I’m a huge fan of political music of all genres, but particularly world music and hip hop. Here are nine of my favorite subversive (to various forms of oppression) songs highlighted, linked to live performances and/or music videos, with a snippet of some of the best lyrics from the song:
Backlash Blues by Nina Simone
Based on the Langston Hughes poem by the same name, Nina Simone passionately performs the anti-racist anthem live at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976. Nina Simone’s live performances are the best available performances I’ve ever seen on Youtube:
“When my God daughter tries to find a job to earn a little cash
all you got to offer her is your stupid, same, stupid, old, big back lash,
but the world is big (I saw it), big and bright and round
and it’s full of other folks like me who are Japanese, black and beige and brown.
Oh Mr Backlash, you are not the only one. That’s what you been thinkin’
but I’m gonna leave ya, I’m gonna leave ya, I’m gonna leave ya with the blues.”
Film the Police by B. Dolan featuring Sage Francis, Buddy Peace, Jasiri X and TokiWright
“They’d rather see me in a cell
than me and my cell with a different story to tell.
Camcorder by the dash. Next time you get stopped,
REACH for the celly if you wanna shoot a cop.
On a public sidewalk, you can tape what you see,
Or film from your window with a view of the street!
Neighborhood Crime Watch, we police the Police.
They can’t arrest the whole community.”
Amerikahn Promise by Erykah Badu
I couldn’t find a video of this song except for one live performance that’s really poor quality. You can listen to it on Spotify for free though. It’s the first track on the 2007 album ‘New Amerykah Part One’. I love this song though, so if you have time you should find a way to listen to it, it’s about the false promises of the American Dream.
“Welcome to America. (Background: All the freaks are here.)
All you have to do is make a promise.
(Background: And stay on the grind.)
I promise, I promise, you give it to me and I’ll give it to you.
(Background: 30,000 giggawatts of power baby, radiating your soul!)
Sign right here on the dotted line.
(Background: Come on, get you sum free.)”
Go Limp by Nina Simone
This is another great performance, which Nina has a lot of fun with. It’s a sort-of cheeky political song about police brutality at civil rights marches and being seduced in protest culture. The title of the song refers to the strategy of ‘going limp’ at protests to slow down the police’s capacity to arrest people.
“Oh Mother, dear Mother, no, I’m not afraid.
For I’ll go on that march and return a virgin maid.
With a brick in my handbag and a scowl on my face,
barbed wire in my underwear to shed off disgrace.”
America by K’Naan, featuring Mos Def (quoted lyrics) and Chali 2na
Another song shattering the delusional fantasy of the American Dream and criticizing the ideology of success in America.
“My country tis of thee, sweet land for robberies,
dope smoking, SUVs, grab me an army green,
fat and frills, drills and spills, eat and sleep, hump and kill,
shop till you drop, work till your dead, get all you can, and get in ‘the win’,
Outta my face, on your knees, sleep in the mansion, shut out the streets,
Make that cake, woop that trick, lick my swagger, suck my sick,
get high, get low, get sticky, get rich, get your own show, get down, get quick.
You slow, you blow, you broke, get fixed.”
Shock by Ana Tijoux
Ana Tijoux has two videos for this song – both for incredibly important movements. The first is about the Chilean Student Movement and I prefer it for the studio-quality music and the video is also aesthetically more interesting. But, I think it’s also really great that she made a second video (acoustic) for undocumented activists in Arizona. I used this site for the translated lyrics: http://lyricstranslate.com/en/shock-shock.html
“Venom: your monologues,
your colorless speeches,
you don’t see that we AREN’T alone,
millions from pole to pole!
To the sound of a single chorus,
we will march with the tone,
with the conviction that THE THIEVING STOPS!!
Your state of control,
your corrupt throne of gold,
your politics and your wealth,
and your treasure, no.
The hour has struck, the hour has struck.
We will allow NO MORE, no more your doctrine of shock.”
PALESTINE by Shadia Mansour featuring M1 of Dead Prez
Great song, good video. I got the translated lyrics from the Youtube comments.
“That’s how we wear the koufiye, the black and white koufiye
They thought they could play and wear it as a fashion accessory
No matter how creative they become,
No matter how they change its color,
An Arabic koufiye, it will always stay an Arabic koufiye
Our kouifye, they want it. Our heritage, they want it. Our dignity, they want it
Everything ours, they want it.
No we won’t be quiet for them. We won’t permit them.”
Malcom X by Miriam Makeba
I was only introduced to the music of Miriam Makeba in 2011 and haven’t stopped listening since. Seriously, go find other songs (like Pata Pata, Kikirikiki, and the “click song”) because her music is amazing.
“I say a great man because it was a Black man who fought for liberation, for the liberation of Black people. Ladies and Gentlemen, Malcom X.
Everybody seems to be preaching revolution,
though no one ever seems to show appreciation,
to that man over there who brought about a new generation,
yeah to that man who thought about a new Black nation,”
Uncle Sam Goddamn by Brother Ali
“Welcome to the United Snakes
Land of the thief home of the slave
Grand imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and proud
Lets do this shit for real, come on now
Smoke and mirrors, stripes and stars
Stolen for the cross in the name of God
Bloodshed, genocide, rape and fraud
Written to the pages of the law good lord
The Cold Continent latch key child
Ran away one day and started acting foul
King of where the wild things are daddy’s proud
cos the Roman Empire done passed it down
Imported and tortured a work force
and never healed the wounds or shook the curse off
Now the grown up Goliath nation
Holdin open auditions for the part of David, can you feel it?”
Other great political songs (I would have added these but I didn’t want this to be any more obnoxiously long): With God on Our Side by Bob Dylan, With God on Our Side by K’Nann, Revolution by Nina Simone, U Shaka by Miriam Makeba, Vagabonds In Power by Nneka, Long Live Palestine by Lowkey, Obama Nation by Lowkey, Bin Laden by Immortal Technique featuring Mos Def, Bang! Bang! by Le Tigre, Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill, Get Off the Internet by Le Tigre, Mississippi Goddamn by Nina Simone
ALSO, YES: Leave me recommendations/your favorites in comments, please!