There have been several protest songs over the ages that have gathered support and awareness of certain causes and activist principles. Almost every humanitarian struggle sees depictions of art, including music, around the problem, and many environmental causes do so as well. When a song sets in to have a firm effect on the listener, and in context to the particular injustice, it just sticks. We have compiled a list of five activist songs that have all had an impact on the world.
Ma Rewa: Indian Ocean
Focuses on the Narmada Struggle. As Rahul Ram, the bassist had been closely associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan for a long time, his experiences there shaped the direction of his activist material. Ma Rewa, the traditional folk song, re-arranged by Indian Ocean, became a tune deeply connected to the Narmada Movement. Not directly connoting any activism, its implied meaning made it the standard song for the movement.
No More Bhopals: The Banned
In commemoration of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, there was even a tour by Funky Bodhi organised around the song. Arranged by John Antony of Karnatriix, there have been several protest gigs where The Banned have performed the song, including a few with international activist organisation GreenPeace. With an impactful music video, the songs moral and ethical implications on human life are deep and powerful.
Joni Mitchell: Sex Kills
The Three Great Stimulants and Slouching Towards Bethlehem are other great songs, along with the famous Big Yellow Taxi and Woodstock. Her constant social activism towards the LGBT community saw her perform countless shows. Having worked with the likes of Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny, her songs send vibes of intricacy, yet rustic honesty.
Bob Dylan: Chimes of freedom
Dylan has done it all, even protesting against the folk movement. Advocating Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s cause with songs on racial profiling, Chimes of Freedom is a much more visceral song, with imagery of natural disasters, like wind, lightning and hurricanes as metaphors for injustice and those who are downtrodden.
Rage Against the Machine: Voice of the Voiceless
As both de La Rocha and Morello were born into activist families, the band has always had a strong political and environmental viewpoint. A sort of Left-Libertarianism ensured that they didn’t even sign their record deal until assured full creative control. They support the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and also former Black Panther and Death Row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, for whom they wrote and recorded the track “Voice of the Voiceless”.