Need some new music to blast while fighting fascism? You’re welcome.
An informal poll of *everyone on the Internet* has concluded that 2016 was basically the worst year in recent memory. And with an administration full of openly racist, violently misogynist, disturbingly homophobic dickmonkeys about to run the White House, we can only assume that things are going to get worse before they get better.
Fortunately, the gathering storm clouds of fascism are also inspiring lots of people to join the resistance, and get organized. Politicians come and go, but the real change has always come from the bottom up, through people coming together to fight for what they believe in. Of course, every good social movement needs a soundtrack. If you’re not getting enough revolutionary inspiration from your Spotify playlist or Top 40 radio, here’s a dozen bad-ass, freedom fighting musical acts to keep your head nodding to the beat of rebellion as we ready ourselves for the battles to come in the next four years.
While many will remember 2016 as the year Trump won and all your favorite celebrities died, there were some brilliant rays of hope this year as well. Perhaps the brightest was the incredible power of indigenous resistance in the form of the Native American water protectors at Standing Rock who faced off with the fossil fuels industry -- backed by the U.S. government -- and won. For some, this was their first introduction to Native people’s movements on this continent, but these struggles have deep roots.
Sihasin, which is the Diné (or Navajo) word for “hope” is a punk rock band that embodies that powerful history of indigenous organizing and action. By blending traditional Navajo music with catchy, melodic punk anthems, this brother-sister duo has the drumbeat of resistance flowing through their veins. This summer, they joined the Rock Against the TPP tour that I helped organize, and every second they were on stage, the stage was on fire. Check out this video of part of their performance and an interview, and find more here.
2. Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde
If you were into feminist punk rock in the 90s, you may already be a Taina Asili fangirl. I certainly am. My first introduction to Taina was as the lead singer of the seminal punk outfit Anti-Product. Since then we’ve become close friends and musical co-conspirators. We once even toured Europe with our combined three kids along with us. These days she’s leading a totally unique and groundbreaking 7-piece afro-latin revolutionary rock band that goes by La Banda Rebelde. This music is impossible to listen to without dancing, and you can tell from Taina’s voice that she lives the struggles that she sings about. She’s a longtime activist for prison justice, having worked for years in the movement to free political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal. Her latest music video, “Freedom,” received widespread critical acclaim and has been called a “Black Lives Matter anthem.” Check out more of her music here.
3. Downtown Boys
If there is a higher power, it’s likely that ze saw that 2016 was going to be a total dumpster fire, and deployed Downtown Boys to the earth like a Saxophone-toting special forces team to save us all. This band has been an unstoppable juggernaut this year, making noisy dancy raucous music by and for queers, people of color, and other outcasts. Rolling Stone called them “America’s most exciting punk band,” they’ve been featured in Pitchfork, CNN, Vice, and beyond, and they’ve been touring relentlessly, smashing oppression with each performance. Check them out here, and peep their full performance on Democracy Now! below.
4. Bonfire Madigan
Madigan Shive is first and foremost a visionary. Her unparalleled cello shredding, artful lyricism, and chamber-punk creativity are just tools that she uses to execute her musical visions, which shatter the borders of sound and exist more as experiences than a compositions. Born out of the Northwest Riot-grrrrl scene of the 90s, Madigan has never stopped evolving. From her early days releasing albums on Kill Rock Stars and K Records, to helping provide the soundtrack for the iconic queer love scenes in “But I’m a Cheerleader,” to composing symphonic accompaniments for live theater productions, Madigan has never let trivial barriers like genre or nation states encumber her heart-driven artwork. She also helped found the Icarus Project, the world’s largest peer led alternative mental health collective. She’s got new music and a full length film out. Take a deep breath and dive into her world here.
5. bell’s roar
bell’s roar is the musical epiphany of multi-instrumentalist, producer, and songwriter Sean Desiree. Their music is a hard to describe -- but easy to listen to -- blend of electro, soul, indie rock, and R&B. The songs push the limits of the personal as political, passionately and artfully celebrating blackness, queerness, feminism, community, love, and autonomy. Their latest release is out on Firebrand Records, the activist record label founded by Ryan Harvey (riot-folk!) and Tom Morello (Prophets of Rage / Rage Against the Machine.) Check bells roar out here, but be prepared to fall in love with them and their music. In 2017 bell's roar will be releasing their first full length album and embarking on a tour called Art Funds Art Tour. On each stop they will be giving away a grant to a QTPOC artist of color. More info at www.artfundsarttour.com.
One of my formative experiences as a young activist was at an Anti-Flag show the night of major protests at the inauguration of George W. Bush. A bunch of people in the crowd had been pepper sprayed by the cops earlier in the day, and as they danced and sweated in the moshpit, the pepper spray residue started to spread, until basically everyone in the venue’s eyes and skin were burning. I was helping run a small medic station and we did what we could. The band rocked on, and everyone sang a even louder than usual when they played “Fuck Police Brutality.” After the show, the audience poured out into the street for a spirited and militant night time march. Since then, Anti-Flag have been one of the most consistently effective bands to ever use their music as a tool to support activist movements. They’re a gateway drug for radical politics, and some of the best performers I’ve ever seen. They’re willing to put in the work, and it shows. More than a decade after that pepper spray filled night, they’re latest album “American Spring” is some of my favorite stuff they’ve ever released. If you don’t know, now you know. Check em out here.
7. Climbing Poetree
The Brooklyn-based duo Alixa and Naima create art that goes far beyond what most of us think of as poetry. They make beats out of words and drift from hip hop verses to melodious choruses with ease. Their live performances are highly visual, intimate even in a packed concert hall, and feel interactive even when all you do is watch and listen. Their new album is produced by acclaimed singer Toshi Reagon. Check them out here, and watch their soul-healing new music video below.
8. Anne Feeney
About 12 years ago, I met Anne Feeney at a People’s Music Network gathering in New York City. I was 18. A year later, she convinced me to drop out of my esteemed liberal arts college to become an itinerant political folksinger. It wasn’t the best financial advice I ever got, but it was certainly one of the best life decisions I ever made. At the time, I had no idea how much of a legend Anne is. She’s been a tireless folk warrior, traveling from picket lines to dive bars, folk clubs to riots. Her anthem “Have You Been to Jail for Justice” was recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary, she was the first and only woman to serve as president of the Pittsburgh local of the American Federation of Musicians union, and she’s toured and shared stages with all the greats from Pete Seeger to Billy Bragg. Utah Phillips called her the “greatest labor singer in North American,” and I’d dare anyone to challenge that. Anne has been battling cancer, and a great group of musicians -- including folks like Dan Bern and Holly Near -- put out a benefit CD for her, available here. Check her website out here.
9. La Santa Cecilia
Donald Trump has mounted unprecedented attacks on all kinds of people, from Muslims to women, to journalists, to people with disabilities. But perhaps one of his most vile positions is his supposed plan to “Build the Wall” on the U.S. border with Mexico, to keep out Mexican immigrants, who he infamously labeled as “criminals” and “rapists.”
What better way to tell off this pendejo Trump than by listening to some bad-ass Chicanx music, and turning it up loud? La Santa Cecilia are here to help. They’re an instant dance party -- fusing traditional latin music styles like cumbia, Afro-cuban, bossa nova, and mariachi with modern pop and rock energy. I can’t get enough of it. Check them out here, and watch their music video for “El Hielo” (Spanish for “ice”, a reference to the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement border patrol) below.
10. The Shondes
The Shondes are the band that all 30-something queers needed in high school but couldn’t find. Fortunately, now they’re here, and their infectious violin-augmented rock and roll anthems are just as worthy of playing way too loud and singing along to at the top of your lungs as they would have been if you’d heard them as a teenager. They’re poppy without being cheesy, political without being trite, and just all around super nice people. Their lead singer just had a baby, but that’s not slowing them down. They’ve got a new album out, have been touring with the likes of Against Me! and getting ink in Rolling Stone. Check them out here, and watch their tour video below.
11. Hari Kondabolu
Okay, so Hari Kondabolu isn’t technically a musician. But he makes this list because if there’s one thing we need more than anything right now it’s people who can take the most awful terrible horrible things in the world, and give us a moment to laugh about them -- but then when we’re finished laughing we still remember how horrible they are and want to actually do something about it. That’s not an easy task, but Hari is a master of the art. His comedy is unapologetically political, and takes on topics most comics wouldn’t touch. Or rather, topics that most comics would make a bunch of bad, racist, not funny jokes about.
Hari has had a huge year, with a new album out on Kill Rock Stars and a major nationwide tour. Check out his stuff here, and use the video below to alienate your bigoted friends and relations.
12. Shadia Mansour
Few on this planet know more about enduring, resisting, and surviving repression than the people of Palestine, who have literally been fighting for centuries just to live on their own land. Emcee Shadia Mansour brings that history of defiance and militant resistance into every verse of her tight, aggressive, hip hop tracks. She’s been called the “first lady of Arabic hip hop” and you only have to listen to one song to learn why.
The U.S. government has never been a friend to Palestine, or arabs and muslims living here. That situation is only going to get worse in the coming years. That means it’s time to lift up the voices of artists from the communities that the authorities are targeting. If you’re looking for a place to start, you can’t go wrong with Shadia Mansour. Check her out here and then nod your head to his video where she collaborates with revolutionary hip hop royalty Dead Prez.
There are so many other great acts that deserve to be on this list. Got a favorite? Post it in the comments with a link!