Protest Music

Date: Dec 21, 2019
Category: Art Category

Music has always been a sphere of deep emotions and energy. For centuries, different motives and styles praised love, joy, sorrow, people, and various historical and social events. Nearly in every historical period, there were songs about different social issues. The latest centuries turned to bring numerous deep social changes, and it was impossible for them not to be reflected in the music. More and more people discover that properly written songs with lyrics that address different social concerns turn out to be a form of a megaphone for public masses. This megaphone makes people face such concerns as civil wars, hunger, disasters, violation of people’s rights, and so on. Such social messages in a musical form encrypt their ideas for several decades turning out to be unique forms of social protest that speak louder and longer than any typical protest does. Gradually, such songs find their niche in the music world, being identified as Protest Music. This kind of art is framed by social awareness and persuasion, unlike other musical styles. The following paper analyzes an example of a modern protest song with the aim to identify its peculiarities as a representative of the genre.

The song, which is analyzed in this paper as a sample of Protest Music is “Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against The Machine (RATM). The band was formed in 1991 in Los Angeles, CA. Their music style is characterized as Alternative Metal and Rap-Metal. These genres are marked by the spirit of confrontation against the mass culture and values, but the band brought the motives of social awareness to a new level. As Ankeny (n.p.) describes their music, “…they earned acclaim… for their bombastic, fiercely polemical music, which brewed sloganeering leftist rants against corporate America, cultural imperialism, and government oppression into a Molotov cocktail of punk, hip-hop, and thrash”. One more fact about the band is that its activity and beliefs were exposed not only through their lyrics. For example, in one of his interviews, Tom Morello, the guitar player, admits the involvement of Rage Against the Machine into the Zapatista movement, performing a show for Iraq Veterans Against the War and other social activities (Powers n.p.). Furthermore, the money from the majority of their concerts was sent to charity organizations. Therefore, the band members supported their ideas expressed in songs by their actual deeds. This is approved by its members; for instance, in one of his interviews, their guitar player Tom Morello was explaining the actions of his band in the following way:

When you live in a capitalistic society, the currency of the dissemination of information goes through capitalistic channels... We're not interested in preaching to just the converted. It's great to play abandoned squats run by anarchists, but it's also great to be able to reach people with a revolutionary message, people from Granada Hills to Stuttgart” (Web Archive n.p.).

Thus, all songs of RATM should be classified as Protest Music that has a message referring to various aspects of American history and modern times.

The song “Sleep Now in the Fire” was released as a single in 1999. It discusses greed through its grotesque image referring to the numerous cases in American history when the authorities exceeded the military power of the country in order to reach controversial goals:

I am the nina, the pinta, the santa maria

The noose and the rapist, the fields overseer

The agents of orange

The priests of Hiroshima

The cost of my desire

Sleep now in the fire. (Azlyrics.com)

In the above lines, the song refers to the names of the ships of Cristopher Columbus that turned to be the beginning of the disaster for native Americans. It also mentions the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War and the Hiroshima atomic bombardment. In all these cases, the improper use of military force led to the violation of human rights and freedoms, which are proclaimed to be the highest good in the US and the civilized world. The song criticizes the mentioned aspects providing the image of the hypocrisy of the American social system:

I'll jail and bury those committed

And smother the rest in greed

Crawl with me into tomorrow

Or I'll drag you to your grave

I'm deep inside your children

They'll betray you in my name… (Azlyrics.com)

The last lines ensure the listener that the vicious social system is like a cage, which allows no exit or escapes for its citizens. Thus, by agreeing to live in a capitalistic society, a person is being involved in the discussed violations:

For it's the end of history

It's caged and frozen still

There is no other pill to take

So swallow the one

That makes you ill (Azlyrics.com)

Analyzing the lyrics, one realizes that the song divides the society into “we” and “them”. “Them” are the authorities and people that endanger the highest human values veiling their violations with slogans for peace and democracy. “We” are those who oppose the system and want to reveal its hypocritical nature by making their secrets public. The song has an effect of rebel against the American social system supporting its motive with aggressive distorted guitar riffs and the rap of Zack de la Rocha. The idea of the song is supported and amplified by the video shot on January 26, 1999. The process of its filming on the steps of Federal Hall that is situated close to the New York Stock Exchange led to its closure because of the crowds of people involved in the process. This highlights the fact that the band’s music and ideas are accepted by numerous people, who came to support them.

“Sleep Now in the Fire” is a vivid example of the Protest Music. It has no hidden context, but direct references to the vicious past of the American nation. The lyrics of the song warn that the current social system is convenient for the authorities to violate human rights and cover their deeds by the slogans for democracy, individual freedoms, and peace. The song itself is an attempt of switching the attention of public masses from being a society of consumers to think people who are capable of rising against hypocritical social standards and greed that lead to people’s suffering all over the world including the US itself. The aggressive motive of the song inspires people at least to think over the past and accept the fact that they cannot agree with the current state of things anymore. Such songs of protest have a strong message and motivate people for united actions against evil all over the world.

"SLEEP NOW IN THE FIRE" BY RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

YEAAAH!

The world is my expense

The cost of my desire

Jesus blessed me with its future

And I protect it with fire

So raise your fists and march around

Don't dare take what you need

I'll jail and bury those committed

And smother the rest in greed

Crawl with me into tomorrow

Or I'll drag you to your grave

I'm deep inside your children

They'll betray you in my name

Hey!

Hey!

Sleep now in the fire

Hey!

Hey!

Sleep now in the fire

The lie is my expense

The scope with my desire

The party blessed me with its future

And I protect it with fire

I am the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria

The noose and the rapist, the fields overseer

The agents of orange

The priests of Hiroshima

The cost of my desire

Sleep now in the fire

Hey!

Hey!

Sleep now in the fire

Hey!

Hey!

Sleep now in the fire

For it's the end of history

It's caged and frozen still

There is no other pill to take

So swallow the one

That makes you ill

The Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria

The noose and the rapist, the fields' overseer

The agents of orange

The priests of Hiroshima

The cost of my desire

Sleep now in the fire

YEAAAH!

Sleep now in the fire!

Sleep now in the fire!

Sleep now in the fire!

Sleep now in the fire! (Azlyrics.com)

Views: 0