I have been involved in a few protests the past four or five years, and although there have been many discussions and fights over, say, , there has been, from the perspective of this music geek, a definitive lack of discussion on the music at these events. Unfortunately, aggressively egalitarian anarcho-politics do not lend themselves to a discerning music selection, which has been to our detriment. There is an assumption that because we are all there in a common cause, we are all there in common taste. This has left my capitalist-smashing spirit dampened a few too many times at the sight and sounds of sweaty, rhythmless and tone-deaf protesters unfortunately attempting to get their, and our, groove on.
At the same time, there has been a definite improvement in the sounds of North American lefty protest over the past few generations, from the weak-willed, but earnest, harmony driven folk of the 1960s. As Bob Dylan proved rather early on, . So a reliance on the lungs and ululations of protesters cannot be positive, especially after so many throats were torn on the punk and riot grrrl songs driving the movement in the 1980s and 1990s.
Recently, I’ve noticed a great emphasis on the aforementioned rhythm, which seems to best capture the tense atmosphere at demos these days (at one of the first big protests during the 2010 Olympics, a choir kicked it old school with some folk harmonies, and it was a kind of lovely contrast to the helicopters shooting by overhead and the police puffed up like a hundred Michelin Men. But when it went back to rhythm, it just felt ‘more right’, and more confrontational, and during the protests these days of the something that lights a fire in the belly is only a good thing). So, when everyone’s in sync, it really works.
For instance, one of the best rhythm-heavy pieces I’ve seen recently was at the protest on Feb. 12. At some point after the activists had settled in front of GM Place, a small group of Aboriginal Canadians got together and pounded and sang a looping, slow melody. The non-Aboriginal in the crowd quieted down and we pushed ourselves back to allow the singers room to bang their drums. It brought in sharp focus the relatively recent effort to place anti-colonial struggle at the centre of the whole movement in this country. .
(I used to have a video of it too, which was accidentally damaged in, let’s say, a fire, rather than me accidentally formatting my SD card).