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Best Of Protest Music 2021: A Turbulent Year Reviewed

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In the United States, the year begins with an insurgence when violent protesters storm the Capitol, an event that leaves five people dead and a divided nation terrified.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban make a swift takeover of the country which leads to many countries’ military operatives and other staff leaving in a chaotic fashion. The United Nations describes the current situation in Afghanistan as a humanitarian disaster.

See also: Action For Afghanistan: Racetraitor, Disappear, Life Force, Eighteen Visions And More On New Benefit Compilation

In Russia, opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, is sentenced to years in prison prompting protests around the country. Members of activist music collective Pussy Riot have been detained and jailed for actively using their voices in protest of the oppressive Russian regime. Some of them have fled Russia because of constant harassment from authorities and threats to their safety.

While the supreme court in Mexico rules that penalizing abortion is unconstitutional, state officials across the U.S. border in Texas put a new law into effect which bans abortion after six weeks.

Artists around the world are facing harassment and persecution for their art. While looking only at recent headlines on the page of Freemuse, a watchdog organisation dedicated to raising awareness about artists at risk and oppression of artistic freedom, one can see Turkey, Yemen, Kenya, and more countries detaining and sentencing artists for their words and work. In other countries, like Colombia, musicians have been murdered.

In India, tons of new protest songs have sprung up in support of Indian farmers protesting new laws that they say will destroy their livelihood and put the country’s agricultural sector in corporate hands. Although the Indian government has fought the protests by, among other things, shutting down music online (to which YouTube obliged) it hasn’t stopped the news from spreading. Heck, even Rhianna turned Twitter upside down while publicly voicing her support for Indian farmers.

See also: Farmers In India Are Protesting And Their Soundtrack Keeps Growing

The planet is overheating; we have not reached gender equality in most places; people are still racist as hell; everyone is at war; and animals, nature, and people around the world are being tortured on a daily basis.

But luckily, so that we all don’t tumble into a pit of depression, there are artists, journalists, and activists working hard every day, spending all their efforts on making this world more beautiful, more informative, and more just. The job for the rest of us is to be aware of that, to share that hard work, point it out, share arts, share beauty among each other, and stand together against tyranny wherever it rears its ugly head.

And Bandcamp, the world’s greatest online music service, has decided to help artists make the world more beautiful by waiving their revenue share on the first Friday of every month. This is a massive help for musicians around the world who have lost their income due to venues closing down because of COVID.

Below are some of our favorite protest albums released in 2021, and additionally you can check out our Spotify playlist, Selected Protest Music of 2021, which counts more than 100 releases from this year in over six hours.

We want to pay it forward by Shout!ing our praise and support for these artists from every rooftop we can. While in reality there are too many to count, some of our favorite releases of the year include: wildlife electronica taking a stand for endangered wildlife; all-female garage rock that kicks patriarchy in the teeth with infectious grooves and epic riffs that appear out of left field; a mesmerizing new release from the poet and multimedia pioneer of the Black Quantum Futurism movement; a compilation from Detroit featuring a wide array of musicians and audio samples taken from Black Lives Matter protests; hardcore political punk from Tunisia; transcontinental experimental jazz that calls global listeners to action; a Herculean feat of screamo from Galicia, Spain; punk rock from Florida whose melodies cling to you like the southern humidity out of which it’s born; pared down British indie-folk brimming with deftly-penned lyrics; a one of a kind, genre-, species-, and gender-bending release from Switzerland that exposes horrors against animals, and more! 

Thank you to all the musicians who have kept us engaged and called to action throughout the darkest moments of the year, and thank you to all the Shouts! supporters out there for joining us here on the rooftops of our crumbling empires and faulty institutions. May they collapse, and may we compassionately and fiercely rebuild what is broken, hand in hand, with speakers blasting the whole time.  

Black To The Future by Sons of Kemet

From the jazzy side of this year’s releases comes Black To The Future, a stunning piece of protest work by Sons of Kemet. This album will make you move your feet and want to get up and join the fight: “Another track, Hustle, has a deep, strong beat to it that makes one want to stand up and march in rhythm. The chorus, “Born from the mud with the hustle inside me”, repeats in such a way that it becomes a mantra that one can imagine thousands of people chanting on the street while demanding change.” – from our article about the album.

Blood Lemon by Blood Lemon

This all female garage rock group gives patriarchy a damn good kick in the butt on what is one of our favorite releases of 2021. Tackling subjects such as environmental inaction, colonialism, political faults of their own government and more, this three-piece pummels through your eardrums in a highly enjoyable manner. If you love riff filled, heavy, riot- grrrl rock then you need to hear Blood Lemon’s self titled debut album.

Territorios by Tenue

“Rarely do rage and patience find such companionship in one another as they do on this album; this is a kind of musical maturity not often seen in screamo, and another reason why Tenue are in a league of their own. You, listener, will feel catharsis, exhaustion, rage, amplification, and augmentation in this album, amidst its blasts and d-beats, its frenetic rising and swelling and exploding guitar work.” – from Nathaniel Youman’s review of the album.

Black Encyclopedia of the Air by Moor Mother

From sounding like a proper MC to a soothing, yet fiery, wizard, Moor Mother is bound to move you on her latest album, ‘Black Encyclopedia of the Air’. The multi-disciplinary artist and activist has created a piece of musical work that sounds like nothing else you’ll have heard this year.

Connectivity by Grace Petrie

Grace Petrie is no stranger to making protest music, and her years of development shines through on her latest effort. With her wit and grit on top of her socially driven lyrics and with her acoustic axe up front, she rages on against injustice in the most entertaining of ways.

Life In Warp by A lake by the mõõn

“In what strikes the ear first as swathes of digitally manipulated noise and vaguely industrial, futuristic electronic free-balling, “Life in Warp” affords its listener a vivid and disorienting experience haunted by the sounds of a wide array of endangered animals from around the globe. The result is something like wildlife-electronica—replete with walrus beats and humpback whale drones—but is so much more serious, devastating, and deferential.” – from Nathaniel Youman’s review of the album.

ANTI by D.O.G.

Hardcore and protest has always gone hand in hand. Whether the music is used to fuel rage against the system and the ones in power or against a personal sorrow we all can relate to, hardcore music is there to provide the soundtrack to the protest – and a friends-filled pit to mosh it out in. D.O.G. have a statement in their name which appearantly stands for Death Of God, Decency Over Government, Debt Of Guilt. The music follows the name as they protest with blasting, groovy riffs and ragged screams. A wonderfully heavy effort.

Dirty Water by Debt Neglector

We covered one of the singles off of Debt Neglector’s album back in October as they wrote a song about their furry friend, and whenever a song is written about dogs we automatically get excited. Obviously it doesn’t hurt that the music Debt Neglector make is extremely fun punk rock that makes you want to jump and sing along. All proceeds from the sale of the album will be split evenly between Flint Kids Fund (flintkids.org) and Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (www.sbev.org).

No Justice, No Peace by Various Artists

This compilation of Black Lives Matter protest audio and thematically related songs covers a wide breadth of genres and styles, all from Detroit artists. As an album, it well represents the strange, unpredictable, unjust at times, year of 2021. All proceeds from the album sales will be donated and split between General Baker Institute and one more organization to be determined.

Purple Grass by Soya The Cow

A gender and species bending drag cow and an animal liberation soldier, Soya the Cow is one musician to keep an eye on. On her catchy, debut pop album she explores the world of animal rights activism and pleads to her human friends to slow down and explore with her a beautiful, alternative world where humans and animals live together as friends – not as consumers and meals.

Znousland 3 by Znous

Political metal music and Tunisia are not two things that are exactly swarming global radio stations, as far as we know. But we are very glad that we came across heavy makers Znous from Tunisia. Their album, Znousland 3, is a pure banger and critical dissection of Tunisian society. Stories of Tunisian female field workers and their exploitation, slavery in north Africa, racism, songs to the inner spirits and “spit on the face of one of the most toxic, ignorant, macho, criminal and disgusting politicians in Tunisian history” – this is some of what you’ll hear (in Tunisian with English lyrics) mixed up with straight up, riffs-and-solo -filled metal.

Brainwashed by The Anti Virals

The Anti Virals were fed up, and that is a good thing for the rest of us. Sometimes, frustration leads to wonderful music. In this particular case it is danceable, singalong punk rock, made in protest and solidarity as the band members explained on their FB page: “We are the voice for those who may feel bullied by this world! We are that thing you wish you could say but are afraid to. We are going to say it for you!”

Exclusive Premiere: ‘Scared’ By Adptd

Opposite to the title of her new single, Adptd does not seem to be scared of anything when you hear her rock out on her new, banging track. From recording music in her bedroom to landing a record deal, Adptd is all set to release her debut EP in 2022.

The music is reminiscent of the best of early 2000’s rock; with its guitar driven, groovy melodies and catchy vocals (with some awesome and perfectly fitted screams). This protest song comes mindfully wrapped, and completely slays it for this holiday season.

The new single, exclusively premiered on Shouts, is a call to action against racism. Growing up as an adopted child to white foster parents, Adptd (real name Josie Randle) learned early on how to embrace herself and to not give a crap about what other people think of her or the color of her skin. She hopes that some people can relate to the things she sings about as she told us via email:

“I want every song that I release on this upcoming album to relate to someone else. I’m not the only one to experience loss, pain, love, depression, and anxiety.  None of us are alone in our emotions, our thoughts, or beliefs. I want people to know that not just through me, and my music but at our shows, your family. Adptd is a community to feel welcome, and loved, no matter who you are or what you’re going through.”

Photo by courtesy of the artist

Being a person of color in the rock music scene has had an impact on Adptd and she takes it seriously representing POC in this dominantly white surrounding: “I’d like to think it’s important for me and every other artist of colour in our music community to stand up and show that, yo we too can write some emo, pop punk, pop rock shit and rock out just as hard.

I’ve been to many shows where I very well may be the only black person there either on stage throwing down or in the crowd rocking out. So when you do see another person having a dope time listening to a metal band, a rock band, pop punk band, whatever it’s dope to see.

There’s definitely an unspoken stigma out there for sure. So when I see new bands popping up like, Meet Me at the Alter, Magnolia Park, and (not new) but Turnstile, to name a few, killing it in this dominant scene of white folks, then hell ya I’m stoked on it and to be apart of these awesome POC killing it in the music scene.”

Adptd’s debut EP is set for release in 2022 so stay tuned! Listen to the exclusive premiere of ‘Scared’ below and check out more of Adptd’s work via her webpage adptd.com.

Professor Studies Sounds Of Justice

This article was originally published by UVAToday and Anne E. Bromley and republished here with the author’s permission.

What is the power of one human voice, in speech or song?

The sound of a human voice can bring us together or can be ignored.

When Nomi Dave got her dream job with the United Nations, little did she know it would lead to a path very different than she had imagined, one that would range from studying music in authoritarian Guinea, to documenting women speaking out for gender justice, to teaching at the University of Virginia.

Dave, an associate professor of music who just gained tenure, recently won a book prize for best first monograph, “The Revolution’s Echoes: Music, Politics, and Pleasure in Guinea” from the Society for Ethnomusicology.

With ancestral roots in Africa, Dave had known since she was a teenager that she wanted to spend time somewhere on the continent. Her route was circuitous, however.

She and her brother were born in London, where their parents had studied. The family also spent time in Kenya when she was little and moved to the U.S. when she was 11. (Although her family originated in India, they were part of a long-standing Indian diasporic community in East Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.)

“Those experiences lit a fire in my imagination,” she said.

Dave earned her B.A. at the University of Florida, majoring in French and politics with a minor in African studies. She knew she was interested in international policy, and law school would give her the tools to work in international human rights. She then moved to New York City and worked at the United Nations headquarters – at the time, a dream come true, she said – for two years before applying for a post with the U.N. Refugee Agency.

She spent three years in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, from 2002 to ’05, working with refugees, including those in detention and in prison, and then focusing on women and children caught in armed conflicts. Hundreds of thousands of people had fled to Guinea from civil wars in nearby Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast. Dave worked on family reunification cases involving unaccompanied minors, trying to trace and connect them to their families. Cases of sexual violence were not uncommon.

“I felt like I was putting out fires without time to understand what was happening below the surface,” she said.

“It was extraordinary, but I became disillusioned about the huge bureaucracy.” Dave said working in Guinea itself was tangential.

“I felt frustrated I didn’t know about this place where I was living,” she said. She was still interested in law and politics, but also felt drawn to music – an interest that tugged at the edges of her life. She loved Guinean music. She found that people were often hesitant to talk with a foreigner about politics, but opened up talking about music, and she realized they were linked.

After taking a break and thinking about what to do next, she decided to go back to school.

From Lawyer to Sound Researcher

Dave went to Oxford University, completing her Ph.D. in 2012 in anthropology and music, returning to Guinea for field work. She now conducts research and teaches about the role music and sound play in culture and politics, as well as uses of the human voice, literally and figuratively.

Since Guinea gained its independence from France in 1958, several authoritarian rulers led the government and have used music to reflect pride and look back on the country’s history with nostalgia.

Back in Guinea as a doctoral student, she dug into the authoritarian undercurrents and the dynamics of music and politics, looking at what it all might mean for ordinary people.

Alya Camara, a bolon player, shown in 2019 in Conakry, Guinea, in front of a mural of the former president. (Photo by Nomi Dave)

The tradition of praise-singing – paying musical homage to nobles and rulers – evolved to promoting the postcolonial state, with musicians and audiences actively participating.

Political theory, Dave pointed out, has long acknowledged that emotion plays a role in politics – leaders can use their charisma to invoke fear as well as pleasure.

“In fact, authoritarianism works not just through fear or false consciousness, but also through creating a sense of belonging and collectivity for people,” she said.

In her own experiences while doing research, she could feel the palpable sense of public pleasure at concerts, she said, even when the musicians were singing about an authoritarian leader that people disliked. 2010 brought democratic elections, but the shift to a post-authoritarian state has been destabilizing and slow, she said.

“My main argument,” Dave wrote in email about the prize-winning book that resulted from her research, “is that people always love the idea of protest music – especially in Africa, foreigners are always looking for stories of protest musicians – but in fact the vast majority of musicians intentionally don’t engage in protest or politics. That’s true in Guinea, in the U.S., in most places around the world.”

Dave, with her former vocal teacher, Diaryatou Kouyaté, in Guinea in 2009. (Photo by Cheick Kouyaté)

Today as Guinea makes an uneasy transition to democratic rule, such spectacles of public pleasure are becoming increasingly unstable, as new forms of protest and political voice complicate older aesthetic practices, she said.

“There’s been an increasing amount of open, vocal dissent and protest in the country, in which people – journalists, students, street protesters – call out politicians directly,” Dave said. “Musicians are trying to navigate this change – from the old pleasures of musical and poetic shout-outs to a new political culture of calling out. What’s important to note here is that for the most part, musicians aren’t leading the vanguard to protest; instead, they’re really torn between old and new ways.”

Sounds of New Research and Teaching With Community Engagement

Dave’s scholarship has also shifted. She has returned to her earlier work as a lawyer to see how people try to seek justice – with their voices, in the streets and on the radio.

With her background, Dave is bringing together law, anthropology and sound studies, a subdiscipline that looks at what sound means to us.

Beyond metaphor, the way we hear different sounds is filtered through ideas we already have, Dave said. It is still all too common that women’s voices are criticized in stereotypical ways – for being whiny or shrill, for example, but they continue to speak out anyway.

Women activists in Guinea have been protesting against gender-based violence on the radio and in the streets. Before COVID, Dave had planned a radio series with women in Conakry to familiarize listeners with the women’s voices, but that was cut short by the pandemic and not being able to return and interview women there.

With Bremen Donovan, a UVA doctoral student in anthropology, Dave is making a short documentary film about a defamation lawsuit against a Guinean journalist and activist, Moussa Yéro Bah, who covered sexual violence cases – a legal tactic that has been used to silence journalists, she said.

Dave and Donovan presented an early rough cut of the film at the RAI Film Festival, held virtually March 19 to 28. Sponsored by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the biennial conference is “the leading forum for exploring the multiple relationships between documentary filmmaking, anthropology, visual culture and the advocacy of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue through film,” according to its website.

Dave said they’re also organizing a roundtable at UVA, to be held in early May, with “some amazing participants here”: media studies professor Meredith Clark, law professor Anne Coughlin and filmmaker Kevin Everson. 

Donovan, who lived in Sierra Leone, has known Dave for several years and said in email, “This film project has been a wonderful experience of collaboration around our mutual interests in law, justice and creative approaches to research, that live beyond the university. Working with collaborators [in Guinea] for this project has been a highlight of this year.”

In this still from the film Dave is making, Guinean activists hold a press conference after a guilty verdict in a defamation lawsuit. (Photo by Nomi Dave)

Dave has woven some of this research into her teaching as part of the College of Arts & Sciences’ Civic & Community Engagement program. She described her course, “Musical Ethnography,” as “a yearlong course that’s half classroom-based learning on methods and ethics in ethnographic research, and half creative projects and collaborations with local musicians and artists in Charlottesville.”

She said the students have been amazing, reimagining and turning their projects into virtual concerts for an open mic series; a video-recording of a song by a local group of eco-activists, The Green Grannies, produced for Earth Day; and a virtual benefit concert for the Shelter for Help in Emergency, featuring many of their artist-partners. 

This year, Dave’s third and last year of teaching this course for a while, one of the students, Noelle Buice, came up with the idea of making an arts-based time capsule focusing on the COVID pandemic.

“Students are making a short film, a podcast, a photo essay, and a text collage about artists’ thoughts and memories for this past year,” Dave said, adding that the class is partnering with the local organization, the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, and WTJU, to host the virtual time capsule on the Bridge’s website. “We’re also creating a physical time capsule with objects collected from artists and community members that represent something from this past year.

Activists at a protest in Guinea, September 2018. (Courtesy of Nomi Dave)

“Despite Zoom life and everything else, the students have been so impressive with all their ideas and engagement,” she said.

Next year, Dave will teach a new civic engagement course, “Amplified Justice,” connected to a collaborative project she’s working on with Coughlin and music professor Bonnie Gordon. The project and the course will explore sound, voice, protest and gender. Students will have an opportunity to work on the collaborative project, she said.

Both “Amplified Justice” and the film on the Guinean journalist are part of an initiative Dave has dubbed the “Sound Justice Lab,” which received initial funding from the UVA Equity Center and aims “to bring together students and faculty bridging law and the humanities at UVA, with a focus on questions of justice in everyday life.”

Sounds like we’ll be hearing more about these projects in the future.

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