Friday, 18 September 2015

A History of Protest Songs

Say it loud: music with a message

It should be stressed from the beginning that this book, written by music journalist Dorian Lynskey, is a brilliant history of protest songs....mostly written and performed by US and European (ie British) artists. 
Apart form Part Three, which covers songs from Chile (Victor Jara), Nigeria ( Fela Kuti) and Jamaica (Max Romeo and The Upsetters), the rest of the book is a fascinating trip through those songs of mostly North-American and British artists, which with their powerful message and music, helped shape or were the background of social changes, upheavals, revolutions and key moments in recent history. 
I do not think that this book is solely aimed at music lovers; it is, in fact, a book that makes sure that each song chosen is given its historical context, thus enriching the story while also paying attention to other songs and artists of the time that are worth mentioning or have a special relevance in order to fully understand the context in which they were written and performed. 

Starting with the harrowing piece Strange Fruit, performed by Billie Holliday, Lynskey takes us on a journey that includes expected artists and songs (Bob Dylan's Masters of Wars, Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will not Be Televised and Public Enemy's Fight the Power), but also presents the work of other lesser known (at least in my case) songs, including the electronic dance band The Prodigy or the Welsh group Manic Street Preachers.

Chile's Victor Jara, the only non-English speaker included in the book
In any case, the book is extremely well-researched and it traces and presents in a very entertaining and informative way the circumstances in which the songs were born. Despite, or perhaps because of its length, (800-plus pages), 33 Revolutions Per Minute is one of those books that can be read at any time, you can put it down and get back to it as you please, and simply enjoy the prose and style of its author, which together with the wealth of information he provides, will make you want to listen to each of the songs here included. 

The only criticism I have is what has been written above regarding the book's scope; more cultural and linguistic diversity would be appreciated, particularly from those under-represented parts of the world (Asia, South-America, Africa...). Other than that, the book is a joy that people interested in music, history and politics should not miss.