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Rage, revolution and joy: 2018 was a powerhouse year in protest music

Liberating and inspiring words and songs from Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Too Attached, Shad, Janelle Monáe, Childish Gambino and more.
Liberating and inspiring words and songs from 2018. (Photo design by Natasha Ramoutar/CBC Music)

There are a lot of reasons to be angry in 2018, and if you identify as a marginalized person, there are even more reasons to be exhausted. Anxious. Disgusted. Afraid. Heartbroken.

But before we crank up a bop like "thank u, next", and bid an ear-rupturing adieu to 2018, let's celebrate the musicians and artists who are — for the first time or the millionth time — rising up and resisting oppression, turning their lived experiences and witnessed moments into art.

As CBC Music noted in the 2017 version of this post, at the centre of almost every protest song or activist anthem there is, usually, a glimmer of hope. A desire for change or challenging something that isn't right, to fix what's broken, or rally around a cause or find a community that's ready to resist, rise up and heal together.

From calling out colonial violence, inequity and injustice to resisting hate and halting pipelines, here are some of the most personal, provocative and empowering protest songs and activist anthems of 2018.


Song: "Homeland" from Tiny House Warriors Vol. 1
Artist: Snotty Nose Rez Kids feat. Mob Bounce

The whole Tiny House Warriors Vol. 1 compilation is an act of resistance, one that's in support of Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home, which is "part of a mission to stop the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline from crossing unceded Secwepemc Territory." More than 40 artists contributed to THW's first iteration, including Iskwé, Kimmortal and Ostwelve, JB the First Lady and Snotty Nose Rez Kids with Mob Bounce. According to an APTN news report, three members of the Tiny House Warriors were arrested just last week for peacefully protesting a closed-door meeting at Thompson Rivers University, hosted by Natural Resources Canada.

"We're from the land of the free,
Where stolen land don't cost nothin',
Where my own people,
Feel they won't amount to nothin',
On their own land,
I don't know man,
Tell me why your homeland don't feel like home fam."

"Is it the power of the people who suppress the people,
When they say they come in peace, man, I can't believe them,
They got the grim reaper lethal finger that can't be peaceful,
It's why it hurts when I hear you say all lives are equal."


Song: "Diversity"
Artist: Too Attached

"Cause your interpretations and your observations have no value,
But appreciation with some compensation will do,
So my skin is convenient now,
If you want my story, pay me, pay me,
So my woman's convenient now,
If you want my story, pay me, pay me,
If you want my story, baby pay pay me."


Song: "The Fool Pt. 1 (Get It Got It Good)"
Artist: Shad

"They can't kill us, 'cause they can't see us, 'cause they only see fear,
Get it, got it, good,
Get it, got it, good."

"Damn it feels good to be back,
Damn it feels good to be black,
They keep on killing us,
We just keep killing it."

"Mama said killin' is not where the healin' is,
Couldn't speak back,
Lord knows she been through it,
She said a human is not who the villain is,
She said it's fear, it's greed, and it's pride,
You see it inside,
That's what this system is built on,
And what it instills in us."


Song: "Kong"
Artist: Neneh Cherry

"But love is big in every man,
Every nation seeks its friends in France and Italy,
And all across the seven seas,
And goddamn guns and guts and history,
And bitter love still put a hole in me,
Bite my head off, still my world will always be,
A little risk worth taking,
Bite my hand off, still my world will always be,
Another risk worth taking."


Song: "SRTY"
Artist: The Sorority

Editor's note: strong language warning.

"Body pos posse from top model to bottom,
Lips, hips and tits, ladies flaunt 'em if you got 'em,
Wear what I want, commander in commando,
Yeah talk is cheap, but money never made the man dough,
It means what it means if I ever tell a man no,
We be the queens and I ain't talkin' 'bout a man's show,
And I ain't talking about the little city,
I'm talking 'bout crowns on heads and sitting pretty,
I'm talkin power, money, education,
Wealth through health and literally the birth of a nation,
So tell me why you can't respect that,
You tell us eat because we skinny, and stop eatin' when we're too fat,
We're never good enough, hood enough, light enough,
Always trying to dim us 'cause some dimwit just ain't bright enough."


Song: "Line in the Sand" from Fandango at the Wall: a Soundtrack for the United States, Mexico and Beyond
Artist: Arturo O'Farrill, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Mandy Gonzalez and Greer Baxter

An ambitious and remarkable multimedia project featuring more than 50 musicians performing more than 30 songs recorded at the U.S.-Mexico border between Tijuana and San Diego.

"We all want a place where it's safe to be human,
The welcome embrace of a brand new day,
Let's not allow what we have to be lost,
Just because of what someone might say."


Song: "All We Can Do"
Artist: Pusher & Anjulie

"Shotgun, run, run, run,
Make them feel what they've done,
Yeah I know it's not that pretty,
Not that pretty, oh-oh-oh,
Lights up in this club,
Not too late, grab someone,
It won't happen in my city."


Song: "Americans"
Artist: Janelle Monáe

"War is old, so is sex,
Let's play God, you go next,
Heads go up, men go down,
Try my luck, stand my ground,
Die in church, live in jail,
Say her name, twice in hell,
Uncle Sam kissed a man,
Jim Crow Jesus rose again."


Song: "Nina Cried Power"
Artist: Hozier feat. Mavis Staples

"It's not the shade, we should be past it,
It's the light, and it's the obstacle that casts it,
It's the heat that drives the light,
It's the fire it ignites,
It's not the waking, it's the rising."


Song: "This is America"
Artist: Childish Gambino

"This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo),
Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy),
Look at how I'm livin' now,
Police be trippin' now (woo),
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy),
Guns in my area (word, my area),
I got the strap (ayy, ayy),
I gotta carry 'em,
Yeah, yeah, Imma go into this (ugh),
Yeah, yeah, this is guerilla (woo),
Yeah, yeah, Imma go get the bag,
Yeah, yeah, or Imma get the pad,
Yeah, yeah, I'm so cold like yeah (yeah),
I'm so dope like yeah (woo),
We gon' blow like yeah (straight up, uh)."


Song: "Pa'lante"
Artist: Hurray for the Riff Raff

Editor's note: strong language warning.

"Well lately, don't understand what I am,
Treated as a fool,
Not quite a woman or a man,
Well I don't know,
I guess I don't understand the plan."

"Colonized, and hypnotized, be something,
Sterilized, dehumanized, be something,
We'll take your pay,
And stay out the way, be something,
Ah do your best,
But f--k the rest, be something,
Well lately, it's been mighty hard to see,
Just searching for my lost humanity."


Song: "The Opener"
Artist: Camp Cope

"You worked so hard but we were 'just lucky,'
To ride those coattails into infinity,
And all my success has got nothing to do with me,
Yeah, tell me again how there just aren't that many girls in the music scene,
It's another all-male tour preaching equality,
It's another straight cis man who knows more about this than me,
It's another man telling us we're missing a frequency, show 'em Kelly."


Song: "High Rise"
Artist: Cadence Weapon

"Hundred thousand over asking,
Home destruction, no compassion,
Call your M.P,
No reaction, disrespected,
Looking glass, misdirected,
More construction,
Overconsumption, mass defection,
So disruptive, disconnected,
Cash reduction,
Ask them why, get interrupted,
More distractions, slow production,
More corruption,
Priced out, lights out, great heights, low view,
White flight,
Trying times, highly dense, private lives,
Rising rent, open house,
Bidding war, working poor,
Massive debt, family loan, overstressed,
Gentrifier, take me higher,
Sell it to the richest buyer."


Song: "Home (Everywhere I Go)"
Artist: Delhi 2 Dublin

"I am the son of an immigrant,
No way I am irrelevant,
Who are you?"

"I am the daughter of an outcast,
They wanted me to finish last,
Who are you?"

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