8 songs, 9 min reading time.
This Human Rights Series will promote work by musicians that is highlighting Human Rights injustices and important issues to be aware of. Music is often not just for listening, something most take for granted, but often has a much deeper meaning behind it. This specific post focuses on contemporary issues and is not extensive.
Image: Miko Guziuk
1) “Birthright” – Sarathy Korwar
Sarathy Korwar is a US-born, Indian-raised, London-based drummer, percussionist, composer and bandleader. He works predominantly in a jazz and Indo jazz field but also incorporates elements of hip-hop, and other fusions. Speaking to his label The Leaf Label he said: “‘Birthright’ talks of the absurdity of lines drawn in the ground that define us. Do we belong in our homeland? Where will we be seen as ourselves? It also draws attention to the climate crisis and how race, class, faith and caste play into the equation of who will drown first.” I think as the world and politics becomes more polarised this quote is very important to bear in mind. The lyrics of this song are pretty heavy hitting and deserve more than one listen.
Single: “Birthright” (2020)
Label: The Leaf Label
Kovan is a folk singer from the activist cultural and arts group Makkal Kalai Ilakkiya Kazhagam (People’s Art and Literary Association). He is known for composing songs and music about concerns and issues of marginalised people. He has been arrested multiple times, most recently for criticising Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Living in the west, I think it is very easy to belong in our bubble and not realise that people in some nations can get arrested for things such as freedom of expression.
3) “Iran” – Mehdi Rajabian
This was a delight to find but then it was heart wrenching to learn of Mehdi Rajabian’s situation. Mehdi Rajabian is an Iranian musician who has been jailed twice for producing albums and supporting prohibited artists and female vocalists, who are forbidden to sing in Iran. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, music on TV and the radio has been banned in the Islamic republic. Mehdi Rajabian could be sent back to prison at anytime, but he continues to produce music banned under Iran’s strict censorship laws. His latest album shares a message of peace from artists around the Middle East. Mehdi is currently not allowed to leave Iran.
Album: “Mehdi Rajabian: Middle Eastern” (2019)
Label: Sony Music Entertainment
Since 2012, China has jailed at least eleven Tibetan singers after they wrote and performed songs celebrating Tibet, opposing China’s occupation and calling for freedom. Lolo, who is one of the jailed musicians, song “Raise the Tibetan Flag” can be found below. Singers like Lolo not only keep alive a culture that China is trying to erase, but their songs embody the aspirations, fears and courage of a people who remain proud and defiant after 65 years of occupation. Tibetans should be free to express themselves without fear of punishment.
More on the situation in Tibet and the jailed musician’s can be found here.
Rebel Riot, a punk band from Yangon, is among a growing number of musicians rallying for human rights and democracy in Myanmar. Kyaw Kyaw, the band’s 31-year-old guitarist and lead singer had this to say in an interview in 2019: “It’s been since 2013 that people are hating each other because of religion. Buddhists and Muslims are fighting. So, they fight for religion and that’s why we say ‘f*** religious rules.’ This is stupid. Religion is to be yourself. If you think in groups, it isn’t religion. This is politics, covered by religion.”
6) “Susamam” – Saniser
“Susamam” translates as I Can’t Stay Silent: a 14-verse manifesto and the largest collaboration in the history of Turkish rap. For a quarter of an hour, 19 artists challenge a litany of social issues, ranging from domestic violence to animal rights and police brutality. Turkey’s record on freedom of expression is poor. Turkey is now the top jailer of journalists worldwide, and tens of thousands have been imprisoned in political witch-hunts that followed a failed military coup in 2016. With the nation now in active conflict in neighbouring Syria, it is common to see daily news reports of people jailed for something as simple as social media posts. This makes the song and the accompanying music video below even more powerful.
Single: “Susamam” (2019)
7) “Death No More” – IC3PEAK
Russian authorities have been interfering with performances of rappers and other musicians popular with younger audiences, forcing them to cancel concerts in acts of censorship that violate freedom of expression. One of the bands to experience this is IC3PEAK, a duet of Anastasia Kreslina and Nikolay Kostylyov who describe their style as “Russian horror hip hop.” Their songs deal with topics deemed controversial, including politics, LGBT issues, and drugs.
In the video for “Death No More,” Kreslina drenches herself in kerosene on the steps of the Russian government headquarters and Kostylyov lights a match; then they are shown pretending to eat raw liver in front of Lenin’s mausoleum and playing patty-cake while sitting on the shoulders of two men in riot police uniform outside FSB headquarters in Moscow. The lyrics include references to police round-ups, suicide, destruction, and drugs.
Album: “Сказка” (2018)
8) “Cacerolazo” – Ana Tijoux
At the end of last year, amid mounting conflicts between the Chilean people and military police, social justice-minded rapper Ana Tijoux dropped “#CACEROLAZO.” The song’s title name checks the Latin American protest tradition of banging pots and pans in the street. Lyrics inform those who may not be aware that President Sebastián Piñera’s 30 peso metro fare hike was only the tipping point after decades of dismantling the Chileans’ social safety net. The same day “CACEROLAZO” was released, Piñera announced that he was rolling back the fare hike that kicked off what was nearly a week of national protests. But despair over income inequality, the disintegration of Chile’s public health care, the high cost of education and an insufficient pension system echo in Tijoux’s words, and reflect a growing sense of despair among Chileans.
Single: “Cacerolazo” (2019)
Label: Victoria Producciones