With the presidential inauguration in a week, it's hard not to have politics on the mind. Beyond Trump, there's a lot to be concerned about around the world—from climate change to wealth inequality—so these Trial and Error Collective contributors wrote about the songs that inspire them to fight for their rights.
Song: “Tunnel Vision”
Artist: Kate Tempest
Album: Let Them Eat Chaos
Spoken word music can go one of two ways. It can either come off as a desperate attempt to be inspirational, or if it's from a powerful speaker like Kate Tempest, it can be a profound journey through an intensive narrative. Tempest’s 2016 release Let Them Eat Chaos is a chilling spoken word/rap album that covers topics that you’d find in most of your politically active records - environmental issues, police brutality, global economic crisis, etc. She brings up all these topics, however, just to break them apart and boil ‘em down to a personal scale. She reminds us how “the myth of the individual has left us disconnected, lost and pitiful” and the only way we can overcome all this chaos is for each of us to “wake up and love more”. The power of this album is not just the fact that it’s pressing for this current generation, but it’s so pragmatic. I’m sure we’ve all felt helpless when reading about everything that’s going on in the world, but Tempest reminds us with a compelling tone that we can all start by ridding ourselves of our perceived personal identities and work towards seeing ourselves as a part of a greater whole.
Song: “Digging for Windows”
Artist: Zack de la Rocha
No voice in the entire universe gets me more hyped than Zack de la Rocha’s. Although Zack has been lying low since the Rage Against the Machine days, this single off his forthcoming 2017 release shows that he’s as still blood-thirsty for a revolution as ever. From the start he shouts, “Fuck that bright shit!” -- which has been my new response to liberal Trump-sympathizers saying “Well, let’s give him a chance!” Nope. Fuck that. This track is calling us to not have a soft approach as basic human rights get stripped away from us, and instead we should be “offing these Fred Astaires”. I could have gone with any RATM song for this list, but El-P’s production with that savage, hard-hitting industrial beat makes this track feel more pressing for this current state. I think this release is just what we’ll need in this upcoming year to get this generation to not just sit idly and post angry Facebook statuses, but actually get out and make our voices heard.
Song: “I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel)”
Artist: Lauryn Hill
Album: MTV Unplugged No. 2.0
This song makes me motivated to fight for human rights on two levels. First, there’s the literal aspect of this song - the lyrics about the police murder of 23-year old African-American Amadou Diallo. Twenty years before the Black Lives Matter movement, Lauryn was already on MTV singing about how this man’s “life [was] so incomplete, and nothing can replace it” and pleading listeners to “wake up and rebel” to police brutality and the treatment of Black and minority lives in America. While everyone else on MTV in 2002 was talking about spring break in Miami and whatnot, Ms. Hill was using it as a platform to evoke a sense of political and social consciousness into a mass market.
On the other level, I think about what Lauryn Hill was facing at the time of this release and shortly thereafter. The media and music industry were tearing her apart for her every move, calling her “messy” and “self-indulgent” for discussing her personal life too much in her music. Sure, her voice does crack throughout this album and she does have a few slip ups while playing guitar. but her Unplugged session is one of the most authentic and thought-provoking performances of the whole series. She is unapologetically herself, open, and honest -- and that’s not taken too kindly for women in the music industry. Despite all the turmoil she faced from the media, she stuck to her messages and endured by making music straight from the soul. Whenever I fear for my rights as a woman during the Trump-era, I know I’ll seek Ms. Hill’s examples of courage and strength for guidance.
Artist: Rise Against
Album: Appeal to Reason
Rise Against may have been “My First Political Punk Band” for a lot of us who were regulars in the Warped Tour crowd during the second Bush administration, but lately the prospect of the Trump administration has resulted in the chorus for this song being stuck in my head. The overall message, however, is one that can resonate through anybody’s life at any time. As the verses illustrate, it’s easy to succumb to feelings of hopelessness in the face of a daunting challenge. As the bridge says, and as has been so eloquently stated throughout the centuries, shit happens. You can’t explain why bad things happen sometimes, but the reality is that “all smiles and sunshine” is an unrealistic standard to achieve. But even in the darkest hours, surviving through struggle ultimately ends up molding us into the people we eventually become. So pick yourself up, rally, and get ready to fight back. You owe it to your future self.
Song: “Fuck Authority”
Album: Land of the Free?
I had to. This song is three minutes and 20 seconds of pure, concentrated aggression with a simple, memorable hook that anyone can pick up on. The gang chorus at the end makes you feel like a part of something larger and can provide people with a sense of unity towards a common goal. This is one of those songs that you need to take at face value because it stirs up something primal in you. Use it to your advantage.
I’m going to use this opportunity to plug something that’s close to my heart. This may come as a shock to you, but I don’t get paid to write these words in this blog. To pay the bills, I have a day job as an environmental scientist. So naturally, some of the most concerning aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency to me are his proposed draconian changes to the United States’ environmental policy. In the wake of the fossil fuel industry coming back to power, it’s on us as individuals to cut down on our carbon footprints in order to combat the effects of climate change, and one of the best ways to do that is to stop eating meat. Seriously, y’all, animal agriculture is a resource-intensive practice that is responsible for so much greenhouse gas emissions (along with a slew of other environmental problems), that consuming fewer animal products is arguably the best thing you can do to help the environment. Gojira frontman Joe Duplantier is a vegetarian, and “Silvera” is a seriously heavy song that strikes me as a rallying cry for the plant-based movement that extols the promises of a better life that comes with this lifestyle change. I’ll keep this short for now, but I’ve been vegetarian for almost four years now and it’s easily the best change I made for myself, so I hope this song inspires someone to start thinking about doing the same.
Song: “The Apollo Programme Was A Hoax”
Album: The Shape of Punk to Come
Refused are not only one of the most frantic punk bands to have grabbed the genre by the throat and tell it in which direction it was going from here on out, but their music has always been a vessel for radical politics. With that in mind, it’s somewhat surprising that the one song of theirs that inspires the most political action in me is one of the most quiet, acoustic tracks in their catalog. Maybe it’s the sudden change of pace from the furiousness in the rest of their iconic album, The Shape of Punk to Come. Maybe it’s the fact that you can hear the wood floors and furniture creaking in the background that establish a sense of normality and make you feel like you’re in the house with them. Maybe it’s Dennis Lyxzen’s chilling lyrics coming through at their clearest on the album through what sounds like a tape recorder (although it could just as easily be a telephone). You see people use both of those items to make threats in movies, so on this song, the lyrics feel personal. Like a promise being made to the listener. It’s an effective tactic, for sure.
Artist: The Bug
Album: London Zoo
I just returned from a two-week trip to Jamaica, so in that spirit I’m only choosing songs from the wondrous world of reggae, dub, and dancehall. Not that this adds any extra challenge, since much of the music of these genres has been traditionally political and social from its earliest roots. And so, where better to start than with the core emotion that fuels every protest? “So many things that get me angry and so many things that get me mad,” growls Kevin Martin, the English producer also known as The Bug. And how fucking true. The growing wealth of the 1%. The toxic power of planet-plundering fossil fuel companies and their big financial backers. The fact that a fear-mongering, misogynistic, ill-tempered, pathological liar (at best) is about to be the president of the U.S. This is easily the most modern track on my list, and perhaps that’s no mistake. In less than four minutes, The Bug busts out the flamethrower and calls bullshit on the sluggish progress we’ve made around the world. Yes, we’ve come a long way, yet we have so far to go.
Song: “Police and Thieves”
Artist: Junior Murvin
Album: Police and Thieves
So what the hell are we so angry about? Mostly it comes down to this: “Police and thieves in the street / Scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition.” The thieves: we turn on the news and we hear about theft, murder, rape, and all the other crimes man commits daily against fellow man. Our fear grows. Then there’s the police: that is, the state, fattening the pockets of its corrupt politicians, defending the wealthy, subduing the traditionally repressed (people of color, women, the poor), and using all its might to uphold the status quo. Very shaky ground, but we are fearful, so we obey. And that’s the way it goes “from Genesis to Revelation,” each of us afraid of strangers and afraid of the powers that be. Trying to keep to ourselves. Trying to live our lives. Trying to survive. Though the song was covered by The Clash, I had to stick to the original, a classic Lee “Scratch” Perry production featuring Junior Murvin’s distinct falsetto on vocals, conveying truth in music.
Song: “Money Money”
Artist: Horace Andy
Album: Dance Hall Style
But what does it really come down to? What motivates the thieves? What drives state violence? “Money, money, money, money / Root of all evil.” The first track on one of the greatest dub albums ever produced, “Money Money” is dark and hypnotic, a massive trance of drum and bass propelled forward by that mantra sung over and over and over again. Perhaps he’s trying to cast a musical spell to break the powerful curse clouding all our minds: that money is necessary for life. We all know you can’t take it with you, and yet people steal for money, kill for money, commit unimaginable atrocities for money. All those millions of dollars must provide quite the enchantment if it lets people like Rex Tillerson sleep at night. But money is nothing. It’s a figment of all our imaginations. It doesn’t keep us alive like water does. It doesn’t nourish us like our favorite foods. And it doesn’t fill us with the love that flows from our families and friends. In the wise words of a beautiful Oakland woman named Brittsense, “money is fake, energy is real.” Horace Andy is real.
Song: “One Step Forward”
Artist: Max Romeo & the Upsetters
Album: War ina Babylon
The first presidential election I voted in was 2008. I was 20 years old and still had much to learn about the world, about our history, about where we came from, and about where we’re going. Hell, I still don’t know the tenth of it and I’m not sure I ever will. But in my shiny, college-aged optimism I cast my vote for Barack Obama and reveled in his victory. I mean, holy shit, the land that built its wealth on black slavery actually put a black man in the White House! Studying abroad in Athens at the time, I remember basking in the glow of complete strangers—language barrier be damned—simply grinning at me, sticking a thumb up, and saying, “Obama!” He ended up not delivering all the hope and change he promised—and he most certainly did not deserve a Nobel Peace Prize—but he at least had poise, intelligence, and leadership skills. Now we have Trump, who thinks nuclear proliferation is a swell idea. “One step forward, two steps backward,” sings Max Romeo over the Upsetters’ taut, always blissful jamming and Lee Perry’s perfect production. He’s not exactly singing about American unexceptionalism; his lyrics are distinctly Rastafarian, alluding to the materialistic, sinful Babylon we can all easily slip into. But I find the message universal: the way forward is slow and heavy and, if you’re not careful, you may find yourself heading in the wrong direction.
Song: “Keep on Moving”
Artist: Bob Marley and the Wailers
Album: African Herbsman
Is there no hope? Of course there’s hope. We know there’s hope because of people like Kevin Martin, Junior Murvin, Horace Andy, Max Romeo, and Bob Motherfucking Marley. We especially know there’s hope because of people like Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, and Malala Yousafzai. None of these people are saints. And I’m not saying that a reggae singer is the same as a woman who routinely risked her life freeing slaves from the pre-Civil War south. But all these figures have something in common. None of them sat around wallowing in sadness, depression, hopelessness, or even anger. They experienced these emotions, they confronted them, and they came to understand them. Finally, they harnessed their passion to take action in the world. They kept on moving. What else can you do?
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