Armaan Yadav is a rapper and poet from India who recently released the song Saffron Ablaze which covers the rising fascism in India and oppression of free speech.
“Over the last few years, India has been experiencing extremely violent acts, often motivated by religion and backed politically by certain groups of people in power. There has been a rise of fascism in the country, backed by the active censorship of voices of dissent– a vital force that keeps democracies in check. This track is an attempt to speak up against that. After all, the only way to maintain the right to free speech is to speak freely. Please note that just because I’m condemning the actions of a select few in this very short track does not mean that other political groups differ significantly. I will continue to actively combat what I feel is wrong, through words, not violence. True patriotism finds itself in the critique of the way of things, not in blind nationalism and mass hysteria. Thank you for supporting my music so far, I hope you continue to do so.”
“This microphone kills fascists”. That’s how Lee Reed blasts off on his song This Microphone from his 2015 album The Butcher, The Banker, The Bitumen Tanker. It’s been three years since the Hamilton, Ontario native, hip hop veteran released a full length and the resistance has been waiting.
For 23 years Lee Reed has been making militant boom bap radically raising his fist on tape and video and shouting messages of anti-capitalism, anti-police and equality. After touring with Sage Francis of Strange Famous Records he signed with the label for his newest release called Before & Aftermath.
Still militant, still relevant, Lee rips the society apart exploring its faults and looks for ways to puzzle it back together again.
“military grade shit/cops play war with certain populations/state sponsored it, racism faceted/blood and honour and ku klux closeted” Lee raps on ACAB which, unfortunately, is bound to never hit mainstream radio stations.
I contacted Lee via email and asked him about his new album, what set it apart from some of his more independent productions, his activism and organising and his dream roster of politician bandmates for a fiery bus crashing super group.
First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Lee Reed?
I’m an MC from Hamilton Ontario Canada, that makes far-left radical HipHop. I’m an outspoken supporter of organizers and organizations fighting for social and environmental justice. And I’m 23 years in the HipHop game in 2019.
How did you get into making music?
I started messing around with music and song writing in my teens. I played guitar and I did rock and blues type jams with pals. We would do covers and write some original material. Nothing serious though really.
And then, I started writing rhymes and rap in my 20’s. Inspired by other cats around me doing it. I’d always listened to and loved HipHop but, didn’t really try writing and performing it myself until I was a bit older.
Has your music always been political?
Yeah. Even when I was I was just getting started, I was always trying to ‘say something’ with music. I was young and didn’t have the greatest grasp on politics and articulating big ideas but, there was a serious anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist streak in my writing and thinking, right from the jump. Music with an expressly revolutionary message or that celebrated working class struggles and power. had always inspired and drawn me in. Public Enemy, BDP, KRS, later on into Rage Against the Machine, The Coup, Dead Prez. Or punk bands like the Dead Kennedy’s, Minor Threat, And was always was drawn to the underlying politics of HipHop and Punk in that era. Even bands that weren’t expressly radical, had decent politics woven through their songwriting. Or would have some ‘message based’ songs on their records. That really inspired me, and definitely shaped me as a songwriter.
You just released a new album, Before and Aftermath (Strange Famous 2018), but you’ve been making music for quite a while. Did you experience something new during the creative and production process of the new album?
Well, truthfully, this was the first time since my old band Warsawpack (1999-2004, G7 Welcome Committee Records) where I knew, going in, that a label would be carrying the work. I had been talking with Sage Francis about releasing it on Strange Famous Digital (SFDigi), and I knew if I crafted a great record that they would run with it. So, that kinda forced me to take the project a lot more seriously. To get a lot more perfectionist about it. I spent way more time scrutinizing the process. I cut more songs, changed more songs, and did a lot more fussing about this record than anything I’ve ever worked on.
Do you consider yourself a musician only or an activist or both? Do you find it hard to draw the line between the two or should there not be any line there in the first place?
Well, there’s a couple of layers to that. First, if you mean is my music itself, on its own, a form of activism? I would say maybe, but in a very sideways and hard to quantify way. The song itself can act in the way a pamphlet or zine might, spreading radical info and awareness about something. There is that. But, I think, for me, the true crossover of music into real activism/organizing comes when artists give and use their music for the material benefit of a struggle. Use their performances and recordings to bolster the work of frontline resistance and sites of struggle. Like, running fundraisers for organizations. Selling recordings where the proceeds go to radical organizations and campaigns. Donating music or songwriting for a campaign site or video. Using music as a spectacle for blockades and occupations. Using music and concerts to help refuel and invigorate organizers in the trenches. That sort of thing. I think when you can use your music to support struggle, in meaningful and material ways – you are properly using your art AS activism. And I’ve always worked hard to do that.
When it comes to your lyrics, do you ever find it hard to balance between the right, smooth flow and the precise political point you want to get across?
Definitely. And that’s something I fuss over continuously. The message is important but, you gotta sound smooth saying it. Or folk aren’t going to listen.
What is wrong with this world and how can artists be a part of the change?
I think the problem is capitalism, and the way life is organized to put the needs of business over human beings. I think art can definitely help people see through that, and help articulate/envision something better. I think that approach is different for every artist. And there are an infinite number of ways that art can make meaningful change. I guess I would just say, artists need to think about their relationship to the world and how their art affects and interacts with it. Is their art just a commodity, or is there a deeper significance to it, culturally, politically or socially? What does their art ultimately stand for? Realize all art has a ‘politics’. Often that politics is ignorance, it’s a celebration of opulence or drugged up abandon or hate or something. It might not have an overt ‘message’ like we think of with protest music. But it still stands for something. It still has a message.. it’s just getting whispered.
Do you partake in activism outside the music?
Yes, as much as I can. Most years that’s just playing a supporting role for campaigns, organizers and organizations that I know. Attending rallies and actions. Helping run or promote events. Playing shows or events. Turning up and being present mostly. But some years I get deeper into the organizing work. This past year has been the busiest ever for me, in that regard. I belong to a tenant solidarity organization, here in Hamilton, and we have spent most of this past year working with a tenant committee in the city’s east end, supporting a rent strike. Its been over 8 months of regular meetings, door knocking, hearings, actions, events, fundraising, etc. Was often 4-5 nights of my week spent on it, at its peak. It’s definitely the most involved I’ve ever been in that ‘real work’. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life. And I’m constantly inspired by my comrades in the struggle.
How is the protest music scene where you are from? Are people using their voices and talents in protest?
Well, if you look at Canada as a whole.. and across genres.. there is lots of great protest/radical music, or artists that are pushing the political boundaries in a good direction. We have a lot of great rap and punk that talks good politics. My comrades Test Their Logik, Kay the Aquanaut, Mother Tareka, Praxis Life (who are part of a collective I work with called RHYMETHiNK), other talented rap pals I know like Emay, Kimmortal, Cheko Salaam, Micros Armes, garbageface, Jesse Dangerously.. OG electro soul hop pals Lal.. punk acts like Propagandhi, Action Sedition, Union Thugs.
One big thing of note.. there’s been a surge in great Indigenous artists that have brought a strong voice for Indigenous issues, at a deeply divisive point in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people. Canada’s colonization is ongoing. Genocide is ongoing. The rush to develop and sell tar sand bitumen.. sinking so much of our country’s economy into that venture.. and trying to force tankers and pipelines over Indigenous lands and waterways without proper consent. has brought the colonial legacy to the forefront of a lot of Canadians’ minds. And I think artists like A Tribe Called Red, Tanya Tagaq, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Mob Bounce, JB The First Lady, Ostwelve, Quantum Tangle (to name a few), are helping to articulate the Indigenous struggle and share its story. It’s inspiring.
How about your own influences, whether they are protest musicians or not? And are you following any socially conscious contemporary artists you want to recommend?
Well, I’m always looking for good revolutionary music. I follow all the names I’d mentioned above in Canada. But, outside of that.. some HipHop favourites of recent years would be.. Savage Fam, Ant-Loc, Bambu, Sole, Sima Lee, Mic Crenshaw, Skipp Coon. On the more mainstream side.. I’m into Vince Stapes, Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick, Run the Jewels. There’s some good, inventive HipHop coming out these days.
What advice do you have for young musicians who want to use their voices in protest?
I would tell them to get involved with some real organizing. Find a group that’s doing work on an issue that concerns them or their community, and get involved in the fight back. They’ll be inspired in a way that reading and theorizing just never could. They’ll understand, and be able to articulate the fight in a way that watching, reading and thinking about it just can’t. Get down.
If you could invite 4 politicians, living or dead, to form a band with you who would you choose? Haha. I guess Trump, Justin Trudeau, Doug Ford (our Province’s Premier) and Putin. We could die in a fiery tour bus crash.
What is on the horizon for you?
I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Old timey boom bap hip hop, with a batshit radical leftist lean. I’m going to hit the road again in the spring. In Canada, and then Europe. And I’ve got some new writing on the go. Should be a pretty productive year.
Thank you for participating and for your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
Naw, I think we covered it! …easiest way to find all my music, videos, shows and new is to hit my website.. www.leereedrevolt.com
Thank you for the thoughtful questions, and fist up!
Last August, a debut album was released called Songs For Rojava. The songs are all dedicated to “freedom fighters around the world” and a special focus is directed towards the Rojava revolution. The musician and activist behind the album is a self taught singer-songwriter, writer, activist and, more specifically, an anarcho-communist. All this led me to believe he’d be a perfect fit for a Shouts interview. Hit the play button above for a protest music soundtrack to the interview!
Who is Lee Brickley?
“I’ve been a freelance writer for the last five years, but my real passion has always been songwriting. After teaching myself to play the guitar at age 12, I started writing my own music almost immediately. Since that time I’ve written thousands of songs on many different subjects, but in recent years my music has taken a political slant, and that has thankfully put me in a position where I now have somewhat of a fan-base and am able to release my music publicly.
If you’re asking about my political views, I’d call myself an anarcho-communist, in that I believe it is possible for society to organise in variations of a commune-like structure without an authoritarian state at the helm. This is why I find Democratic Confederalism (the system currently in full swing in Rojava) to be of particular interest, and thus, why I chose to release my latest album that attempts to educate listeners on the Kurdish struggle and the Rojava feminist revolution.”
When did realise that you wanted to send out a message through music?
“I think I realised it was important to write songs aimed at educating, amusing, and encouraging social change when I was very young. Even as a 12 year old with my first £50 guitar in hand, I attempted to replicate the greats like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. I might not have quite understood the significance of their lyrics back then, but their songs spoke to me more than any others.
It has only been during the last couple of years that my songs have begun to get attention, and I believe that is because conditions have deteriorated across the world, and the international working class is closer to revolution than at any point during my lifetime. I write songs about worker’s revolts, I write anti-monarchist music, and I despise the class system. The number of people who agree with me seems to increase every day, and so, as a songwriter, my natural instinct is to create a soundtrack for the revolution.”
Has your music always been political?
“My music hasn’t always been political, and I have hundreds of songs about other subjects. I just think the current political situation globally should encourage all artists to turn their talents towards the issues at hand. We’ve had decades of freedom to dream and create art in all forms on all subjects, but the planet is in a terrible state, psychopaths are in control of nuclear arms, and 99% of people on this Earth are nothing more than slaves. I think it’s time artists and intellectuals did their part, just as the Kurdish, British, and Internationalist volunteers do in Rojava.”
What is your connection to Rojava? How did you learn of it? Why is it important to you?
“As I said, for me, the ideology behind the Rojava revolution is highly appealing. It’s not perfect, and it never will be – nothing is. However, it’s an ideology based on real democracy, freedom, and equality between races, religions, sexes, and minorities. Whatever happens in the future in Rojava, the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan and his ‘Manifesto for a Democratic Civilisation’ writings are some of the most rational, compassionate, and empowering I’ve ever come across.
I want to see an international revolution in which the people of the world remove the current banking system completely, redistribute wealth, eliminate the oil and gas industries in favour of renewable energy sources, remove all monarchies, aristocrats, and those born into positions of power. I want to see a bottom-up structure of organising society where people make the decisions that directly affect themselves, and upper-structures are only there to implement the will of the people. I see this happening in Rojava, and so it’s something I must support. And I encourage all others to do the same.”
How is the music scene where you live, in terms of activism and protest? Do you feel alone in using your voice how you do or do you have comrades around you doing similar things?
“There isn’t much of a music scene for political music where I’m based, and so most of my releases etc happen online. However, I am planning a tour for 2019 which will see me play around the UK, Ireland, and Europe. I should be announcing some of the dates for that tour in a few weeks.”
How do you feel people are receiving protest music these days?
“Due to the state of the world at the moment, and the fact that politicians are clearly only focused on keeping the peace while dictatorial corporations pillage and rape the planet – I think people are now looking to protest music more than at any point since the 1960s. Which is good news for me because it means more and more folks out there are listening to my songs, but I’d imagine those in positions of power are getting rather concerned. And they should be concerned.”
What’s your take on musicianship vs. journalism? Many protest singers used to write about very current topics, like a journalist, and some do still to this day. Do you think the media is not doing its job today?
“Despite the fact that my song called “Ocalan” repeatedly gets removed from Facebook and YouTube even though the lyrics are historically accurate and simply tell the life story of Abdullah Ocalan up until his imprisonment in 1997, I still think I can get away with saying things in songs journalists wouldn’t dare to write in their propaganda mainstream news articles. But even I appear to be treading a thin line. There are more and more people being arrested in the UK for supporting the Kurdish struggle in one way or another all the time. And there have also been some arrests of songwriters for releasing music on other subjects.
So I don’t necessarily blame the journalists for not having the balls to write articles that go against the official propaganda line of the state. They risk being classed as a terrorist and getting arrested just like me. The only difference is I realise that I have nothing to lose but my chains, and they’re wrapped up in their ever-so-important lives.”
What about activism versus art? Should they be mixed? Do you ever get feedback or criticism regarding that?
“There are a lot of people out there who think musicians and songwriters should keep out of politics, but those people shamefully underestimate the power music and lyrics can have over a human being’s perceptions. When the mainstream music industry is filled with songs about sex and getting wasted; what happens? We get a society filled with teenage mothers and drug addicts. People who listened to that music and took inspiration from it long before they were experienced enough to make a rational decision on the matter. Music is incredibly powerful.
If you want to start a revolution, raising an army and asking the IRA for information about their old gun-smuggling routes simply isn’t enough. Not this time anyway. If the people of the UK and other countries around the world are to rid themselves of their authoritarian rulers, they must be united in their efforts. Art and music are essential tools for educating the masses, showing them the reality of their situation, and teaching them how to free themselves.”
Do you partake in activism outside the music?
“Yes. I regularly attend protests for issues I think matter. I also write articles and blog posts, and sometimes I’ve been known to engage in a bit of guerrilla art.”
Who are you musical heroes? What about current protest musicians? Anything you are following or can recommend?
“My musical heroes have to be people like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, James Taylor, Neil Young, and Johnny Cash, but there are really too many to mention. As far as current protest singers, I’d like to mention a couple of people that everyone should check out. David Rovics has been writing and releasing protest songs for what seems like forever, and he really is a master in the game. Seriously. There’s also a guy from the UK who’s blowing my mind at the moment called Joe Solo. Check out his song Start a revolution in an empty room.”
What is on the horizon for you?
“I am about to record another eight songs that I will release under the title of “The Working Class Revolution EP” ahead of the tour of the same name I am currently in the process of planning in Europe. I still have lots of room available to book extra shows, and the tour will run from April 2019 onwards. If there is anyone out there who would like to arrange a show, please feel free to get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to discuss and send all the information.”
Thank you very much for participating and for the music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
“No problem! And yes, there is! I give all my music away for free to anyone who asks for it. It’s possible to buy it online, but I upload it to YouTube, Spotify, and other places so anyone can listen for free. I also happily send out MP3 files of all my music to anyone who sends me an email asking. The reason for this is that I want to make sure as many people as possible hear and enjoy my songs, and I completely understand how tough it is out there at the moment financially. So if anyone wants all my music for free, just email me 🙂
Likewise, anyone who wants to support my music and ensure I can continue to write political songs, record them, and distribute them for free to the masses can make donations however big or small [insert: Lee’s PayPal site].
Thanks for the interview!”
You can also follow Lee’s work through his social media and the event page for the online concert here can be found below: