The State of Protest and Political Music in the Year 2023
Protest songs are everywhere—except on TV, radio, and the leading playlists
Don’t underestimate the power of songs. They are change agents in human life, with more transformative impact on society than any weapon system or policy initiative.
Many forget that fact—even (or especially) among the powerful people who control the music business. They treat our songs like commodities, not even worth a penny a play. But political leaders know better. They fear this music—always have and always will.
And for a good reason. Songs are much harder to censor than a news story or movie or other digital media. They are memorable. They are emotionally stirring. They bond us into groups.
Songs are the ultimate viral transmitters in human culture.
That’s why in an age when music is treated as commercial entertainment—or even worse, as just auditory cheesecake, as one prominent thinker asserts—we do well to investigate actual situations where songs are a matter of life or death.
That’s why I’m sharing this survey of protest and political music in the world.
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I’ve written about his subject before, but it’s so important that I plan to provide regular updates here in The Honest Broker.
We celebrate bold performers who take chances. At least we keep hearing that from Rolling Stone or Pitchfork or wherever. If that’s actually true, and not just lip service to our tarnished ideals, we do well to pay attention to the developments outlined below.
The Honest Broker is a reader-supported guide to music, books, media, & culture. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.
Russian soldiers kill a conductor in his home after he refuses to take part in a concert.
Conductor Yuriy Kerpatenko declined to take part in a concert “intended by the occupiers to demonstrate the so-called ‘improvement of peaceful life’ in Kherson,” the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Google faces pushback in Hong Kong over a protest song in its search results.
Google is under fire from officials and legislators in Hong Kong over a pro-democracy song that is showing up in search results for the national anthem, raising tensions between American tech giants and authorities as Beijing tries to spread patriotism in the city.
A woman in Crimea had her citizenship application cancelled because she accidentally sang a prohibited folk song.
With a growing social media following, she had decided to entertain her fans by singing the Ukrainian song “Chervona Kalina”—unaware that it was linked by Russia with “Ukrainian fascism” and was a banned song.
After Iranian officials try to censor social media, a musician turns tweets into a protest song.
Singer Shervin Hajipour shared the clip which went on to notch up millions of views before he was summoned for an interview by Iranian police.
At the World Cup, members of Iran’s team refused to sing the country national anthem, in an apparent protest of human rights abuses.
But rather than sing along, their mouths stayed shut—an apparent show of solidarity on the world's biggest stage with the human rights protest movement that has swept their home country.
In India, Christians battle with Hindus by singing and praying loudly.
“Christians, especially Pentecostals, create noise pollution in the name of worship,” according to the Hindu Post. “They use the trick of playing Christian songs and praying loudly to not only get the attention of non-Christians but mentally harass them as well.”
The Ukraine cultural minister wants people to boycott Tchaikovsky.
“We’re not talking about cancelling Tchaikovsky, but rather about pausing performances of his works until Russia ceases its bloody invasion. Ukrainian cultural venues have already done this with him and other Russian composers. We’re calling on our allies to do the same.”
Jamaica bans music that glorifies crime.
The government has said the ban is meant to cut back on material that “could give the wrong impression that criminality is an accepted feature of Jamaican culture and society”.
Taiwan officials say that TikTok is a threat to national security.
An unnamed official from the Taiwanese Ministry of Digital Affairs (MODA) was quoted as saying that the government deems the apps "harmful against national information security.” It is unclear whether the restriction will also be applied to personal devices such as mobile phones.
Police investigate song performance by Ireland’s women soccer team.
In a statement, his party colleague Mr Hilditch said he has written to Police Scotland, UEFA and the FAI regarding the players’ actions which he described as “repulsive scenes.”
Poltical resistance in Syria and Lebanon energizes a progressive rap scene.
Amir Almurrai is one of the youngest and most eloquent rappers in the Syrian rap scene. In 2019, when he was only 20 years old, he released his debut song, ‘On all fronts’, for which he received international recognition and huge local exposure for criticizing the Syrian regime….But the song exposed him to death threats, pushing him to flee to Turkey.
Seattle considers ordinance after business blasts classical music at a homeless encampment.
“You know we’re human too," said Andie, who lives in a tent under the area where the music had been blaring. "We’re not monsters we have family, children.”
Austin owner of 7-Eleven plays opera music round the clock to deter people soliciting and leaving needles on his property.
Patel said he has noticed a change since he started playing the music. “Customers tell us ‘Hey there is nobody in the parking lot, nobody came to my window to ask for a dollar.’ The customers are saying it’s working,” said Patel.
Music journalist recruited as expert witness in UK criminal trial, where the “evidence being used was mostly music content pulled from the internet.”
In many courtrooms, the prosecution is now treating song lyrics as equivalent to confessions. The journalist in this instance concluded that the police chief’s statement “presented the act of making music as a criminal endeavor in itself.”
Afrobeat song written by Fela Kuti in 1986 still inspires Nigerian protesters today.
For this election, Nigerian youths have come forward to register to vote en masse, making up nearly 40% of the total. It's a collective defiance that finds its voice in one of the most charged songs by Nigeria's legendary activist and musician, Fela Kuti, the father of Afrobeat.
The state of Indiana sues TikTok over dangerous content.
The State of Indiana is officially suing controversial short-form video-sharing app TikTok, claiming, among other things, that the ByteDance-owned service has deceived consumers with “false representations” and “poses known risks to young teens.”
Canadian government wants fewer foreign songs on the radio.
Changes announced earlier today include an expectation that commercial stations play at least 5% of songs from emerging Canadian artists, and upholding current requirements for Canadian content and French-language vocal music, where such requirements can no longer be circumvented through montages of popular non-Canadian songs.
Punjab announces a ban on songs glorifying weapons.
Days after AAP government in Punjab announced a ban on songs glorifying weapons, the Ludhiana rural police booked a singer, a producer and owners of a music company for releasing the song titled ’32 bore’ on the internet.
African music stars say they are routinely denied visas to perform in Europe.
All they want to do is get to the next stop on the concert tour, but sometimes their passports are seized. Or they are interrogated for hours. Or they have to prove they have a return air ticket. Sometimes their requests for a visa aren’t even rejected—they are just ignored and get no response.
I've been very curious why music hasn't been getting so intensely banned over the last year like books have (mine among them). I think that book banning is a testament to the power of books—the still-mystical power that a tangible book still retains. But what about music? Has the ubiquity of streaming lessened music's political power in the USA?
Classical music at a homeless encampment? Dude, why are people complaining? Turn that shit up! 🎹