Protest playlist: 10 songs curated by Middlebury College political science professor Kemi Fuentes-George

As a bonus to our Jan. 7 story about Middlebury College professor Kemi Fuentes-George and his upcoming J-Term class on protest music, the Independent is pleased to present the following playlist, curated by Fuentes-George, which features some of the songs his students will analyze in class.
“My goal is for people to understand the political context,” Fuentes-George told the Independent. “With music it’s thinking about singing from a place of social upheaval and looking at it in terms of challenging authority in these countries. Why is this musician using this imagery or this instrument? Why have they chosen this form, or even this time signature? Even choosing to perform in a certain moment at a certain place can be a political statement.”

Quilapayún – “Venceremos” (1974) (lyrics)
“Venceremos” is a Chilean song written by Claudio Iturra and composed by Sergio Ortega for the 1970 campaign of Salvador Allende, who became the first Marxist to be elected president to a liberal democracy in Latin America. The title translates as “We Shall Triumph.” In 1973 the right-wing Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, with the aid of the United States and the CIA, led a military coup against Allende, who committed suicide just as the presidential palace was being overrun. The Chilean folk group Quilapayún was forced into exile after Pinochet came to power, and recorded this version of the song in 1974 in France.


Fela Kuti – “Zombie” (1976) (lyrics)
Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti helped pioneer a new genre of music called Afro Beat, a blend of traditional African and Cuban music, mixed with funk and jazz. His 1977 album “Zombie” was extremely critical of the Nigerian government and used the metaphor of the “zombie” to describe the tactics of Nigerian soldiers. In response, the Nigerian government burned down the compound that housed Kuti’s family and friends, as well as his recording studio.


Rage Against the Machine – “Know Your Enemy” (1992) (lyrics)
Los Angeles-based Rage Against the Machine is well-known for its anti-war and anti-authoritarian lyrics. “Know Your Enemy” dissects the contradictions of the “American Dream.” 

Anthony B. – “Fire Pon Rome” (1996) (lyrics)
Jamaican DJ and musician Keith Blair (“Anthony B.”) mixes themes of Rastafari faith with social justice and politics. Some of the public figures mentioned in “Fire Pon Rome” include Sandals Resort founder Butch Stewart, then-Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga (who was instrumental in the development of the Jamaican music industry) and Seaga’s successor Bruce Golding.


Bounty Killer – “Anytime” (1999) (lyrics)
When he was 14 years old, Jamaican DJ Rodney Price (“Bounty Killer”) was shot when he got caught in the middle of a gunfight between rival political factions. He susquently took on a persona of a street tough, and his lyrics, though often celebrated, have been criticized for glorifying gun culture and for being anti-LBGTQ. His 1999 track “Anytime” speaks of government and police corruption.


Ramy Essam – “Taty Taty” (2011) (lyrics)
Egyptian musician Ramy Essam gained fame for his appearances in Tahrir Square during the Eyptian Revolution of 2011. But, as he says on his website, “fame came with a heavy price.” Ramy was arrested and tortured by the Egyptian military. His songs are now banned in the country and he is forbidden to perform there. 


Emel Mathlouthi – “Kelmti Horra” (2012) (lyrics)
Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi has been called “the voice of the Tunisian revolution” and her song “Kelmti Horr” (My Word Is Free) became an anthem of the Arab Spring. Mathlouthi counts the American folk musician Joan Baez among her strongest influences, and in 2011 she recorded an Arabic version of Baez’s song “Here’s to You,” after Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, protesting municipal corruption, set himself on fire, an incident that’s widely viewed as a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution.


Pussy Riot – “Putin Lights Up the Fires” (2012) (lyrics)
Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot released “Putin Lights Up the Fires” just hours after three of its members were convinced of “hooliganism,” in what many consider to have been a “show trial,” and sentenced to two years in prison in connection with a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin. The band, founded in 2011, is known for its provocative “guerilla performances” and for its anti-authoritarian political stance.


Ayman Mao – “Dum” (2013) (lyrics)
The music of Sudanese rapper and activist Ayman Mao, who now lives in the United States, was a unifying element of the 2019 protests that led to the overthrow of Sudan’s dictator, Omar al-Bashir. In April of that year, Mao flew back to his native city of Khartoum to give a concert for more than one million protestors.


Beyoncé ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Freedom” (2016) (lyrics)
This collaboration between two of the most critically acclaimed artists in the United States has been called an anthem to Black women. The official video for the song features the mothers of Travon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, whose deaths fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. In his lyrics, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lamar focuses, as he often does, on institutionalized racism.

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