The relationship between music and politics and specifically that between music and protest has been relatively under-researched in the social sciences in a systematic manner, even if actual experiences of music being used to express protest have been innumerable. Further, the conceptual analysis that has been thrown up from the limited work that is available focuses mostly on Euro-American experiences with protest music. However, in societies where most music is not written down or notated formally, the discussions on the distinct role that music can play as an art form, as a vehicle through which questions of artistic representation can be addressed, and the specific questions that are addressed and responded to when music is used for political purposes, have been reflected in the music itself, and not always in formal debates. It is only in using the music itself as text and a whole range of information around its creation—often, largely anecdotal and highly context dependent—that such music can be understood. Doing so across a whole range of non-Western experiences brings out the role of music in societal change quite distinctly from the Euro-American cases. Discussions are presented about the informed perceptions about what protest music is and should be across varied, yet specific experiences. It is based on the literature that has come out of the Euro-American world as well as from parts that experienced European colonialism and made the transition to post-colonial contexts in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
This article offers a sociopolitical framework for appreciating seven masterpieces of American protest music that emerged during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. Attention is paid to the “worked-at-process” that each artist experienced while creating their landmark songs. They include Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” (recorded in 1956 but popularized in the 1960s); Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”; Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”; Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”; James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”; Jimi Hendrix’s “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock; and John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” These songs became masterpieces primarily because they arose hand-in-glove with mass demonstrations for peace and social justice, thereby establishing legacies of protest music for future generations, particularly, the generation now facing uncertainty and fear created by the presidency of Donald Trump.
Timothy Wilson and Mara Favoretto
In the 20th century Argentina experienced a series of dictatorial regimes of varying intensity, but the last dictatorship stands apart. The Process of National Reorganization or Proceso (1976–1983) was not only the most brutally repressive, “disappearing” 30,000 of its own citizens into concentration camps, but also the most ambitious in terms of ideological mission. Its campaign, officially called “the war against subversion,” was committed to the total eradication of leftist ideas from the political landscape of the country by any means necessary. This radical transformation was to be brought about not only in the torture chamber, but in the media as well. The regime planned an Orwellian redefinition of words: the systematic creation of a national vocabulary that would exclude certain ideas and parties. In order to achieve its overt project of the appropriation of language, the junta maintained obsessive control over the media, instituted strict censorship reinforced by terror, and bombarded the airwaves and newspapers with official communiqués. In the face of this repression, most journalists and writers and many artists could not express dissent of any kind. Yet singers of a new Argentine music genre that came to be known as rock nacional developed codified and oblique metaphorical expression in their lyrics that allowed them to evade censorship and to continue to criticize the military regime with relative impunity. Moreover, many Argentine youths found solace in the music and used it to create communities in which they could meet and express themselves. The regime had sought to deny young Argentines a forum for public speech; however, together artists and listeners created a rock nacional culture that provided community for the isolated and lent a voice to the silenced.