Protest songs in the Age of the Internet

Music has always provided a fertile medium for expressing protest. One thinks of the American folk singers of the 1960s, like Bob Dylan and his song, “Blowin’ in the Wind”. But it goes back much farther:

In the 18th century, songwriters responded to current events by writing new lyrics to existing melodies. “Benjamin Franklin used to write broadside ballads every time a disaster struck,” said Elijah Wald, a music historian, and sell the printed lyrics in the street that afternoon.

This quote comes from a NYTimes article on music and protest in an Internet age. The Internet allows many issues, from the plight of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico to the actions of the International Whaling Commission, to reach a world-wide audience. This can also be done to music, the most recent events in New Orleans being a case in point. Kayne West, an American rapper, made a comment on a nation-wide telethon to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. West said that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” The idea for an online music video was born.

Mr. Randle and his partner, Micah Nickerson, wrote a rap based on the stories of the people they were helping. On Sept. 6, Mr. Nickerson sent Mr. Randle an instant message containing a music file and one verse, recorded on his home computer. Mr. Randle recorded an additional verse and sent it back, and 15 minutes later it was up on their Web site:

“Within the first 24 hours, it was downloaded 10,000 times,” Mr. Randle said. “It crashed our server.” Since then at least five sites have posted the song, with downloads of 100,000 each, he said.

In New Brunswick, N.J., Marquise Lee, a freelance video producer, heard the song and thought it called for a video. He downloaded scenes of African-Americans in New Orleans, intercutting them with images of President Bush and unrelated scenes from a Kanye West video. “It was a first-person account of the struggle – ‘Come down and help me,’ ” said Mr. Lee, 25.

The video remix is here. A cool side note is that the video samples another “only on the Internet” flash movie, which protested the Iraq War.

Thanks to Garry Peterson for the tip.

2 Responses to “Protest songs in the Age of the Internet”

  1. gizmo says:

    Interesting…the use of internet for short video documentaries with similar purposed was actually cited as one of the most valuable uses of the internet for NGO’s by a representative of a BC NGO that was interviewed yesterday…more on that later. More and more the internet seems a global street – while anyone with a message (and the desire to express it) used to take to the street and sing for all to hear, now one street just isn’t enough exposure to make a difference. As a street, is the internet a superhighway or a pedestrian-only avenue?….

  2. sieber says:

    Or is it such a crowded street that you can’t find anything you want or anyone you want to meet?