The Timely Rediscovery of the Revolution Song

Questlove, the famous personality and Drummer for The Roots, posted on Instagram recently a call for “musicians and artists to be a voice of the times that we live in.” While there is no doubt we are in turbulent times are the artists and musicians really the people to make the stand?

When we think of songs that mean something, songs that question what we do and how we live in society we have to think back to great revolution and protest songs. Songs that may come to mind are Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind,” ”Times They are a Changing” or “Only a Pawn in the Game” or maybe some of Woodie Guthrie’s famous tunes from “This Land is Your Land” to “The Biggest Thing a Man has Ever Done.” The list goes on.  We are drawn back to these titles as we seem to be lacking in current social activist songs.

It’s great that we have so many musicians willing to give their sound bite and quote, but publications and paper aren’t played over the airwaves or on your iPod in your relaxation time. Music invades the soul. Give the masses a cause to sing about and the cause will be remembered. Give us revolutionary songs that we can sing in the pub, at the beach, in the car and at the airport.

If we were to have a group of people step up and write about the rawness of the world that we live in what would that look like? What would it sound like? Pop music in its current state couldn’t do it as it’s too ‘fun’ and couldn’t be taken seriously. It would be about celebrity. It would be about what they are wearing and it would be about the glamour. However while the discussion will be in the charts for a while and grace the pages of the magazines the cause would soon be forgotten.

How about rock? Could this be the voice of the generation who are beginning to mutter and yearning to shout? After all punk music was about going against the status quo. It made the people in their glass palaces feel uneasy. We now have a chorus of established rockers who have become comfortable in making a declaration of intent. Bono is frequently rubbing shoulders with the powerful, Chris Martin from Coldplay seems to be a likeable guy who I’m sure would love to make a point and we know that The Foo Fighters Dave Grohl doesn’t mind giving his two cents worth. Rock could be the great voice of the masses, but rock just isn’t clever enough. Rock is like a brick trying to play tag with a glass window – fun for a while but it just leaves a great mess. They’re a great bunch of guys but why do they have to yell at me?

So we’re not left with much are we? Pop-opera is too posh, and it’s hard to look serious while rattling your pearls. Folk music is too cliché and now becoming just a fad. It’s like a seasonal delicacy that is on the menu at your favourite downtown restaurant. It’s great when it’s there but you know you can’t have it all year round.

So that leaves hip-hop. Has hip-hop become the new folk music of our generation? Hip-hop is able to do things that other genres of music can’t. Hip-hop can be full of angst like rock and still be so lyrically clever that it leaves your head in a spin. Hip-hop can be playful like pop music but in a way that leaves you with an amazing catch or hook in your head.

Hip-hop and country have a lot in common; they are both about a working class, they are both proud about where they came from and they’re both unafraid to add a little (or big) dig at someone or something.  While the echoes of NWA’s famous “F*** the Police” are starting to fade a new voice is starting to sprout above the surface. Macklemore, when he brought out the song “Same Love,” started to make people feel uncomfortable about the subject of same sex marriage and wherever you sit on the argument you have to admit it did help focus a discussion. Hip-hop is able to be crafted like the old beat poets and work in with the other genres like rock and pop and add accents where needed.

The people want a revolution they can sing to! They want not to just march in the streets but dance and jump in the streets as well!  Music is about community and it’s about creating a space for a discussion. Let’s all band together and join the discussion.