hero immortalised in song is Napoleon Bonaparte, the military figure most often the subject of popular ballads, many of them treating him as the champion of the common working man in songs such as the "Bonny Bunch of Roses" and "Napoleon's Dream".[17] As labour became more organised songs were used as anthems and propaganda, for miners with songs like "The Black Leg Miner", and for factory workers with songs like "The Factory Bell".[18]

These industrial protest songs were largely ignored during the first English folk revival of the later 19th and early 20th century, which had focused on songs that had been collected in rural areas where they were still being sung and on music education. They were revived in the 1960s and performed by figures like A. L. Lloyd on his album The Iron Muse (1963).[19] In the 1980s the anarchist rock band Chumbawamba recorded several versions of traditional English protest songs as English Rebel Songs 1381–1914.[20]

20th century

Colin Irwin, a journalist for The Guardian, believes the modern British protest movement started in 1958 when the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) organized a 53-mile march from Trafalgar Square to Aldermaston, to protest the Britain's participation in the arms race and recent testing of the H-bomb. The protest "fired up young musicians to write campaigning new songs to argue the case against the bomb and whip up support along the way. Suddenly many of those in skiffle groups playing American songs were changing course and writing fierce topical songs to back direct action."[21] A song composed for the march: "The H-Bomb's Thunder", set the words of a poem by novelist John Brunner to the tune of "Miner's Lifeguard":

Men and women, stand together
Do not heed the men of war
Make your minds up now or never
Ban the bomb for evermore."[22]

Folk singer Ewan MacColl was for some time one of the principal musical figures of the British nuclear disarmament movement. A former agitprop actor and playwright. MacColl, a prolific songwriter and committed leftist, some years earlier had penned "The Ballad of Ho Chi Minh", (1953) issued as single on Topic records and "The Ballad of Stalin" (1954), commemorating the death of that leader.[21] Neither record has ever been reissued.[23]

According to Irwin, MacColl, when interviewed in the Daily Worker in 1958, declared that:
There are now more new songs being written than at any other time in the past eighty years—young people are finding out for themselves that folk songs are tailor-made for expressing their thoughts and comments on contemporary topics, dreams, and worries,

In 1965, folk-rock singer Donovan's cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Universal Soldier" was a hit on the charts. His anti-Vietnam War song, "The War Drags On" appeared that same year. This was a common trend in popular music of the 1960s and 1970s. The romantic lyrics of pop songs in the 1950s gave way to words of protest.[24]

As their fame and prestige increased in the late 1960s,

The 1970s saw a number notable songs by British acts that protested against war, including "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens (1971), and "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath (1970). Sabbath also protested environmental destruction, describing people leaving a ruined Earth ("Into the Void" including, "Iron Man"). Renaissance added political repression as a protest theme with "Mother Russia" being based on One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and being joined on the second side of their 1974 album Turn of the Cards by two other protest songs in "Cold Is Being" (about ecological destruction) and "Black Flame" (about the Vietnam War).

As the 1970s progressed, the louder, more aggressive Punk movement became the strongest voice of protest, particularly in the UK, featuring anti-war, anti-state, and anti-capitalist themes. The punk culture, in stark contrast with the 1960s' sense of power through union, concerned itself with individual freedom, often incorporating concepts of individualism, free thought and even anarchism. According to Search and Destroy founder V. Vale, "Punk was a total cultural revolt. It was a hardcore confrontation with the black side of history and culture, right-wing imagery, sexual taboos, a delving into it that had never been done before by any generation in such a thorough way."[30] The most significant protest songs of the movement included "God Save the Queen" (1977) by the Sex Pistols, "If the Kids are United" by Sham 69, "Career Opportunities" (1977) (protesting the political and economic situation in England at the time, especially the lack of jobs available to the youth), and "White Riot" (1977) (about class economics and race issues) by The Clash, and "Right to Work" by Chelsea. See also Punk ideology.

War was still the prevalent theme of British protest songs of the 1980s - such as Kate Bush's "Army Dreamers" (1980), which deals with the traumas of a mother whose son dies while away at war. However, as the 1980s progressed, it was British prime minister Margaret Thatcher who came under the greatest degree of criticism from native protest singers, mostly for her strong stance against trade unions, and especially for her handling of the UK miners' strike (1984–1985). The leading voice of protest in Thatcherite Britain in the 1980s was Billy Bragg, whose style of protest song and grass-roots political activism was mostly reminiscent of those of Woody Guthrie, however with themes that were relevant to the contemporary Briton. He summarised his stance in "Between the Wars" (1985) in which he sings "I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage." The main World Heritage Encyclopedia article on Margaret Thatcher includes a section on protest songs about or inspired by her.

Also in the 1980s the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood released a political pop protest song Two Tribes a relentless bass driven track depicting the futility and starkness of nuclear weapons and the Cold War. The video for the song depicted a wrestling match between then-President Ronald Reagan and then-Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko for the benefit of group members and an eagerly belligerent assembly of representatives from the world's nations, the event ultimately degenerating into complete global destruction. This video was played several times at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. Due to some violent scenes ("Reagan" biting "Chernenko"'s ear, etc.), the unedited video could not be shown on MTV, and an edited version was substituted. The single quickly hit the number one spot in the United Kingdom. Several mixes of the track features actor Patrick Allen, who recreated his narration from the Protect and Survive public information films for certain 12-inch mixes (the original Protect and Survive soundtracks were sampled for the 7-inch mixes).

Another type of protest song that appeared in the late 1980s came in the form of "I'd rather Jack" by The Reynolds Girls. This was a protest against musical snobbery - particularly that being exhibited by middle-aged DJ's who refused to play new higher selling tracks coming from labels such as PWL in favour of older more niche / self-important artists.

Irish rebel songs

Irish rebel music is a sub genre of Irish folk music, played on typically Irish instruments (such as the Fiddle, tin whistle, Uilleann pipes, accordion, bodhrán etc.) and acoustic guitars. The lyrics deal with the fight for Irish freedom, people who were involved in liberation movements, the persecution and violence during Northern Ireland's Troubles and the history of Ireland's numerous rebellions.

Among the many examples of the genre, some of the most famous are "A Nation Once Again", "Come out Ye Black and Tans", "Erin go Bragh",[31] "The Fields of Athenry", "The Men Behind the Wire" and the Republic of Ireland's national Anthem "Amhrán na bhFiann" ("The Soldier's Song"). Music of this genre has often courted controversy, and some of the more outwardly anti-British songs have been effectively banned from the airwaves in both England and the Republic of Ireland.

Paul McCartney also made a contribution to the genre with his 1972 single "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" which he wrote as a reaction to Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland on 30 January 1972. The song also faced an all-out ban in the UK, and has never been re-released or appeared on any Paul McCartney or Wings best-ofs. His former colleague John Lennon wrote a song called Sunday Bloody Sunday in 1972 shortly after the massacre of Irish civil rights activists; this song differs from U2's 1983 version of Bloody Sunday in that it directly supports the Irish Republican cause and does not call for peace. The same year John Lennon also released two protest songs concerning the hardships of war-torn Northern Ireland in the form of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "The Luck Of The Irish", both from his 1972 album Some Time in New York City.

The Wolfe Tones have become legendary in Ireland for their contribution to the Irish rebel genre. The band has been recording since 1963 and has attracted worldwide fame and attention through their renditions of traditional Irish songs and originals, dealing with the former conflict in Northern Ireland. In 2002 the Wolfe Tones' version of A Nation Once Again, a nationalist song from the 19th century, was voted the greatest song in the world in a poll conducted by the BBC World Service[32]

An Irish alternative rock/post punk band from Dublin, U2 broke with the rebel musical tradition when they wrote their song, Sunday Bloody Sunday in 1983. The song makes reference to two separate massacres in Irish history of civilians by British forces (Bloody Sunday (1920) and Bloody Sunday 1972); however, unlike other songs dealing with those events, the lyrics call for peace as opposed to revenge.


Chinese-Korean Cui Jian's 1986 song Nothing to My Name was popular with protesters in Tiananmen Square.


The Internationale (L'Internationale in French) is a socialist, anarchist, communist, and social-democratic anthem.

The Internationale became the anthem of international socialism. Its original French refrain is C'est la lutte finale/ Groupons-nous et demain/ L'Internationale/ Sera le genre humain. (Freely translated: "This is the final struggle/ Let us join together and tomorrow/ The Internationale/ Will be the human race.") The Internationale has been translated into most of the world's languages. Traditionally it is sung with the hand raised in a clenched fist salute. The Internationale is sung not only by communists but also (in many countries) by socialists or social democrats. The Chinese version was also a rallying song of the students and workers at the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.[33]

There is not so much a protest song trend in France, but rather of a permanent background of criticism and contestation, and individuals who personify it. World War II and its horrors forced French singers to think more critically about war in general, forcing them to question their governments and the powers who ruled their society.

Jazz trumpeter and singer Boris Vian's was one of the first to protest against the Algerian war with his anti-war song "Le déserteur" (The deserter), which was banned by the government.[34]

Several French songwriters, such as Léo Ferré (1916–1993), Georges Brassens (1921–1981), Jacques Brel (1929–1978) (actually a Belgian singer, who died in Paris), Maxime Le Forestier (born 1949) or interpreters (Yves Montand, Marcel Mouloudji, Serge Reggiani, Graeme Allwright...) often wrote or sang songs aligned against majority ideas and political powers. Because racial tensions did not rise to the same levels as those in the United States, criticism was focused more toward bourgeoisie, power, religion, and songs defending liberty of thought, speech and action. After 1945, immigration became a source of inspiration for some singers: Pierre Perret (born 1934), well known for his humorous songs, started writing several more "serious" and committed songs against racism ("Lily" 1977), which critically pointed out everyday racist behavior n French society.

Brassens wrote several songs protesting war, hate, intolerance ("Les Deux Oncles" ["The Two Uncles"], "La Guerre de 14-18" ["14-18 War"], "Mourir pour des idées" ["To Die for Ideas"] "Les Patriotes" ["The Patriots"]...), against chauvinism ("La Ballade des gens qui sont nés quelque part" ["Ballad of People Who Are Born Somewhere"]), against bourgeoisie ("La Mauvaise Réputation" ["The bad reputation"], "Les Philistins" ["The Philistines"]...). He was often called "anarchist" because of his songs on representatives of law and order (and religion) ("Le Gorille" ["The gorilla"] "Hécatombe" ["Slaughter"] "Le Nombril des femmes d'agents" ["The navel of cops wives"], "Le Mécréant" ["The miscreant"]...).

Ferré was also called an "anarchist". He sang against consumerism ("Vitrines" ["Shop Fronts"], "Chanson mécanisée" ["Mechanized Song"], "Il n'y a plus rien" ["There is nothing left"]...), against French war ("Miss guéguerre" ["Miss Squabble"], "Pacific blues", "Regardez-les" ["Look at them"], "Mon général" ["My general"], "Les Temps difficiles" ["Hard Times"], "La Marseillaise"), death penalty ("Ni Dieu ni maître" ["No God no Master"], "La Mort des loups" ["The Death of the Wolves"]), Estate control ("La Gueuse", "La Complainte de la télé" ["Lament of TV"], "La Révolution" ["Revolution"], "Le Conditionnel de variétés" ["Middle of the road music conditional mood"]), illusion of representative democracy ("Ils ont voté" ["They voted"], "La Grève" ["Strike"]), dictatorships ("Franco la muerte", "Allende", "Words... Words... Words..."), sexual hypocrisy and freedom ("Le Chien" ["The Dog"], "Le Mal" ["Evil"], "Ton style" ["Your style"] "La Damnation" ["Damnation"]...).

Brel's work is another ode to freedom ("Ces gens-là" ["These people"], "Les Bourgeois" ["The Bourgeois"], "Jaurès", "Les Bigotes" ["The bigots"], "Le Colonel" ["The colonel"], "Le Caporal Casse-Pompon" ["Corporal Break-Nots"]).


Ton Steine Scherben, one of the first and most influential German language rock bands of the 1970s and early 1980s, were well known for the highly political lyrics of vocalist Rio Reiser. The band became a musical mouthpiece of new left movements, such as the squatting movement, during that time in Germany and their hometown of West Berlin in particular. Their lyrics were, at the beginning, anti-capitalist and anarchist, and the band had connections to the German Red Army Faction terrorists before they later turned to violent crime and murder. Later songs were about more complex issues such as unemployment (Mole Hill Rockers) or homosexuality (Mama war so). They also contributed to two full-length concept album about homosexuality which were issued under the name Brühwarm (literally: boiling warm) in cooperation with a gay-revue group.

A dissatisfied German youth in the late 1970s and early 80s resulted in a strand of highly politicized German language Punkrock ("Deutschpunk"), which mostly concerned itself with politically radical left-wing lyrics, mostly influenced by the Cold War. Probably the most important German language punk band was Slime from Hamburg, who were the first band whose LP was banned because of political topics. Their songs "Deutschland" ("Germany"), "Bullenschweine", "Polizei SA/SS", and the anti-imperialist "Yankees raus" ("Yankees out") were banned, some of them are still banned today, because they propagated the use of violence against the police or compared the police to the SA and SS of Nazi Germany.


Israel's protest music has often become associated with different political factions.

During the 1967 war, Naomi Shemer wrote Jerusalem of Gold, sung by Shuli Natan, about the recapturing of Jerusalem after 2000 years.[35] Later on that year A different point of view of this song was introduced by the folk singer Meir Ariel, who recorded an anti-war version of this song and named it "Jerusalem of Iron".

Gush Emunim supporters have taken a repertoire of old religious songs and invested them with political meaning. An example is the song "Utsu Etsu VeTufar" (They gave counsel but their counsel was violated). The song signifies the ultimate rightness of those steadfast in their beliefs, suggesting the rightness of Gush Emunim's struggle against anti-settlement policy by the government.

Minutes before Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered at a political rally in November 1995, Israeli folk singer Miri Aloni sang the Israeli pop song Shir Lashalom (Song for Peace). This song, originally written in 1969 and performed extensively at the time by an Israeli military performing group, has become one of the anthems of the Israeli peace camp.[36]

During the Arab uprising known as the First Intifada, Israeli singer Si Heyman sang Yorim VeBokhim (Shoot and Weep), written by Shalom Hanoch, to protest Israeli policy in the territories. This song was banned from the radio for a certain period of time on charges of subversiveness.

Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall is used as a protest song by many opponents of Israel's barrier in the West Bank, which is now half finished. The lyrics have been adapted to: "We don't need no occupation. We don't need no racist wall."[37]

Since the onset of the Oslo Process and, more recently, Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, protest songs became a major avenue for opposition activists to express sentiments. Songs protesting these policies were written and performed by Israeli musicians, such as Ariel Zilber, Shalom Flisser, Aharon Razel, Eli Bar-Yahalom, Yuri Lipmanovich,[38] Ari Ben-Yam,[39] and many others.

Latin American

Chilean and Latin American protest music

While the protest song was enjoying its Golden Age in America in the 1960s, it also saw many detractors overseas who saw it as having been commercialized. Chilean singer-songwriter Víctor Jara, who played a pivotal role in the folkloric renaissance that led to the Nueva Canción Chilena (New Chilean Song) movement which created a revolution in the popular music of his country, criticised the "commercialized" American protest song phenomenon which had been imported into Chile. He criticized it thus:

The cultural invasion is like a leafy tree which prevents us from seeing our own sun, sky and stars. Therefore in order to be able to see the sky above our heads, our task is to cut this tree off at the roots. US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe. With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called 'protest music'; second, the creation of 'idols' of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear. Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people. The term 'protest song' is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused. I prefer the term 'revolutionary song'

Nueva canción (literally "new song" in Spanish) was a type of protest/social song in Latin American music which took root in South America, especially Chile and other Andean countries, and gained extreme popularity throughout Latin America. It combined traditional Latin American folk music idioms (played on the quena, zampoña, charango or cajón with guitar accompaniment) with some popular (esp. British) rock music, and was characterised by its progressive and often politicized lyrics. It is sometimes considered a precursor to rock en español. The lyrics are typically in Spanish, with some indigenous or local words mixed in.

Cuban and Puerto Rican protest music

A type of Cuban and Puerto Rican protest music, "Nueva trova", started in the mid-1960s when a movement in Cuban music emerged that combined traditional folk music idioms with progressive and often politicized lyrics. This movement of protest music came to be known as Nueva trova, and was somewhat similar to that of Nueva canción, however with the advantage of support from the Cuban government, as it promoted the Cuban Revolution - and thus part of revolutionary song. Though originally and still largely Cuban, nueva trova has become popular across Latin America, especially in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The movements biggest stars included Cubans Silvio Rodríguez, Vicente Feliu, Noel Nicola and Pablo Milanés, as well as Puerto Ricans such as Roy Brown, Andrés Jiménez, Antonio Cabán Vale and the group Haciendo Punto en Otro Son.


New Zealand

One of the earliest protest songs in New Zealand was John Hanlon's Damn the Dam, recorded in 1973 in support of the Save Manapouri Campaign.

During the bitterly divisive 1981 Springbok Tour, Blam Blam Blam's There Is No Depression in New Zealand became a favourite among anti-tour protesters. Reggae band Herbs wrote and performed songs criticising French nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean.

Palestinian Territories

Palestinian music (Arabic: موسيقى فلسطينية‎) deals with the conflict with Israel, the longing for peace, and the love of the Palestinian's land. A typical example of such a song is "Biladi, Biladi" (My Country, My Country), which has become the unofficial Palestinian national anthem. Palestinian music rarely focuses on internal divides (unlike most Israeli peace songs), and instead deals almost solely with Israel. Additionally, there are very few Palestinian peace songs that are not inditing of Israel, and outwardly militaristic. Certain commentators have compared this with the general unwillingness of Palestinians to speak about internal problems, as they tend to be taboo in Palestinian society, and dissent is outlawed in Gaza, under Hamas control.

Another example is the song "AlKuds (Jerusalem) our Land", with words by Sharif Sabri. The song, sung by Amar Diab from Port Said, Egypt, won first prize in 2003 in a contest in Egypt for video clips produced in the West Bank and Gaza.[40] DAM is an Arabic hip-hop group, rapping in Arabic and Hebrew about the problems faced by Palestinians under occupation and calling for change. Kamilya Joubran's song "Ghareeba", a setting of a poem by Khalil Gibran, deals with a sense of isolation and loneliness felt by the Palestinian woman.


From the revolutionary songs of the Katipunan to the songs being sung by the New Peoples Army, Filipino protest music deals with poverty, oppression as well as anti-imperialism and independence. A typical example was during the American era, as Jose Corazon de Jesus created a well-known protest song entitled "Bayan Ko", which calls for redeeming the nation against oppression, mainly colonialism, that also became popular as a song dealt against the Marcos regime.

However, during the 1960s, Filipino protest music became aligned with the ideas of Communism as well as of revolution. "Ang Linyang Masa", a protest song came from Mao Zedong and his Mass Line and "Papuri sa Pag-aaral" was from Bertolt Brecht. These songs, although Filipinised, rose to become another part of Filipino protest music known as Revolutionary songs, that became popular during protests and campaign struggles.


Protest songs in Poland were mostly associated with anti-communist movement and developed in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the most important artists was Jacek Kaczmarski, author of such famous songs as "Mury" ("The Walls"), "Przedszkole" ("The Kindergarten") and "Zbroja" ("The Armor"), criticizing both the totalitarian communist government and the opposition. Other famous Polish folk singer, Jan Pietrzak, wrote inter alia one of the best-known Polish patriotic prostest songs, "Żeby Polska była Polską" ("Make Poland Polish"), in which he reminded the most heroic moments of Polish history, including Kościuszko Uprising, and called people to fight the communists as they fought other enemies of Poland before. He also recorded a musical version of the Jonasz Kofta's poem "Pamiętajcie o ogrodach" ("Remember the Gardens"), protesting against the industrialism of life promoted by the communist propaganda. Other Polish artists well-known for writing protest songs included Jan Wołek, Stanisław Staszewski, Przemysław Gintrowski.


The most famous source of Russian protest music in the 20th century has come those known locally as bards. The term, (бард in Russian) came to be used in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, and continues to be used in Russia today, to refer to singer-songwriters who wrote songs outside the Soviet establishment. Many of the most famous bards wrote numerous songs about war, particularly The Great Patriotic War (World War II). Bards had various reasons for writing and singing songs about war. Bulat Okudzhava, who actually fought in the war, used his sad and emotional style to illustrate the futility of war in songs such as "The Paper Soldier" ("Бумажный Солдат").

Many political songs were written by bards under Soviet rule, and the genre varied from acutely political, "anti-Soviet" songs, to witty satire in the best traditions of Aesop. Some of Bulat Okudzhava's songs provide examples of political songs written on these themes. Vladimir Vysotsky was perceived as a political song writer, but later he gradually made his way into the more mainstream culture. It was not so with Alexander Galich, who was forced to emigrate—owning a tape with his songs could mean a prison term in the USSR. Before emigration, he suffered from KGB persecution, as did another bard, Yuliy Kim. Others, like Evgeny Kliachkin and Aleksander Dolsky, maintained a balance between outright anti-Soviet and plain romantic material.

South Africa

Anti-apartheid protest music

The majority of South African protest music of the 20th century concerned itself with apartheid, a system of legalized racial segregation in which blacks were stripped of their citizenship and rights from 1948 to 1994. As the apartheid regime forced Africans into townships and industrial centers, people sang about leaving their homes, the horror of the coal mines and the degradation of working as domestic servants. Examples of which include Benedict Wallet Vilakazi's "Meadowlands", the "Toyi-toyi" chant and "Bring Him Back Home" (1987) by Hugh Masekela, which became an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela. The Special AKA wrote a song on Nelson Mandela, which was called "Free Nelson Mandela." The track is upbeat and celebratory, drawing on musical influence from South Africa, was immensely popular in Africa. Masekela's song "Soweto Blues", sung by his former wife, Miriam Makeba, is a blues/jazz piece that mourns the carnage of the Soweto riots in 1976. Basil Coetzee and Abdullah Ibrahim's "Mannenberg", became an unofficial soundtrack to the anti-apartheid resistance.

In Afrikaans, the Voëlvry movement led by Johannes Kerkorrel, Koos Kombuis and Bernoldus Niemand in 1989, provided a voice of opposition from within the white Afrikaner community. These musicians sought to redefine Afrikaner identity, and although met with opposition from the authorities, Voëlvry played to large crowds at Afrikaans university campuses and was quite popular amongst the Afrikaner youth. Voëlvry is discussed in detail by Hopkins (2006) in "Voëlvry. The movement that rocked South Africa" (Cape Town: Zebra Press) and Grundlingh (2004) in ""Rocking the Boat" in South Africa? Voëlvry music and Afrikaans anti-apartheid social protest in the 1980s" (The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 37(3):483–514).


Following apartheid's demise, most Afrikaans writers and musicians followed public sentiments by embracing the new South Africa, but cracks soon emerged in the dream of the 'rainbow nation' and criticism started to emerge, criticism that has grown in frequency and intensity in recent years. With violent crime putting South Africa in the top category of most dangerous country in the world, poverty, government corruption, and the AIDS pandemic, writers and musicians, some of them veterans of anti-apartheid movements, are once again protesting against what they consider to be a government failing to uphold the promise of 'peace, democracy and freedom for all' that Nelson Mandela made upon his release from prison. By 2000, Johannes Kerkorrel claimed in the song "Die stad bloei vanaand" [The city bleeds tonight], "the dream was promised, but just another lie has been sold."

Two Afrikaans compilation albums of predominantly protest music were released recently: "Genoeg is genoeg" [Enough is enough] (2007) and "Vaderland" [Fatherland] (2008), and Koos Kombuis also released a CD called "Bloedrivier" [Blood River] (2008), which is primarily a protest album. One track, "Waar is Mandela" [Where is Mandela] asks, "Where is Mandela when the shadows descend [...] Where is the rainbow, where is the glory?" and another, "Die fokkol song" [The fuck all song], tells tourists who visit South Africa for the 2010 Football World Cup that there is nothing in South Africa, no jobs, no petrol, no electric power, not even jokes. However, these compilations only represent the tip of the iceberg, as many prominent musicians have included protest songs on recent albums, including Bok van Blerk, Fokofpolisiekar, KOBUS!, ddisselblom and Glaskas.

The reality of the New South Africa is decidedly violent, and crime is a well-known theme in post-apartheid Afrikaans protest music. The punk group Fokofpolisiekar (which translates to 'fuck off police car') sings in "Brand Suid-Afrika" [Burn South Africa]: "For you knives lie in wait, in the garden outside you house," and Radio Suid-Afrika sings in "Bid" [Pray]: "Pray that no-one will be waiting in the garden, pray for strength and for mercy in each dark day." Theirs is a country of "murder and child rape" where the only respite is alcohol abuse. In "Blaas hom" [Blow him away] by the industrial band Battery9, the narrator sings how he gleefully unloads his gun on a burglar after being robbed for the third time, and in "Siek bliksems" [Sick bastards] Kristoe Strauss asks God to help against the "sick bastards" responsible for hijackings. The metal band KOBUS! pleads for a reinstatement of the death penalty in "Doodstraf", because they feel the promise of peace has not realised. In "Reconciliation Day", Koos Kombuis sings: "Our streets run with blood, every day a funeral procession, they steal all our goods, on Reconciliation Day." Elsewhere he states, "we're in a state of war." The video of this song features a lawless microcosm of theft, rape and abuse – a lawlessness reflected in Valiant Swart's "Sodom en Gomorra": "two cities in the north, without laws, without order, too wonderful for words." In "Mitchells Plain", Gian Groen sings about gang violence on the Cape Flats, and Liezl op bladsy 5 sings in "Wie doen wat" [Who does what]: "Everyone's fed up, everyone's sick and tired." Hanru Niemand rewrites the traditional Afrikaans song Sarie Marais, turning it into a murder ballad speculating on where Sarie's body will be found. The new protest musicians also parody Voëlvry's music: Johannes Kerkorrel's "Sit dit af" [Switch it off] – a satire on PW Botha of the apartheid regime – is turned into "Sit dit aan" [Switch it on] by Koos Kombuis, now a song protesting mismanagement resulting in chronic power failures.

Much of the protest by Afrikaans musicians concerns the legacy of apartheid: In "Blameer dit op apartheid" [Blame it on apartheid] Koos Kombuis sings how "the whole country is evil," yet the situation is blamed on apartheid. Klopjag, in "Ek sal nie langer" [I will no longer] sings that they will no longer apologise for apartheid, a theme echoed by many others, including Koos Kombuis in "Hoe lank moet ons nog sorry sê" [For how long do we still have to say sorry]. Piet Paraat sings in "Toema Jacob Zuma" [Never mind Jacob Zuma]: "My whole life I'm punished for the sins of my father." There is also a distinct feeling that the Afrikaner is being marginalised by the ANC government: Fokofpolisiekar sings in "Antibiotika" [Antibiotics], "I'm just a tourist in the country of my birth," Bok van Blerk sings in "Die kleur van my vel" [The colour of my skin] that the country does not want him despite his willingness to work, because he is white, and in "Bloekomboom" Rian Malan uses the metaphor of a blue gum tree (an alien species) to plead that Afrikaners should not be regarded as settlers, but as part of the nation. The appeals by these musicians to be included follows a sense of exclusion manifested in the political, linguistic and economic realms, an exclusion depicted particularly vividly by Bok van Blerk's "Kaplyn" [Cut line], a song that laments that fallen South African soldiers have been omitted in one of the country's show-case memorials, the Freedom Park Memorial, despite official claims of it being a memorial for all who had fought for the country.

South Korea

Commonly, protest songs in South Korea are known as Min-joong Ga-yo (Korean: 민중 가요, literally People's song), and the genre of protest songs is called Norae Undong, literally "Song movement".[41] It was raised by people in the 1970s~1980s to be against the military governments of President Park Jeong-hee (Korean: 박정희), Jeon Doo-hwan (Korean: 전두환).

United States

Main article: Protest songs in the United States

Former Yugoslavia

Lazar Brcic Kostic was a Former Yugoslavian protest singer-songwriter ((Serbian) link).

See also


Further reading

  • Fowke, Edith and Joe Glazer. Songs of Work and Protest. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1973.
  • Denisoff, R. Serge. Sing a Song of Social Significance. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1983.
  • Ray Pratt. Rhythm and Resistance: Explorations in the Political Uses of Popular Music (Media and Society Series). Praeger, 1990.
  • Ronald D. Cohen & Dave Samuelson. Liner notes for Songs for Political Action. Bear Family Records, BCD 15 720 JL, 1996.
  • Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison. Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Tradition in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

External links

  • Strange Fruit - history of protest music from PBS
  • BBC News, Sunday, 1 May 2005
  • Labor and Industrial Folksongs: A Select Bibliography from the Library of Congress
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