Attempting to keep up with new releases is exhausting. And the never-ending quest to discover an act before they hit >1000 plays on Bandcamp is all but rewarding. Having given up full time music writing a little while ago, more often than not I find myself feeling a mix of FOMO and IDGAF about new, local music while compiling my Spotify playlists. With this feature, we (that is I) aim to put together a weekly mixtape—without being (a) judgemental asshole(s).
For this week’s edition, in vein with our No Country for Free Press series (cheggitout if you haven’t already), we’re looking at protest music recommended by a bunch of musicians who are linked to movements, causes and even create protest music themselves, ducking censorship and pushing back to fight for their right to freedom. Because what is more effective than music to raise your voice, amirite?
“Soixante Trois” by Tinariwen
“This song talks about how the first Tuareg Rebellion in 1963 against the Malian government left such vivid images in the memories of Ibrahim, the front man of Tinariwen. With Ibrahim’s intense husky voice and his unique guitar playing style, the song can take you to the Sahara Desert to face the windy night right after a bloody war. This is simply poetry with great storytelling. Tinariwen has faced and seen wars of all kind and their music is reflective of it. Some of the band members were even trained as soldiers during the Gaddafi regime and revolted against the Malian government. When the band came to India last year, I couldn’t resist, and flew to Bangalore just to see them live. It was one of my best concerts I’ve ever attended.”
—Akhu Chingangbam, poet and musician at Imphal Talkies
“Back Against The Wall” by Word Sound Power
“For me, the biggest artists protesting through music are Word Sound Power and Delhi Sultanate. The Bant Singh Project (by Word Sound Power) is the pinnacle of how protest music is, and should be in the country. It gives a voice to the unheard Bant Singh, a pure revolutionary at heart, who lost all his limbs and still sings inqilabi songs!
In 21st century India, real problems and real struggles are always ignored by mainstream media. They ignore how badly people are living and how fucked up their situation is. Artists like Taru Dalmia (aka Delhi Sultanate) and Chris (of Word Sound Power) are the few who are giving a voice to the voiceless.”
—Shantanu Pujari, manager of Swadesi and pro MMA fighter
“Redemption Song” by Bob Marley
“Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" is my favourite protest song of all time, for two reasons.
First, for the lyrics “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds.” That line carries the truth of every revolution within itself. It holds, in its words, the discovery and realisation of the power of the self, of determination, of courage and truth, all the matches and tinder needed to light the fire of freedom in the human heart.
Secondly, because revolution without the hope of redemption, is just anarchy. The eventual goals must be Peace, Equality, Redemption. That's what makes it all worth the fight.
Also, the tune. I love that tune.”
—Vishal Dadlani, music composer and ¼ of Pentagram
“Zindagi Kya / Inqualab O Inqualab” by Ali Saffudin
“Every time I bump Ali's “Inqalab O Inqalab”, I feel powerful. A perfect medley, one could say. You can picture a common Kashmiri—I mean anybody who has seen, been under oppression, whose life has been a conflict, singing along with Ali. I don't know about others but I imagine it every time I play this. It shakes you up, and your conscience. It goes to show you that your voice and your thoughts can be so impactful. The truth coming out of your vocal chords can be so hard to handle that they might raid your studio and celebrate your identity, your freedom of speech and all the other rights you have by putting you under PSA. It can get so bitter, they'll look for ways to suppress you whenever you speak up, strangle you with legal issues and charge you with a crime, arrest you for being the voice of your people, your land. Ali has done justice to these poems, to these completely different worlds, from a Kashmiri poet of the 1950s Abdul Ahad Azad, to Bob Marley's “Get Up Stand Up”—I don't think it gets better than this.”
—Ahmer Javed, rapper
“Imagine” by John Lennon
“This song by Lennon has the best opening line for a protest song as it questions the source of most of humanity's woes: religion. Lennon dares to imagine a world free from the shackles of organised religion, border wars, materialism, inequality and poverty. But what I like about this song is the fact that it not only addresses the most important issues, but has a quiet and calm assurance in his voice that it's not just a utopian dream for a better world. We all have the power to imagine. And with our imagination, we are constantly changing our world for the better and the tribe is only growing.”
—Daniel Langthasa, Congress Youth Leader and musician
“Boll Weevil” by Indian Ocean
“Boll Weevil is one the earliest Indian Ocean songs that I heard. The title has actually nothing to do with this song about corruption and exploitation that the Adivasis have to deal with. "Nakedaar aave, kukdi maange re (the policeman comes and asks for a chicken). I was really taken by the powerful vocals, a visceral call for change, that says, "We're children of tigers and we shall not give them what they ask anymore." I loved the way this poem in the Adivasi dialect of Bhilali by Shankar Bhai Padavalab became one of the band's best known songs."
—Jishnu Dasgupta, bassist and just about everything-er at Swarathma
PS: We asked Rahul Ram, of Indian Ocean, for a song recco and he sent this over!
“Azadi” by Dub Sharma
“There’s been a fair amount of hype this song has garnered in the last couple of years, based off a chant that has been around for decades. Dub Sharma, prodigal producer who is back in the news again for Gully Boy, puts a classic spin on this JNU anthem from the protests that broke out in 2016. There’s much to be worried about in the India of 2019, and even thought this video is from three years ago, much of it, or perhaps more, stays relevant even today. Be it the jingoistic nature of the state, lynchings every other day, caste, class and religion-based discrimination, unemployment and the one that gets to me the most: the fucking lack of value put to human life against that of a cow. Protest songs are cool, as long as you know what the fuck they’re about; not just another tune to bob your head to. Do it.”
—Naman Saraiya, Producer and back to being a hater this year
Check out our previous editions here.