10 Songs of protest from around the world

10 essential protest songs from our new playlist

Music has always played a role in society as a means of protest against socio-political and cultural issues, and over almost 30 years of Real World Records, we have worked with many musicians from across the world who have been outspoken and protested against the status quo through their music.

We’ve compiled a new playlist, Protest!, featuring tracks from our artists and releases which make bold socio-politcal statements alongside other classic protest songs from across the world. Listen to the playlist on Apple Music and Spotify.

Below are 10 essential tracks taken from the playlist that you should know about.

1. Les Amazones d’Afrique — 'I Play The Kora'

Les Amazones d’Afrique are an all-female, all-star collective of west African musicians — including Angelique Kidjo, Kandia Kouyate, Mamani Keita, Mariam Doumbia (of Amadou & Mariam fame), Mariam Koné, Massan Coulibaly, Mouneissa Tandina, Nneka, Pamela Badjogo, and Rokia Koné — who have come together to campaign for gender equality and an end to violence against women. Their 2017 debut album, République Amazone, raised not only awareness but also funds for The Panzi Foundation, led by Dr. Mukwege in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, which has treated more than 50,000 female victims of sexual violence.

‘I Play the Kora’ was the group’s first single. The multi-stringed kora, ubiquitous in West African music, serves as a metaphor in the song; traditionally, only men were allowed to play the instrument; women were denied. Released in 2016, the song directly benefits The Panzi Foundation with every download.

2. Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited — 'Vanofira Chiiko?'

Thomas Mapfumo, the legendary ‘Lion of Zimbabwe,’ today lives in exile in the United States after being one of his country’s most outspoken critics against the tyranny of dictator Robert Mugabe. Just as his revolutionary songs once spoke of rebellion in what was then Rhodesia, Mapfumo’s respected work continues to be a call to arms and a voice for justice.

‘Vanofira Chiiko? (What Are They Dying For?)’, which features on his 2006 album Rise Up, challenges why youths die because of politics, and urges people ‘Let’s not send them to do the dirty work but instead send them to school — for the sake of tomorrow.’

3. Los De Abajo — ‘Resistencia’

Los De Abajo (‘Those from below’) began in Mexico City in 1992 as a Latin ska quartet, which over the years expanded to eight band members and stylistically broadened, to encompass elements of rock, reggae, salsa and cumbia into their work. Founder and lead singer Liber Terán writes many of the songs, but all band members in the egalitarian collective receive equal pay for their contributions.

The band are supporters of the libertarian socialist Zapatista Army of National Liberation and have staged benefit concerts for the revolutionary group, now more active in politics than insurrection, which defies political classification and supports indigenous Mayan traditions and indigenous land rights. The Zapatistas’ Comandante Esther is featured on the song ‘Resistencia’, the opening track of the album LDA v The Lunatics.

4. Spaccanapoli — ‘Pummarola Black’

Italy’s Spaccanapoli grew out of the original ‘Gruppo Operario’ (Workers Group) E Zezi, which was formed when the musicians met as socialist factory workers in the automotive industry around their native Naples. They are the inheritors of a tradition that has existed for centuries in the local rural culture of southern Italy, nurtured by the hard realities of the working man’s life.

With their song ‘Pummarola Black,’ they address the inequity in pay for black North African auto workers relative to Europeans working in the car factories. It features on their album Lost Souls.


5. Misty In Roots — ‘How Long Jah’

Misty in Roots was formed in Southall, London in the mid 1970s. Their first album of Rastafarian songs was championed by legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, helping to bring roots reggae to white audiences for the first time. They were invited to play in Zimbabwe in 1982 in recognition of their support for the independence movement, and were the first reggae band to tour in South Africa, Poland, and Russia.

Firm in their convictions, Misty hurl down their messages from the mountain tops, wailing for the oppressed, criticizing the world’s materialism and asking ‘How long, Jah Jah, must we suffer?’ Check out their album Roots Controller.

6. Aurelio — ‘Lumalali Lumaniga’

A prodigy of percussion, Aurelio began performing at Garifuna ceremonies in his coastal Honduran village as a boy, even at the most sacred events where children were usually not allowed. By the time he left home to attend school at 14, he was a respected musician with a firm grounding in Garifuna rhythms, rituals, and songs. His culturally-endangered Garifuna people are a minority in Central America descended from shipwrecked African slaves and the indigenous Arawak Indians of the Caribbean, with distinctively unique language, music, food, and traditions.

Aurelio has devoted his life’s work to the cause of raising awareness and appreciation for — and preserving — Garifuna music and culture. He first pursued this goal by serving as a representative to the Honduran legislature, one of the first persons of African heritage to do so. Written during a political campaign, his song ‘Wéibayuwa’ calls out politicians as ‘bloodthirsty sharks,’ highlighted by Senegalese rappers and hip-hop musicians from the poverty-stricken medina of Dakar, commenting in their Wolof language that they, too, are marginalized.

His song ‘Lumalali Lumaniga’ — translated as ‘the voice of silence’ — speaks on behalf of the unheard poor, elderly and sick, denouncing NGO leaders who pocket money meant for the good of all. The song features on his 2017 album Darandi.

7. Remmy Ongala — ‘One World’

The great Ramazani ‘Remmy’ Mtoro Ongala (1947-2010) was a guitarist and singer born in Kindu, near the Tanzanian border, in what was then the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Rising to stardom in the 1980s soukous scene, he used his music as a vehicle to address social concerns, including poverty, AIDS/HIV, urbanization, and domestic violence. Known as “the voice of the poor man,” he created conscious music with socio-political commentary.

Taken from his 1995 album Mambo, the powerful ‘One World,’ sung in English, decries the small-mindedness of geo-political borders, nationalism, and bigotry.

8. Ramy Essam — ‘Segn Bel Alwan (feat. Malikah)’

Egypt’s Ramy Essam stepped onto the world stage as the voice of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, when his songs spread like wildfire among the demonstrators. During the height of the uprising, he performed in front of millions of people in Tahrir Square, and his revolutionary anthems became the soundtrack for a new generation of Egyptians struggling for a better life and a more just society. But under then-ruler Hosni Mubarak, fame came with a heavy price. Ramy experienced brutal torture and arrests meant to silence his voice; his songs were banned and he was forbidden to perform in public.

In 2014, Sweden offered him asylum and, with his voice freed, he’s toured and released rock-influenced recordings, becoming a symbol of social activism and a beacon of bravery for youth in the Middle East.

9. Charlie Musselwhite — ‘Black Water’

After half a century of nonstop touring and recording, blues icon Charlie Musselwhite is living proof that great music only gets better with age. The Mississippi-born legend cut his musical teeth alongside Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, playing pure, honest blues on the south side of Chicago in the early 1960’s —and he’s been at it ever since, delivering the truth with a voice and harp tone like no other.

Charlie penned his song ‘Black Water’ about the devastation left in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a stark tribute to all who suffered in and around New Orleans and in his home state:

Old black water lappin’ at your back door
Hello America, better get ready for more
Trouble, trouble all around here
just too tired to shed one tear
Black Water
It’s a sign of our times.

The song features on his 2006 album, Delta Hardware.

10. John Trudell — ‘Bombs Over Baghdad’

John Trudell (1946–2015) was a Santee Sioux/Mexican author, poet, actor, musician, and political activist. He was the spokesperson for the United Indians of All Tribes’ takeover of Alcatraz in 1969, broadcasting as Radio Free Alcatraz. During most of the 1970s, he served as chairman of the American Indian Movement.

After the deaths of his pregnant wife, three children and mother-in-law in a suspicious fire at their family home on the Shoshone-Paiute reservation in Nevada, Trudell retreated from politics and turning to writing, which led him into a second career in music and film; he appeared in roles Pow Wow Highway, Thunderheart, On Deadly Ground, and Smoke Signals, and was an advisor to the production of the acclaimed Incident at Oglala. His art became a platform for his social conscience, and his activism was not limited to indigenous issues alone; his song ‘Bombs Over Baghdad,’ released in the early 1990s during the first Iraq war, needs little description.

Listen to all of these songs and more from our playlist Protest! on Apple Music and Spotify.

By Cheryl McEnaney

Published on Sun, 20 May 18

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