A playlist of resistance

Music has always been a way to express resistance and this has been done in countless ways. Where some use more visceral noise, another might use a friendlier tune, some might say it upfront, with others the message is between the lines. Here are a few tracks that encapsulate this feeling, never static, always dynamic.

Gendjer Gendjer – performed by Lilis Surjani (originally by Muhammad Arief)

This haunting song was originally written in 1942 during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. During this occupation, between 4 and 10 million Indonesians died due to Japanese displacement to forced labor camps and wide-spread famine. The lyrics innocently sing of an aquatic weed, people resorted to eating to survive:

Genjer laying all through the rice fields
Genjer laying all through the rice fields
The mother of the boy comes to pick genjer
The mother of the boy comes to pick genjer
Taking a bunch she turns away without looking
Now genjer has been brought back home

Every morning genjer is sold at the market
Every morning genjer is sold at the market
Laid out in rows tied up to be sold
Laid out in rows tied up to be sold
The mother of the girl buys genjer while carrying a woven bamboo basket
Genjer now can be cooked

Genjer enters a pot of boiling water
Genjer enters a pot of boiling water
Half-cooked it is drained as a side dish
Half-cooked it is drained as a side dish
A plate of rice and orange sambal in front
Genjer is eaten with rice

It’s hard not to think of bodies so callously considered a ‘side dish’.

Nearly 20 years later (in 1962), the song resurfaced as a rallying cry for the communist party attempting to overthrow then-president Sukarno. While the coup failed, a new president – Suharto – took over at this critical moment and began a brutal purging of any artists, writers, musicians or other presumed to be involved in communist organizations. Gender Gendjer was subsequently banned from being performed and sold with consequences ranging from fines, jail time or worse.

There is an amazing first hand-account of attempting to buy a copy of the record (in 2019) over here on Mad Rotter’s blog.

Shuffering and Shmiling- Fela Kuti

If you have not heard of Fela Kuti, here is a small primer on this fascinating figure on Afrobeat history. Recorded in 1977, “Shuffering & Smiling” has an irresistible funk and groove – all underneath a scathing critique of competing religions fighting for control of the peoples of Africa.

Sometimes people talk of ‘holding space’ for others. Put this ‘musical contraption’ on as Fela takes you from the song’s groove, into churches, mosques and temples and back again in to the ‘shuffering and shmiling’ of the everyday African. There is no need to delay your gratification here.

The Message – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five

You’ve probably heard this tune. Solid, catchy and one of the first hip-hop songs to have social commentary that made it in to the mainstream. You can easily have this groove playing in the background, but if you listen closely, you’ll hear them rapping about the state of a so called nation in turmoil – sadly still not far from the truth nearly 40 years later.

Mad: (feat. Lil’ Wayne) – Solange

While not directly addressing resistance, a concomitant polarity with grief and rage is also healing. Solange’s 2016 album A Seat at the Table addressed many issues with systemic racism and Black history, but couched it with a message of hope and optimism. Created after many hours of interviews with her family the album has many gems – along with this one featuring Lil’ Wayne flowing about the emotion of anger.

Shin Jung Hyun And The Men- Beautiful Rivers And Mountains (South Korea, 1972)

Many forget that back in the 70’s South Korea had a authoritarian leader they could call their own. Park Chung-hee was the third president of South Korea, and while he presided over rapid economic growth, freedom of speech was not exactly high on the agenda. And so when the famous Korean rock star Shin Jung-hyeon was asked to write a song extolling the virtue of the president, he refused and wrote this 10-minute swirling psychedelic ode to the beauty of South Korea’s nature instead, for which he was thrown in jail soon after.

The Black Brothers – Saman Doye (Indonesia/West Papua, 1978)

1969 saw the world recognize Indonesia’s claim to West Papua after a highly controversial election followed by years of exploitation and brutal repression that continue until today. The other side of the heavy military presence in Papua is the emergence of a live music scene that consisted mainly of bands from military personnel. Ostensibly, the locals started to pick up a thing or two. Black Brothers was one of the bands that grew out of this scene, eventually moving to Jakarta and playing stadiums until they suddenly moved to the Netherlands, a move that was apparently involuntary, prompted by their support of West Papuan Independence. “Saman Doye” is sung in Papuan and while it’s not overtly political, what could be more subversive than singing a song in your native language in the capital of the state that is trying to subdue you by any means?

Harry Roesli Gang – Don’t Talk About Freedom (Indonesia, 1973)

As an artist, musician and provocateur, Harry Roesli was one of the most important Indonesian artists of his day. During the Suharto regime, openly saying what you thought was often not an option and so, subtle forms of resistance were often preferred. Harry Roesli’s brand of satire very much treaded the fine line between what is allowed and what can put you in jail. This song from his younger days was a taste of things to come.

Pharaoh Sanders – You’ve Got To Have Freedom (USA, 1982)

This classic tune was a staple of Pharaoh Sanders’ live performances and it encapsulates his style of spiritual jazz perfectly. Played at a breakneck speed, the song seems to teeter close to breaking point again and again, every time regrouping under Sanders’ inimitable ability to coax out the most beautiful melodies with his saxophone. Joy and catharsis in 14 plus minutes.

Published by

Morgan

Morgan

Morgan is the son of an exiled Indonesian court dancer and free-spirited American writer and ship-builder. Having grown up in an oil-financed beach colony on the eastern coast of Borneo before being smuggled to the United States, Morgan picked up the sound cultures of techno, dub, punk and other club musics before settling in Berlin. Morgan’s musicological interests also include ballads, spirituals and other roots Americana as well as FM synthesis, gamelan and live sound composition using microphones and mixer feedback. Much of Morgan’s practice lies in searching out and harmonizing resonances between the histories of these music through writing, djing and performing.