Music is an important part of my life. I have strong opinions and views on social justice issues, especially those related to immigration and racism. With a background of learning about social justice in academia and organizing movements, I am growing to understand more about social justice and steps that need to be taken towards creating positive change. This raises a couple questions: how does music play a role in social justice? And are there artists that talk about these issues?
Music is a way to build movements, unify people, and is a channel for speaking about the unspoken.
As far as artists and songs go, I have 3 examples of songs that have a political message and/or discuss problems in our world.
The first one comes from an Atlanta rapper by the name of Killer Mike with the track “Don’t Die”off his 2012 album R.A.P. Music. With the help of production from NYC-based “El-P,” Mike speaks to the problem of police brutality, especially towards the black community. He adds some satire through the lyrics, putting himself in the place of a person being treated poorly by the police, and adds his own twist of how he gets away. Highly influenced by NWA and Public Enemy, this song exemplifies the problems of oppression and suppression of ideas and new views on society. Though not verified by Mike, this track feels in some sense to be a response to the Trayvon Martin shooting that took place in Florida.
This next track is a single from the Conor Oberst-lead band “Desaparecidos”, titled “MariKKKopa”.This song brings up the mistreatment of the Hispanic population of Maricopa County in the state of Arizona, especially from the sheriff’s department, under the leadership of Joe Arpaio. This track is spoken through the eyes of folks who do not respect the Hispanic population and demonstrate a mentality of white power. It shows how this perspective is damaging for a group of people who are already oppressed based on their history within the United States.
Last, but certainly not least, is a song from the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti titled “Zombie.” This song comments specifically on how the Nigerian military created zombies who took orders and asked no questions during a time of constant struggle. The song’s message was spread all throughout Africa and the world. It was so influential and heavy that the military destroyed Kuti’s commune and killed many of its members, including Kuti’s mother. Though targeting the Nigerian military, this record is also relatable to other military regimes and militias throughout the world that are guilty of the same atrocities.
If this post has left you interested in learning more about politically charged music and discovering new genres and styles then Google and YouTube will be your tools. If I haven’t convinced you of the importance of music in discussing these issues, I leave you with this Public Enemy song that was featured in a little film called Do the Right Thing.
This blog post was written by Manuel Siguenza, 2014 Bus Fellow and Campaign Manager for the Washington Environmental Council (WEC), a council dedicated to engaging communities in building movements and educating them regarding environmental issues that directly affect them.