Soundtracking the Resistance - An Interview with Young Fathers

The Art of the Protest Song

Mar 09, 2018 Web Exclusive By Stephen Mayne Bookmark and Share


This week we have Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers talking protest songs and political music, and after detouring through nuclear negotiations, trade tariffs and Italy, we finish with International Women's Day 

The Big Event

When the world contains Donald Trump, Brexit, and a rising tide of destructive populism, how should a concerned musician respond? After all, venturing into the protest song business can leave an artist stuck with the political label for years to come. Kayus Bankole, one third of the Scottish genre-blending band Young Fathers knows all about this. "It's just another way of putting you in a box. Having any form of opinion at all makes you political."

Which is not to say the Edinburgh trio shy away from political statements. When they won the Mercury Prize in 2014 for their debut album Dead, they caused a stir by refusing to give interviews to rightwing publications. They've also written charged songs and had an art video displayed in the National Galleries of Scotland targeted by far-right extremists.

This doesn't mean Bankole or his bandmates Alloysious Massaquoi, and Graham "G" Hastings, friends since their teenage years, are going to be out waving flags and banging drums with their music. Not explicitly anyway. "Having a political song I don't think has the same power it did back in the day with a Bob Marley song or something like that," says Bankole. Young Fathers' new album, Cocoa Sugar deals in a darker ambiguity, at least lyrically. Bankole is clear he doesn't want to narrow down his audience. "You can put yourself in that scenario where you're just preaching to the choir."

They've made a habit of trying to make their choir as broad as possible. The music has been called everything from rock to pop, rap, Krautrock, and grime to name just a few of the descriptions thrown their way. It's all broadly accurate as well. This sound is mixed with cutting but often open-ended lyrics as they prove again on their third full-length. What others make of it is up to them according to Bankole. "Once it's in your possession it becomes yours. That's the best way I can put it."

But where exactly does this leave musicians wanting to use their art to engage politically? Bankole turns pensive as he answers. "Do I feel there's power in protest songs? Do they create change? It's hard to tell. I do believe musicians in particular are powerful." To this last statement, he's careful to downplay any delusions of grandeur on his part. "We're not Beyoncé. The effect we can make is very miniscule."

As for the art of the protest song, he's given some thought as to why they don't work like they did in decades past. "It's because attitudes change. Generally, people don't like being told this is how you need to feel, this is how you need to do it, this is how you need to want things to change."

For the modern world, a different approach is needed. "Think about thishow much better would it be if people are all dancing to a song and then within that song there's something so powerful in the lyrics that allows them to be in a room with people they'd never normally be in a room with," says Bankole.

This sets him on a roll. "Creating a diverse audience allows different people to come and celebrate the music together." He pauses briefly before finishing the thought. "There's potentially a protest song when everyone is dancing together."

Having a good time is key. "You need to enjoy the music as when you're not enjoying it you switch off." Which leads Bankole to perhaps his most useful advice for anyone thinking of venturing into the world of protest songs. "But at the end of the day, if the song is shite, the song is shite."

What's Going On

Credit where credit is due, Trump might just have pulled off a diplomatic coup by managing to get North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table. The two have agreed to sit down by the end of May with Kim committing to stopping nuclear and ballistic missile testing. Fingers crossed the president knows what he's doing when they meet.

On the home front, it's tariff time. Trump might not hold true to much, but when it comes to trade policy he's broadly consistent. For years the reality TV president has been talking a hard line, and now he's proposing tariffs on steel and aluminum. Cue outrage from his free-trading Republican pals, the resignation of his chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, and much international muttering about reprisals. Trade wars here we come, because as Trump said, "trade wars are good, and easy to win."

We mentioned elections in Italy last week, and they've duly proved as chaotic as everyone feared. The traditional parties slumped and populists stormed ahead. The Five Star Movement won the biggest percentage of the vote with 32.7%, but no one has enough seats to govern alone. A center right coalition led by the anti-immigrant Northern League might be in prime position. However, their combined share is only 37%. What comes next is more uncertainty.

Speak Up!

It was International Women's Day on Thursday, the perfect time for cheap stunts, the usual sexist complaints about the lack of an International Men's Day (it's in November idiots, but then you didn't really care if there was one), and more patronizing comments from men about how great their wives and daughters are. But riding high above that came another rallying cry for long overdue equality.

We also got Spotify releasing a tool to break down a user's listening habits by gender, which makes for interesting insight. Plus, the Grammy's have tried to make amends for another cack-handed attempt at nodding in the direction of equality this year by announcing Time's Up co-founder Tina Tchen will lead a taskforce to investigate bias against women in the music industry.

On the cheap PR stunt end everyone got to enjoy McDonalds finding another bandwagon to jump on by turning their golden arches upside down only to draw attention to their less than stellar record on treating staff. But this is a time to reflect, celebrate, and plan the next steps forward as many artists acknowledged. Here a few examples.

 

 

Song of the Week: Aretha Franklin - "Think" 

Over her long career, Aretha Franklin has mastered everything from intimate ballads to rousing numbers and feminist anthems. It's the latter we're focusing on now, given the recent celebrations, so we end this week with her 1968 single "Think." As she shouts 'Freedom" over and over, it's hard not to agree it's about time.

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Quotes on chasing Dream
August 19th 2018
5:53am

I like the trailer and the way it explain about it here. I hope I can also make things got change