Music Driving Political Statements by Amanda Delgado

Punk rock activists, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were attacked by three men in a McDonald’s restaurant on March 6th. The group of men, who wore St. George ribbons which commemorate the victory of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, poured green paint and shouted at the two members of the Russian group Pussy Riot.

This wasn’t the first time Pussy Riot members faced public attacks.

During January 2012, the band performed “Revolt in Russia” in Red Square where they were arrested under Russia’s strict protest laws and were soon released. Approximately a month later, they performed at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral and were arrested a couple of days before the March 3rd election that brought Vladimir Putin to power.

For the next two years, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were kept in custody.

“We realized that this country needs a militant, punk-feminist, street band that will rip through Moscow’s streets and squares,” said Serafima, member of Pussy Riot. “And mobilize public energy against the evil crooks of the Putinist junta and enrich the Russian cultural and political opposition with themes that are important to us: gender and LGBT rights, problems of masculine conformity, absence of a daring political message on the musical and art scenes, and the domination of males in all areas of public discourse.

Shortly after their jail release in December, the band went to Sochi during the Winter Olympics to record “Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland.” During their five day Sochi visit, they were detained three times, beaten, injured, whipped and sprayed with pepper gas by police and Cossack militias.

In the west, Pussy Riot is celebrated as activists who fight for freedom of speech in socially conservative Russia; in their country, however, the women in neon balaclavas are dubbed as insane or dunk and are looked down upon.

Music, like language, binds a group of people together. And music with a message thrives in a live setting where politically conscious musicians aim to get their beliefs across.

And it’s not only in Russia where artistic protestors such as Pussy Riot and Voina actively act against oppressive and limiting governments such as Putin’s.

In Iran, rock, rap and most forms of pop music has been banded and all published music must be approved by officials in the capital, Tehran, because the government believes that music will tarnish young minds and will guide them towards an un-Islamic world. Women are also not allowed to sing in public.

Despite risking the wrath of Iran’s government, The Yellow Dog, a punk, garage band from Tehran, practiced American style music, gaining popularity when they were featured in a film about Iran’s underground music scene. In 2010, they asked for US visas and political asylum to escape the constant rejection and prosecution band members faced in their country (one member was detained for two weeks after he faced charges for “Satan worship” through their music).

In 2013, another Islamic musician killed two of the band members and himself in Brooklyn, and although motives were unclear, it was believed that money, distrust and discord within the fraternity of Iranian rock artists were to blame.

Indian, all girl rock band, Pragaash, was forced to disband after they were dubbed un-Islamic and received hate and threats via Facebook.

In Cuba, the youth has begun to feel empowered through music, blogs and new media, using these medians to speak out and share their stories and views on politics, life and freedom.

In the late 1990’s, the Cuban youth took an interest in rap music, often building antennas from wire coat hangers to catch Miami’s 99 Jamz. And with only two state-run TV channels and the embargo preventing samplers, mixers and albums from reaching the island, they developed rap music based on their traditional local music. Lyrics were based on Cuba’s literature and history, as well as on their own portrayal of street life.

Although at first rap music was rejected by the government, it soon saw how popular it became among the youth and began to support annual rap festivals.  However, with state support comes state censorship and rappers who criticize the government are censored on the radio and are not allowed to play in popular venues.

Using metaphor, allusion and ambiguity, rappers such as Magia Lopez have been able to trick the censors. Lopez in 2002 released a song about prostitutes in neighborhoods such as central Havana and was able to defend it by saying it was about capitalist countries.

Rap groups and duos, such as Los Aldeanos and Obsesión, are known to expose and instill a sense of understanding of social, political and economic problems that aggravate current Cuban society.

Organizations have been created to bring together musicians to fight for social justice, such as Axis of Justice, co-founded by Tom Morello, known for his work with Rage Against the Machine, and Serj Tankian, System of a Down’s vocalist.

“The Axis of Justice is a non-profit political organization formed by Serj and I to bring together musicians, conscious fans, and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice,” said Morello in an interview in 2004. “Our goal is to refine the bridge between local grassroots organizations who come together from different issues and from around the country to effectively organize and network.”

Morello and Tankian encourage people to send articles and information to Axis of Justice if they are aware of injustices that they feel are interesting and should be known about.

“We will spin rebel jams and we will reveal dangerous truths,” said Morello. “If you’re not listening we are not responsible for the consequences.”


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