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03 Dec, 2013

Can music fight the power? Try our protest song playlist

Posted by: admin In: Tate

Emma Palmer Ruth Ewan's Jukebox in Art Turning Left at Tate Liverpool
Emma Palmer trying out Ruth Ewan’s A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World in Art Turning Left at Tate Liverpool

Do you believe in the persuasive power of music? Marketing Assistant, Emma Palmer, introduces artist Ruth Ewans’s interactive jukebox on display in Art Turning Left at Tate Liverpool, and invites you to add to her playlist of protest songs 

Across the centuries people have recognised the power of music and as a result, it has continually been used as a tool of propaganda. From the incendiary rhetoric of a marching band that urges you to join the forces, to the rallying chorus of a football crowd and the witty chants of a protest rally, songs have always provided a platform for people to share their concerns about pressing economic, social and political issues that are so often swept under the proverbial rug by those in power. Adding a melody, catchy riff and poetic verse to your message seems to give an argument the power to persuade the ears to stop and engage; to listen in, take in and consider.

Artist Ruth Ewan has been researching and archiving protest songs from around the globe since 2003 and uploading them into her artwork A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World. Ewan’s jukebox now finds itself surrounded by a whole host of politically influenced international artwork, and provides visitors to Art Turning Left a soundtrack to their visit.  Where else can you listen to Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath, The Pixies or Woody Guthrie whilst taking in Jeremy Deller, Guerrilla Girls and The Hackney Flashers? Inspired by Ewan’s merging of genres, I have compiled my own protest song playlist.

This is by no means a conclusive list of all protest songs, rather, it’s my selection of suggestions from Tate Liverpool staff and songs I believe have held a powerful resonance. I’ve tried to choose songs that span different decades and genres, exemplifying just how diverse the protest song is. I hope you like it, and please do feel free to contribute to this playlist in Tate’s Spotify or by leaving a comment below.

You can listen to the playlist here with a Spotify account

1. Woody Guthrie — This Land is your land

Guthrie’s critical response to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America, which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent

‘In the squares of the city/In the shadow of the steeple/Near the relief office/I see my people/ And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’/If this land’s still made for you and me.’

2. Public Enemy — Fight the Power

Written for Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing, the 1989 hip-hop song Fight the Power orders the listener to fight authority and carries the message of empowering the black community in America

3. Tom Robinson Band — Glad to be Gay

An attack on British society’s attitude towards gay people, Robinson criticises the police and their attacks and raids on gay pubs once homosexuality had been decriminalized since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. Originally written for a 1976 London gay pride parade, the song was banned by the BBC and drills home the insanity of the violence. 

4. Billy Bragg — Between the Wars

Working-class pacifism as an alternative to gung-ho militarism

5. Billie Holiday — Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit is a poem written by teacher Abel Meeropol, as a protest against the lynchings of African Americans in 1930s America. Originally performed by his wife and the singer Laura Duncan, as a protest song in New York, it is Billie Holiday’s version that brought it to prominence

‘Southern trees bear strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.’

6. Gil Scott Heron — The Revolution Will Not be Televised

The song’s title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the United States

7. Sam Cooke — A Change is Gonna Come

Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind inspired Cooke to take action. A Change is Gonna Come came to exemplify the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement.  It was even paraphrased by Barack Obama in his 2008 victory speech.

‘There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long/but now I think I’m able to carry on/It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.’

Read the original post on The Great Tate Mod Blog

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