Songs about human rights activists haven’t traditionally been a chart busting genre but a few songs have made it into the wider public perception. Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” about activist Steven Biko was a huge concert closer on several of his tours. “Freedom” by Rage Against the Machine was written about Leonard Peltier, a leader of the American Indian Movement. U2 probably had the biggest hit with a song about an activist with Pride (in the Name of Love) about Martin Luther King.
Other musicians have lent their songwriting skills to call attention to other, possibly lesser known activists, but still they have potent stories to tell.
3. Blue Scholars – Yuri Kochiyama
The Blue Scholars are one of the most intelligent rap groups out there. This is a song about activist Yuri Kochiyama who famously was there holding Malcolm X after he was shot. She was a California born Japanese American who became an activist after her family was sent to an internment camp following the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
Choice line: “The last one to hold him could’ve been somebody else
You’d still be remembered for the people that you helped. “
2. Tres Silencio – Free WEIWEI (the song)
Al Weiwei is a Chinese artist and activist who was jailed in April of 2011 for speaking out against the government there. He has not been seen or heard from since. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called “tofu-skin schools” in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Tres Silencio recorded this song to raise awareness to his situation.
Choice line: “It is impossible to stop freedom, freedom is like the wind”
1. Roaming Royalty – The Only Woman in the Room
Roaming Royalty has written this song about Beate Sirota Gordon whose incredible story is documented in “The Only Woman in the Room”. Gordon was an American citizen who grew up in Japan. In the 30’s when war with China was escalating Gordon found herself in America while her parents were behind in Japan. The story of her attempt to return to Japan ended with her writing a new article on womens rights in the new Japanese constitution changing Japanese culture forever. Gordon is still alive and working on womens issues around the world.
Choice line “How can you not think she’s chosen, from this world that’s bruised and broken”
Many of us owe a debt to some human rights activists but don’t even know it. Get to know some of these activists through these songs.