Happy MLK day.
NINA SIMONE – “Mississippi Goddam (Live)” – as described by carlos valladares
As bone-chilling as it is boppy-catchy, Nina Simone’s sardonic song is one of the greatest diagnoses of American institutional racism ever recorded. It’s hard not to feel like your guts are being turned inside-out as Nina recounts all the insults lobbed at her black female self—“you’re too damn lazy”, “wash and clean your ears”, “talk real fine just like a lady,” and “Mississippi Goddam” seems more tragically relevant today than ever.
“This is a show-tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet,” Nina says at the beginning. 50 years after it was recorded for a primarily white audience at Carnegie Hall, the show’s still being written, with new acts (Act X: Trayvon; Act XI: Michael, Act XII: Sandra) being added seemingly every day.
DIXIE CHICKS – “Not Ready To Make Nice” – as described by katie nesser
Dubya may have said Kanye West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” quote was the most painful moment of his presidency, but I hope the most brutal diss track of 2006 keeps him up at night too.
JIMI HENDRIX – “The Star Spangled Banner” – as described by benina stern
1969 or 2016, Hendrix’s Woodstock rendition of the national anthem jars, uplifts, and haunts. It caught a nation by surprise. It is more than an anti-violence piece, it rips open the skin of America to reveal the tumult and pain underneath, that still persists. But Hendrix’s interpretation does not eschew himself from America. His musical artistry claims this anthem and this country for himself.
TUNE-YARDS – “Manchild” – as described by sasha perigo
tUnE-yArDs is the voice of Oakland resident Merrill Garbus. “I’ve got something to say,” Garbus chants on Manchild, the last song on her 2014 album Nikki Nack. The song is about the epidemic of rape on college campuses. In an interview with The Village Voice, she spoke out against opposition to sexual assault policy reform. “What comes across as like a radical agenda … the radical agenda that girls on college campuses should be protected from rape?” Amen sister.
THE BOOMTOWN RATS – “I Don’t Like Mondays” – as described by samantha bloom
I never expected this song to be politically charged. It’s catchy, has a cute title—but once you really parse the lyrics, the darker meaning comes to the forefront and you can’t ignore it. The phrase “I don’t like Mondays” was the explanation a 16-year-old girl offered for why she shot at and killed some elementary school students walking in front of her house in 1979. The song has a truly chilling relevance taken in the context of today’s culture of gun violence.
U2 – “Pride (In the Name of Love)” – as described by chloe rickards
“Early morning, April 4th/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride”
This song commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. has been a staple in my family for as long as I remember. Now, the question of the chorus – “What more in the name of love?” convicts me now more than ever. Am I being a good, loving neighbor to my friends and family? Am I abusing the name of love, whether through inaction or overreaction?
FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN – “Étude No. 12 in C Minor (Revolutionary)” – as described by madelyne xiao
An ode, an elegy, an exquisite agony. I used to audio-ogle the Revolutionary Étude’s long, tormented left-hand runs – they’re a musical incarnation of Chopin’s reaction to Poland’s defeat in the November Uprising of 1831, when the crippled nation struggled for independence from Russia. (Chopin lived in France for the latter part of his life but never forgot his Polish homeland.) Barring the technical difficulty of the étude, its emotional store is varied and complex – there are alternating moments of wistfulness, rage, sadness. The piece ends as it begins: brutally, abruptly. A revolution has no niceties.
BAMBU – “Check-In” – as described by Jazlyn Patricio-Archer
Check-ins and radical Pilipino rapping is all I could ask for in this life.
KANYE WEST – “New Slaves” – as described by anthony milki
In my exhausting experience as a supporter of Yeezy’s reupholstery and teachings in this cold, cold world, I’ve learned that a rare halfway point I can achieve with even the most confident hater comes from bringing up “New Slaves.” Kanye’s pissed, and you will be too (Also – Frank Ocean is on the outro).
LA SANTA CECILIA – “Ice El Hielo” – as described by alejandra salazar
“Ice, water frozen solid. ICE, Immigrations Customs Enforcement. Ice, el hielo.” There are many sides to the same story. Sometimes these perspectives are radically different from one another. But from every conceivable angle, this particular story is equal parts sharp and painful, numbing and cold.
FOLTIN – “Vezilka” – as described by bojan srb
The lyrics of this song are a combination of two beautiful poems, one by Blaže Koneski, the other by Kočo Racin, both about the erotic experience of weaving yarn as one might weave words. The reason I’d say it’s political, aside from the fact that Racin was a deaf WWII resistance fighter whose deafness got him killed, is that it reminds me how my country still has something beautiful to give, regardless of centuries of decimation. In the face of a violent history and an uncertain future, the artistic spirit abides.
Image from here.