The Rise of Empowerment Through Music

Words By Andie de Guzman

Art by Danni Natividad

Music ignites change, and with all the chaos these days, change is needed more than ever. Fortunately, singers like Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Marian Anderson are known as one of the many empowering women who began the manifestation of our rights through music. While these singers focused on genres such as swing, classical, and jazz, their songs can be considered as “protest music,” with its purpose of drawing people together in order to take action through movements for social and political change.

Nowadays, protest music comes in different forms and genres—mainly alternative and indie sub-genres of pop and rap. Big names like The Weeknd, The 1975, Tame Impala, The Strokes, and Childish Gambino are using their craft for collective empowerment. With their albums and singles, they are leaving a mark on their listeners as they forge a deep connection through themes presented on their songs.

This generation has also produced an abundance of hip-hop and rap tracks which adds to the power and influence of modern music in protests. Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Joey Bada$$, and Kanye West are some of the influential rappers who have created unforgettable and relatable hits talking about the struggles of the African American community and have sparked a discussion on how people should not stop fighting for their rights. These artists are using their music to talk about social and political issues that make their music stand out.

However, artists and musicians empowering their listeners through music have been a thing since the early 1940s. And with current political and social tensions, there is no sign that protest music will stop anytime soon. These seven tracks below all share the same theme: empowerment for the revolution. The list includes songs from the ‘70s until the present, which demonstrates the ability of protest music to thrive in different genres, keeping the powerful meaning they aim to deliver.

01/07

"Get Up, Stand Up"

Bob Marley and the Wailers, 1973

Photo: Peter Mazel / Sunshine / Retna Ltd.

“Get Up, Stand Up. Life is your right

So we can't give up the fight”

Considered as one of the pioneers of reggae, Bob Marley and his group, The Wailers, made history by bringing Jamaican music to the global stage. The track “Get Up, Stand Up” from their hit album Burnin’ sends the message of not letting others oppress you. It calls for you to stand up for your human rights. In a 1978 interview, Marley said: “So must I still sing ‘Get Up, Stand Up’?...I want people to live big and have enough.” This track remains as an all-purpose human rights anthem up to this day.

02/07

"Sunday, Bloody Sunday"

U2, 1983

“ How long, how long must we sing this song?

How long? How long?

'Cause tonight, we can be as one

Tonight ”

“Sunday, Bloody Sunday” is one of U2’s overtly new wave and post-punk political songs. It relates to the “Bloody Sunday" incident on January 30, 1972, in Northern Ireland, where British troops killed unarmed civil rights protestors. Lead singer Bono sings his lyrics with much passion as if he was depicting the middle of a war.

Photo: Getty Images via Louder Sound

03/07

“Tubthumping”

Chumbawamba, 1997

Photo: Hayley Madden / Rex / Shutterstock

“I get knocked down, (we'll be singin')

but I get up again (pissin' the night away)
You're never gonna keep me down (when we're winnin')"

This English rock band released this alternative rock song solely composed of a repetitive rallying cry. Tubthumping is the expression of opinions, but the band made it appear as “singing and having drinks after a protest”. The upbeat and pop-rock theme gives off a celebratory tone; an unconventional delivery compared to songs with the same message but on a serious note. Nonetheless, it gets people to stand back up and fight for a cause.

04/07

“Where Is The Love?”

Black Eyed Peas, 2003

"Yo, whatever happened to the values of humanity?
Whatever happened to the fairness and equality?
Instead of spreading love, we spreading animosity
Lack of understanding leading us away from unity"

In the early 2000s, hip hop group Black Eyed Peas released this hit song as a response to the 9/11 terror attacks. With its broad theme revolving around police brutality, racism, terrorism, and violence, this track is one for the books. Will.i.am, the lead member of the group, mentioned that the song aims to help its listeners realize the importance of love instead of hate and discrimination. This couldn’t be more relatable to what we are experiencing today.

Photo: Getty Images 

05/07

“Wake Up”

Arcade Fire, 2004

“Children, wake up

Hold your mistake up

Before they turn the summer into dust"

Transitioning to the alternative/indie side of music, this Arcade Fire track still gains hundreds of streams on streaming sites. The underlying message is about channeling
our energy to use it for the power of constructive direction. Its inventive musical structure and roaring vocals portray the power that the youth can bring.

Photo: Live Nation via Philly Voice

06/07

“Land of the Free”

Joey Bada    , 2017

“ In the land of the free, it's full of free loaders

Leave us dead in the street to be their organ donors

They disorganized my people, made us all loners

Land of the Free is a political hip-hop/rap track that reveals the contrast in American history for African Americans. What’s more interesting is that this was released on January 20th, 2017, the day of US President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Joey reposted its music video on his social media accounts on June 1, 2020. If this doesn’t send a clear message, what else would?

Photo: Billboard / Gari Askew II

07/07

“This is America”

Childish Gambino, 2018

“Police be trippin now (Woo)

Yeah, this is America (Woo, ayy)

Guns in my area (Word, my area)"

This track has recently re-entered Spotify’s Top 100 Global Hits chart and accumulated a total of 1.117 streams. The song takes a variety of approaches to the trials that are being experienced today. Musically, the song alternates from singsong melodies to menacing trap beats. The music video showcases a similar juxtaposition with its unpredictable transitions. It opens with Gambino shooting a man. He then hands the gun to someone who carefully wraps it in a red cloth. Toward the middle of the video, a choir sings in an energetic and joyful tone right before Gambino guns them down. This is a clear reference to the 2015 Charleston Shooting. In 2018, Isaac Bailey from CNN mentioned that the video is so powerful, it grabs you by the throat.

Photo: Youtube / Donald Glover

From the list, we can see that empowerment music is delivered in such distinct ways, and it is impossible to run out of choices. They all send out similar messages about change and building harmony. With unforgettable songs being released each year, it is exciting to see the progress that music would continue to bring in the future. It is a powerful tool that can help inspire the youth, pushing them to be on the right side of history and to create pieces that could eventually bring change.

JULY 10, 2020