Friday, February 1, 2008

Defining and Categorising Protest Music

I have recently started reading another text: The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest. In the introduction, editor Ian Peddie notes the general acceptance of music as being a discursive practice situated in a social context. In attempting to define ‘protest music’ he suggests that this is something more than music that represents youth culture. He sees protest music as being a complex dialectical relationship. He refutes assumptions that protest music is limited to associations between liberal social protest and rock music (as per the 1960s) and the notion that protest can only be found in separatist music styles. He suggests that this typical classification is based on a desire for order when in fact the nature of protest music is too diffuse ‘to be confined to a genre, a category, or a time period’. He contends that the basic parameters for consideration reflect that social protest music is made up of collisions and formed by fissures and factures.

The first article in the text is written by Deena Weinstein, ‘Rock Protest Songs: So Many and So Few’. Weinstein argues that there is a tendency, particularly in the United States, to incorrectly assume that a high level of protest music is produced, which will be examined in more detail in the next post. In defining protest music she suggests:

...the protest in protest songs means an opposition to policy, an action against the people in power that is grounded in a sense of injustice...

She then questions however, whether all opposition to policy counts as protest music and acknowledges a lack of consensus with respect to some material/topics.

Weinstein suggests that protest music is largely defined by its lyrics, however the impact of the lyrics can often be supported by sonic elements of the song such as emotionality, the character of the vocals, simplicity and repetition. Popular instrumental music is also seen as being capable of protest but she suggests that this occurs far less frequently than popular music with lyrics.

Weinstein suggests that there are a number of ways to categorise protest music:

1. Unjust Authority

This includes music concerning police brutality, governmental authority, civil rights and economic policies. There is less consensus as whether songs concerning other forms of power such as teachers and parents come within this category.

2. Specific Injustices

These songs focus on specific events or issues and are sometimes called ‘re-ax’ or reaction songs.

3. By Impact

The third way to classify protest music is by its overall impact. Weinstein notes that some protest music is ineffective at producing social commentary because the lyrics or meaning are not received by the listener - this will be discussed in more detail in the next post.

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