Throughout history, popular music has possessed an inextricable link to political and social commentary. The 1960s are a prominent example of a decade when some might say music started getting "overtly political." Soul singer Nina Simone believed it was a musician's imperative to function this way and said as much.
"An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times," she said in the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? "I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. ... It's their choice, but I choose to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty."
But brazen political commentary has been a prominent fixture in music since long before the 1960s, of course; it's traceable all the way back to medieval secular music and literature that dates further into antiquity. In 2016, you might think it a moot point, but every few years, perhaps linked to arguments regarding music's value as a commodity, the validity of music's place in the political conversation gets called into question. Are musicians simply entertainers who should keep their mouths shut?
In an America increasingly splintered and divided, with an endless news cycle that alternately reveals and obfuscates alarming social issues, the argument was destined to reappear. Regardless, many local artists are wasting no time in fusing their music with not only commentary, but direct activism to produce tangible results in their community and the country at large.
A Nov. 26 Zodiac concert doubled as a toy drive for Toys for Tots, including performances from The Mostly Don'ts, MILOGIC, Mad Trees, Xanthe Alexis and Kevin Mitchell.
"It was a beautiful display of community unified," says emcee Mitchell, "to, God willing, bring joy to a child."
In July, Mitchell, no stranger to political subtexts in his music, released a music video for his track "DeadbrotheR," which explicitly confronts the harrowing incidents of police violence against African-Americans. Unfortunately, the emotionally charged video has taken on a long-term timeliness, as these incidents have continued to occur throughout the year. Mitchell says the song and video are an attempt to shed more light on the senseless killings of black lives, and a retort to those who claim the victims were simply non-compliant.
"Keep in mind [Minnesota's] Philando Castile complied 100 percent, and he's still dead," says Mitchell. "Believe it or not, there is a problem, and I don't plan on being silent about it."
Another group taking up the benefit mantle is a name fans haven't heard for a while — hard rock act Sixty 8. The group disbanded in 2010 after opening for Quiet Riot and had been dormant since, but the band, assisted by Oleander guitarist Rich Mouser and drummer Jimmy Keegan of Santana and Spock's Beard, has released a new single, "Blue." All proceeds from the track benefit Springs Rescue Mission and its efforts to assist Colorado Springs' population experiencing homelessness as winter weather approaches.
Lead singer Trygve Bundgaard, who is active in efforts of the advocacy group The Coalition for Compassion and Action, has described his music career as a direct precursor to more overt activism, a platform to explore issues of systemic oppression and resistance. The band name, after all, is a reference to the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago.
"When the artists take up a cause," says Bundgaard, "change inevitably follows."
If that's true, we owe a debt of gratitude to the many artists who've participated in the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota. Among them are Manitou Springs-based folk musician Iggy Igloo, who's been at the Standing Rock protest camp since October, and local emcee Ibe Hustles, who recently returned from his own trip there.
The Sioux Tribe-led protestors scored a victory this past Sunday as the pipeline was halted, at least temporarily, by the federal government.
Meanwhile, closer to home, the Flux Capacitor hosted a "Stand With Standing Rock" benefit concert on Nov. 30 to raise money and gather supplies. The show featured many mainstays of Blank-Tape Records, including The Changing Colors, the Haunted Windchimes' Chela Lujan, in/PLANES, Xanthe Alexis, Cocordion, Katey Sleeveless and The ReMINDers.
Mitchell expresses solidarity with all who strive for justice and to defend the vulnerable in our society. "I sincerely respect and have love for anyone, artist or not, who takes action on behalf of a righteous cause. We are the people; one love."
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