The Revolutionary Playlist Episode 17: Meher Manda and Mayukh Goswami

By Meher Manda and Mayukh Goswami

22 August 2021

What makes a song revolutionary? Is it its willingness to lay bare unspoken and shielded truths? Is it the capacity to confront power? Or is a song revolutionary enough if it spills from an honest tongue and galvanizes the listener to feel something and be compelled enough to introspect or make change?

At a time when political thought can be sold as a promoted social media post and everything from a brand to an outfit and an ad campaign can be termed revolutionary, it’s hard to make the case for works of art that break away from the constructs of capitalist entertainment to challenge the nexus that shape and govern public opinion. But we wanted to give it a try. Even before we began work on the webcomic Jamun Ka Ped and have since gravitated to creating a political project with The Polis Project, we have been affected and moved by music that inspires thought and urgency. We wanted to curate selected songs in this “Revolutionary Playlist” — songs by artists who have more or less stuck by their ethical intention, songs that encourage introspection, songs that channel urgency, and songs that feel relevant in the world we’re living in. From humanist anthems to outrageous displays of protest, this playlist has a wee bit of everything.

The Playlist

  1. Yaar Yaar Sivam: For me, this is the ultimate humanist song. Enough said.
  2. Asian Dub Foundation, Bandh Bhenge Dao: This Tagore song isn’t just a call to break barriers, but somewhere within its desire to “liberate the captivated soul” and “flush out the decrepit and the antique”, there is call for revolution against the regressive old to usher in freedom. Asian Dub Foundation’s version of this song is anthemic, angry, and revved up! It truly infuses the lyrics with searing urgency. As someone once rightfully said that Tagore, the author of the Indian national anthem, would be considered anti-national in today’s India — “Bandh Bhenge Dao” tells you just why.
  3. Asian Dub Foundation, Get Lost Bashar: Asian Dub Foundation is a punk-dub electronica, hip-hop band that emerged out of the incessant racism in the United Kingdom during the 1980s and 1990s. Their music has always been angry and confrontational, and “Get Lost Bashar” is no different. The song samples protestors chanting the poem “Yalla Erhal Ya Bashar” by slain Syrian poet Ibrahim Qashoush against the Bashar al-Assad regime. It is a perfect demonstration of the role poetry plays in revolutions, the way it is repeated and regurgitated to keep the fire alive. May we all channel this song’s anger!
  4.  Tamikrest, Tisnant an chatma (Suffering of my sisters): The amount of suffering the Tuareg people have gone through, it’s unimaginable. Tamikrest are here singing about the suffering of women of their nomadic tribe. To quote: “Who can estimate the suffering felt by the soul / of one who sees her sisters exhausted from waiting / of one who sees her sisters exhausted from waiting between countries, in deep distress / and daily oppression?”
  5. Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Spoken word poetry at its greatest and most effective, Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised delivers a simple and timeless truth. There is a nexus of power between institutions, capital, and entertainment and anything that seeks to confront and overthrow such a nexus will never be captured or celebrated on our television sets. At a time when the household TV is the instrument of unparalleled state propaganda in India, this soul-poem by Gil Scott-Heron never rings truer. Scott-Heron also supported the idea that there is no poetry without political intention.
  6. Rammstein, DeutschlandRammstein questions what Germany is. Throughout the song they interrogate this across different time periods showing the good alongside the absolute worst. They imagine Germania as a black woman. They show the holocaust, the Catholic church feasting on Germania’s corpse, the bloody fighting of the interwar years. They subvert the national anthem of Germany – Deutschland uber alles (Germany above all), an inherently nationalistic song from 1800s and repeat variations of that like ‘Deutschland uberheblich, uberlegen, uberfallen’ and so on.
  7. GENER8ION + M.I.A., The New International Sound Pt. II : I.A certainly has more political songs than this one — “Bring the Noize”, “Borders”, and “Galang” immediately come to mind, after all she is the bratty, political child of war-torn Sri Lanka and racially-divided South London. But this song with its irreverence for authority and dogged belief in the self feels uncanny when listened to with the accompanying video — disciplined children practicing martial arts in a Chinese school. Are they becoming their strongest, most determined selves or simply following the tune of authority? I’m never sure. But M.I.A per usual turns the cheek on.
  8. Gul Gulshan, ParvaazIt’s a plaintive offering from one of the most soulful bands making music in India today. It grieves loss and also holds hope for resurgence — through that ever delicate sustenance of Spring. Though they never utter the word “Kashmir”, Parvaaz and its songs tell the story of the aggrieved land and the pain it has borne and continues to bear.
  9. Pussy Riot, Mother of God, Drive Putin Away: Part musicians, part performance artists, and full-time activists, Pussy Riot refers to a group of women artists from Russia who challenge institutions of power and patriarchy through their art work. They’ve led several ballsy acts of protests against Vladimir Putin, but none more outrageous than when they led this “Punk prayer” at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. The song invokes the Virgin Mary, asks her to be a feminist and oust Putin from power. It also critiques the growing intimacy between the church and state in Russia. Three of the members were arrested and persecuted for this performance. For Pussy Riot, that’s just another day.
  10. Arivu, Jaibhim Thalaimurai: It is natural for Arivu to use rap, the sound of poetry, protest, and affirmation, to register the Dalit identity and stories in music. In this tribute to Babasaheb Ambedkar, directed by filmmaker Pa Ranjith, Arivu stresses on the importance of defying the rigid structures of Hinduism to attain true equality.
  11. Krantikari, Park Circus: Songs and poetry had a moment during the anti-CAA protests that gripped Indian in late 2019. It felt like after the neverending interlude of mindless music, we were returning to our roots of oral storytelling and anthemic protests. Park Circus’ Krantikari is a song created in tribute of those protests. It is unashamedly clear in who the benefactors of India’s declining state are and is fervent in its call for revolutionaries.
  12. Bikini Kill, Rebel Girl: When I first heard this song on MTV in my school years, on the face of it, it was a girl expressing her crush on another girl. But they were doing it at a time when this would have been unacceptable, especially in India even in late aughts.
  13. Body Count, No Lives Matter:A surprisingly nuanced take on the situation in America.
  14. Dead Kennedys, Nazi Punks Fuck Off: A song about Nazi hatred can’t be beautiful, it has to be raw.
  15. Mashrou’ Leila, Lil Watan: Never to shy away from making a political statement, this single by the infamously anti-establishment Lebanese rock band may as well be about modern day India. The song examines the diversions created to distract people from pressing issues while patriotism is peddled and freedom is surrendered for national salvation. The video further emphasises the hedonism of a state feeding nationalism to a hungry public.
  16. Noname, Rainforest: Few genres have the capacity to rage and pontificate like rap and within rap, few musicians have displayed a willingness to learn and evolve in their musicality and politics like Noname. Rainforest is her most political and personal song, in which she turns the lens on herself, prodding and questioning her affiliations, politics, and shortcomings. When she repeats “I just wanna dance tonight” over and over again, we know she means for herself and us the dance of liberation.

Meher Manda is a poet, short-story writer, journalist, editor and educator originally from Mumbai, India and currently based in New York City and Providence, Rhode Island. She earned her MFA in fiction at the College of New Rochel where she was the founding editor-in-chief of the Canopy Review. She is the author of The Chapbook of Poems Busted Models (No Dear/Small Anchor Press, 2019). Her poetry, fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in the Margins, Catapult, Epiphany, Cosmonauts Avenue, Los Angeles Review and elsewhere. As a journalist she writes about the intersection of culture and politics, with a focus on South Asian works of art and has written for The Juggernaut, Bustle, Scroll, Firstpost among other platforms. She tweets at @meherness.

Mayukh Goswami is a storyteller working in the nebulous, multi-faceted cloud of art and technology, originally from Mumbai, India but currently based in New York City. He earned his undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from National Institution of Technology, Calicut and Masters in Digital Media at New York University. He creates hand-drawn animated music videos and gifs when not busy producing and writing for digital experiences. He tweets at @goswami_mayukh.

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