Music to Save the World

If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution, feminist anarchist Emma Goldman famously said. Fortunately, this year, world revolution had a great soundtrack. It was a breakthrough year for musicians fighting the good fight. Check out the following 10 albums, which Foreign Policy In Focus recommends for your end-of-the-year celebrations.

10) Bloc Party – A Weekend In The City

This alternative British band shocked both sides of the Atlantic with their explosion of political directness in A Weekend In The City, a sophomore effort that topped their debut album.

Their song “Hunting for Witches,” is a hard-hitting (both musically with a great guitar riff, but also lyrically) critique of the Global War on Terror, regressive immigration policies, and generally how our governments have manipulated fear for their own purposes. Putting themselves in the shoes of Bush and Blair (the witch hunters), they exclaim,

The newscaster says the enemy is among us,
As bombs explode on the 30 bus,
Kill your middle class indecision,
Now is not the time for a liberal thought.

At the end, the song directly issues a wake-up call to the teenager most likely listening:

I watched TV, it informed me,
I was an ordinary man with ordinary desire,
There must be accountability,
Desperate and misinformed,
Fear will keep us all in place.

Bloc Party sets the table nicely with songs such as “Hunting for Witches,” but the real call to action is in their piece “Uniform.” This critique is aimed directly at young people today,

There was a sense of disappointment as we left the mall,
All the young people looked the same,
Wearing their masks of cool and indifference,
Commerce dressed up as rebellion.

The message doesn’t stay there though. There’s a beautiful transition both musically, from soft and subtle to hard-hitting rock, and lyrically, from condemnation to hope:

I am a martyr,
I just need a motive,
I am a martyr,
I just need a cause,
I’m a believer,
I just need a moment,
I’m a believer,
I just need a cause.

If you want to send a message to your apathetic teenaged son or daughter, this is the album to get him or her.

9) Anti-flag – A Benefit For Victims Of Violent Crime

The consistent and dependable radical punk band is back, this time with an album dedicated to victims of violent crimes. Just the titles of some of their songs tell us what to expect right off the bat: “Anthem for a Millennium Generation”, “Corporate Rock Still Sucks”, “John Ashcroft was a Nazi”, “No Borders, No Nation”, “1 Trillion Dollar$”, “Project for a New American Century,” and “911 for Peace”.

This is one of their most outspoken albums (which is saying a lot). Anti-flag wears its anti-war, anti-imperialistic, and anti-Bush sentiments on its (record) sleeve.

There’s something for everyone here, songs about the war:
One trillion dollars buying bullets, buying guns,
One trillion dollars in the hands of killers, thugs…

To the more hopeful:

This is a plea for peace,
To the oppressors of the world and to the leaders of nations, corporate profit takers…
When you see someone down, now’s the time to pick them up…

To the absolutely hysterical:

I always thought if you want to change the world,
Then you have to start with yourself,
So if George Bush wants to end terrorism,
He should go ahead and kill himself!

Anti-Flag is carrying on the historic radical punk tradition and successfully filling the shoes of the legendary anti-establishment punkers before them. Dare I say, they are this generation’s Clash and Sex Pistols.

8) Lupe Fiasco – Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool

Another sophomore release on this list, Lupe Fiasco had high expectations after his breakout first album Food and Liquor in which he took on corporate rap, the degradation of women in hip-hop, AIDS, Israel and Palestine, immigration, and the war in Iraq (check out the songs “Hurt Me Soul” and “American Terrorist”). In his second album, The Cool, he attempts to redefine “cool” – which he does remarkably convincingly.

The most explosive track on the album is the brilliant, “Little Weapon,” which shows how the U.S. government recruits people from communities under attack at home to go fight in wars that the United States has started abroad. Every counter-recruitment activist in this country should use this song:

I killed another man today,
Shot him in his back as he ran away,
Then I blew up his hut with a hang grenade
Cut his wife’s throat as she put her hands to pray…

Then there is the soft, subtle ballad, “Intruder Alert” that articulately conveys what is at the heart of the immigration issue and places the immigrant as the victim and not the United States,

Famine stricken his home, land and no social standing,
In the economic pecking order, emergency relief,
Distribution systems is in disorder, he’s checking water, making sure,
It’s safe enough for his daughter to float across in,
The boat he built, hopefully strong enough to support,
Praying border patrols don’t catch her,
And process and deport her, before she reach the shore,
Of the land of the free, where they feed you,
Treat you like equals, deceive you, stamp you,
And call you illegal.

7) Linkin Park – Minutes To Midnight

The billboard-topping, multi-platinum group Linkin Park is one of the most successful groups on this list. Their new Album, Minutes to Midnight, goes far out on a political limb, which has had fans either loving or hating it.

Their track “No More Sorrow” is an undeviating assault on the Bush administration:

Are you lost, In your lies? Do you tell yourself, I don’t realize?
Your crusade’s a disguise, replace freedom with fear,
You trade money for lives.

In “Hand Held High”, they connect the global to the local,

Like this war’s really just a different brand of war.
Like it doesn’t cater to rich and abandon poor.

And like many on this list, there is the attempt to light a fire under those listening,

Sick of the dark ways we march to the drum and
Jump when they tell us that they want to see jumping.
Fuck that, I wanna see some fist pumping!

Linkin Park’s political message is not just confined to their music, check out their music video to their song “What I’ve Done.”

6) Norah Jones – Not Too Late

Don’t be fooled by this soft-spoken, Grammy award-winning, daughter of sitar icon Ravi Shankar. Norah Jones’ third album adds another dimension to her unique musical complexity – politics.

Her most overtly political and song is, “My Dearest Country,” which takes some jabs at the U.S. electoral process,

But fear’s the only thing I saw,
And three days later ’twas clear to all,
That nothing is as scary as election day.

And then more pointedly, Jones turns to Bush himself,

But the day after is darker, and darker and darker it goes,
Who knows, maybe the plans will change,
Who knows, maybe he’s not deranged.

5) Radiohead – In Rainbows

Though it’s never exactly clear what Radiohead is talking about in their music, you can almost be sure that they are anti-consumerism, which they displayed by releasing their newest album, In Rainbow, online for whatever price the purchaser could afford to pay.

By far the least direct in their message as compared to others on this list, this album does reveal some gems of political brilliance if you look deep enough. The album is more- than-usually ominous and dark, which Thom Yorke, the lead singer of the group, stated, “It’s about that anonymous fear…” and posted information on the use of nuclear power and global warming on the band’s blog.

If you are looking for an album that you can listen to over and over, and still not get the full message, check out In Rainbow.

4) Talib Kweli – Eardrum

One of the most consistently thought-provoking hip-hop artists, Talib Kweli keeps up his lyrical genius with his most recent effort, Eardrum.

In one the most important songs on the album, “Give em’ Hell,” he exposes his personal thoughts on questioning religion,

Naturally that’s confusion to a young’n trying to follow Christ,
Taught that if you don’t know Jesus then you lead a hollow life,
Never question the fact that Jesus was Jewish not a Christian,
Or that Christianity was law according to politicians.

From the personal to the political, he seamlessly makes the transition to rapping about religious intolerance and fundamentalism,

…living in mass confusion, looking for absolution…

Based on his interpretation of what the words were saying,
Trying to get to God but ended up doing the work of Satan,
Religion create the vision,
Make the Muslim hate the Christian,
Make the Christian hate the Jew.

And ending on,

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want,
Just because the lord is my shepherd don’t mean I gotta be no sheep…
More blood is spilled over religion than anything in world history,
We say the same thing.

One of the only artists on the list to take on global warming directly, Kweli masterfully raps in “Hostile Gospel, Pt 1”,

Synonymous with the apocalypse,
Look up the clouds is ominous,
We got maybe ten years left say meteorologists, shit,
We still waiting for the Congress to acknowledge this.

In another trenchant song, “More or Less,” Kweli directs his anger toward everything,

More uprising, less downsizing…
More buildings, less destroying….
More community activism, less pigs…
More schools, less prisons…
More history, less mystery…
More workers, we all bosses.

3) M.I.A. – Kala

This British-born, but Sri Lankan-raised, daughter of a Tamil militant/activist, who had to flee Sri Lanka when she was young, still carries her family’s revolutionary spirit through her music. Interweaving simple yet provocative lyrics, on everything from anti-colonial struggles in Africa to modern-day capitalistic imperialism, with an infectious unique sound (a blend of hip-hop, reggae, dance, among others), M.I.A. has reached international stardom with both young activists and the mainstream.

In her newest album, Kala (only her second studio album), her fire is aimed at the United States, colonial forces, and most of all – men (both politically and personally). In her song aptly titled, “Boyz”, she repeats to a catchy dance beat,

How many no money boys are crazy,
How many boys are raw,
How many no money boys are rowdy,
How many start a war?

In “Hussell” (with rapper Afrikan Boy), which is all about our society’s infatuation with acquiring obscene amounts of money, she starts off by talking about something that many immigrants can relate to – sending money back home.

We do it cheap, hide our money in a heap,
Send it home and make ‘em study, fixing teeth,
I got family, a friend in need…
But I hate money coz it makes me numb

and then Afrikan Boy jumps in,

You think its tough now, come to Africa,
Out there we are grinding like pepper,
You can catch me on the motorway,
Selling sugar water and pepper.

Revolutionary is the only way to describe M.I.A.’s work. She is one of those unique artists that has combined radical politics with masterful artistry, and has managed to be one of the hottest and most popular artists today. Listen carefully while you dance to it and expect even bigger things in the future.

2) Manu Chao- La Radiolina

The number two spot on this list goes to the multi-lingual, international musical phenomenon Manu Chao. Very popular in Europe and having increased fame in the United States, Manu Chao has always mixed ferocious political messages into his mostly fun and spirited sound. Most of the album is in languages other than English (mostly Spanish, but some in French, Italian, and Portuguese) and those are in English are mainly directed at the U.S. public (not to mention our government).

In the contagious “Politiks Kills”, he puts it out clear and concise,
Politik kills, politik need votes,
Politik needs your mind, politik needs human beings,
Politik need lies…politik is violence.

In another song in English, “Raining in Paradize” offers his perspective on what is happening around the world.

In Zaire, was no good place to be, free world go crazy, it’s an atrocity…
In Monrovia, this no good place to be, weapon go crazy, it’s an atrocity…
In Palestina, too much hypocrisy, this world go crazy, it’s no fatality

and then specifically onto Iraq,

In Baghdad, it’s no democracy,
That’s just because, it’s a U.S. Country…
In Fallujah, too much calamity,
This world go crazy, it’s no fatality.

If you want an album completely different than 99% of what we get in the United States, Manu Chao is your man.

1) Bruce Springsteen – Magic

Yes, the best album that advocates for a change in U.S. foreign policy is by the man who was “Born in the U.S.A.” The political evolution of the Boss has been clear to fans over his career, ultimately leading up to this point with “Magic.” Though I have not been the biggest fan of the Boss, I do have to appreciate the genius of his music. Over the past few years, he has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq and of the president.

Much of “Magic” seems to be about the state of the United States and the role it is playing in the world today. Though it reached #1 on the charts, much radio, specifically Clear Channel, refused to play any songs from the album.

It is hard to narrow down the list of the best songs on the album, because the entire album is a mix of beauty and anger.

The most overtly political song is “Last to Die”, which is an obvious reference to John Kerry’s words in front of Congress during the Vietnam War,

Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break,
Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake.

Then there is “Your Own Worst Enemy”, which seems to refer to United States’ involvement aboard, and how it is coming back to haunt us,

You can’t sleep at night,
You can’t dream your dream,
Your fingerprints on file, Left clumsily at the scene…
Once the family felt secure,
Now no one’s very sure…
Your own worst enemy has come to town…
Everything is falling down.

“Magic” is full of “magic” – many songs are full of despair, but there are beautiful lines that fill the listener with hope – such as in the song “Magic” –

I got shackles on my wrists, soon I’ll slip and I’ll be gone,
Chain me in a box in the river, and rising in the Sun.

Most of the albums on this list are stocking stuffers for the young and the hip. Springsteen is the album to get our parents