Ani DiFranco has said "My patriotism is borne of the cultural and activist history of my country. The land, the beautiful land that we inhabit, everything that we hold high about this country, all of the rights and freedoms that we brag about around the world, were fought for by activists."
"It seems like a real good time to talk about voting, about getting registered and getting activated. I am pretty thrilled to be one of many tours out there right now, addressing the exact same issue. I think that in every desperate situation, such as the political circumstance we find ourselves in these days, with this administration, there are great opportunities for change. Opportunities for dialogue. I guess it is about trying to be smart and strategic and capitalize on that opportunity."
There are just a whole lot of people out there right now becoming aware of the fact that we haven't been participating as citizens of this country. Statistically, the voting participation is so low, especially among young people. To use this crisis as an opportunity to get inspired, to participate once again. Get registered and not just vote this November, but in every election from now on. Sort of a life-style shift in this country, from consumers back to citizens. It is kind of what I am feeling around me right now and I am trying to donate my energies to.
Antibalas are a renegade Afrobeat army of around 15 musicians founded by Martin Perna. Perna has campaigned for net neutrality, testifying to the FCC to ensure the future will be supportive to artists. In addition he serves on the board of Artists in Hospitals, a non-profit arts organization which builds collaborative healing projects in Austin, Texas.
Antibalas' lyrics often incorporate satire into a scathing critic of the evils of our time and the failure of our government to prevent them, care about them or suffer the associated shame of owning up to the truth. In other words they are a musical conscience:
"This is the system
But still the small man believes in the system
So him say to the big man:
What can I sing for you?
What can I buy from you?
Who can I fight for you?
What can I carry for you, big man?"
Bright Eyes' singer Conor Oberst thinks more artists should express themselves politically:
“I wouldn’t say I have an obligation, I would say that I feel compelled,” he explains. “It’s not necessarily something I enjoy doing, but I feel like I should. Obviously, that provided a very specific context for people to think about us—as a kind of political, lefty band. I didn’t plan it that way or intend for people to think of Bright Eyes in that way. It’s very much a part of what I do, but I don’t think of myself as a specifically “political” artist. Just because you feel something in your private life doesn’t necessarily mean you have to express it in your public life or in your work….but it would be nice if more people did. Especially when it came to gay rights and immigration rights, wherein people are really being oppressed here in the U.S. on a daily basis."
Bright Eyes were part of the Rock The Net campaign to ensure net neutrality and a future where artists are not compromised by government.
Buffy Sainte-Marie virtually invented the role of Native American international activist pop star. Her concern for protecting indigenous intellectual property, and her distaste for the exploitation of Native American artists and performers has kept her in the forefront of activism in the arts for forty years.
Stylistically Buffy has covered a massive range from her acoustic folk work, like Little Wheel Spin And Spin, to dance anthems such as No No Keshagesh, a protest song against greed, environmental destruction and war. She recorded the first ever vocal and totally electronic album in the 60s and pioneered the first internet distributed album in the 90s. Her songs have been covered by many artists including the rendition of Where We Belong by Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker which won the 1982 Academy Award for best original song.
Since 1969 she has operated the Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education, whose Cradleboard Teaching Project serves children and teachers worldwide, free and online. During the 1990s Buffy Sainte-Marie focused her time mostly on the Cradleboard Teaching Project, using her multimedia skills to create accurate, enriching core curriculum based in Native American cultural perspectives. The American Indian College Fund presented her with their Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2008 she campaigned for Barack Obama: "not because he's from Hawaii or he's of mixed race, but because he was a professor of constitutional law"
Joey Keithley, aka Joey Shithead, founded legendary punk pioneers D.O.A. in 1978. BC punk rockers who spread counterculture around the world, they've been cited as influences by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Rancid and The Offspring; have toured with The Clash, The Ramones, The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Nirvana, PiL, Minor Threat and others; and are the subject of two tribute albums.
They are the band that introduced the term "hardcore" into punk lexicon and may have turned Nirvana's lead singer Kurt Cobain onto a career in music. But punk is more than a style of music: it's a political act, and D.O.A. have always had a social conscience, having performed in support of Greenpeace, women's rape/crisis centres, prisoner's rights, and anti-nuke and anti-globalization organizations. More than three decades later with 18 albums and tours in 30 different countries, D.O.A. are kings of punk.
Fela Kuti was a musician, composer, and political outlaw whose music and lifestyle were a form of resistance. Fela and his band, Koola Lobitos, invented what he would later call Afrobeat. For Fela, Afrobeat was more than a fusion of jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and traditional West African rhythms and chants; it was also a critique of African musicians’ abandonment of their musical roots and their conformity to American pop music trends.
Fela never gave into the demands of Western record companies to make millions. Instead in 1970, he established a massive commune and recording studio, the Kalakata Republic, in one of the poorest parts of Lagos, Nigeria. He declared independence from the Nigerian state.
In addition to his lifestyle, Fela’s music attacked the Nigerian military regime. In 1977, Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the album Zombie, comparing Nigerian soldiers to zombies. Yet, Fela’s protest had a price. One thousand soldiers invaded the commune. They severely beat Fela, killed his mother, burned his studio, and destroyed his instruments and master tapes. In response, Fela wrote two songs: “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier.”
In spite of oppression against his politics and lifestyle he refused to give in, instead using his talent to continue fighting for the causes he believed in, even forming his own party and declaring intentions to run for president. He performed in Paris at an Amnesty International concert in 1986 and released an anti-apartheid album called Beasts of No Nation in 1989. Fela died in 1997.
Frank Zappa "the Mozart of the 20th century" was a first at many things: an amazing technical and musical innovator.
He was the first to record an orchestra digitally. Frank was also the first to make voting intelligently cool. With his Public Service Announcements in the 70s and 80s Zappa encouraged young people to flex their voting muscles. He was the first to register voters in concert halls as well as working with the League of Women Voters at all of his shows.
One of the causes Zappa fought most memorably for was Freedom of Speech and the abolition of censorship. Along with Dee Snider and John Denver, Frank Zappa testified before a senate hearing on the issue of explicit lyrics, what widely became known as "porn rock". His strident support of free speech in spite of an organized Washington campaign to smear artistic expression has left a lasting impact on musicians both political and popular.
He is as equally infamous for his appearance on CNNs Crossfire as he is for his insane musical melange of LA Pop Rock and unclassifiable, original composition.
The Jonas Brothers are well aware of their status as role models and have made many efforts so far in their career towards social campaigning and inspiring youth.
"We all have different organizations and things that are really strong in our hearts. For me in particular is Special Olympics, people affected by intellectual disabilities," said middle brother, Joe. "I started a fun run, called iWin Fun Run. We had one run so far, last year in San Antonio, Texas, and about 600 people came out and ran. The run is all about "everyone's a winner", and raising awareness and money."
"I've been able to do a lot of work so far with diabetes. It's something that affects me every day personally," said youngest brother Nick, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in November 2005. "To be able to share my story and do what I can to help is really an amazing thing."
"My initiative is volunteerism," said oldest brother, Kevin. "Me, Joe and Nick have all been working together with our foundation, called Change for the Children Foundation."
On the website for the Foundation, the Jonas Brothers explain how one person, no matter how young they are, can make a difference in the lives of others. "We think the best people to help children are their peers -- kids helping other kids who are a little less fortunate." The goal of the Foundation is "to support programs that motivate and inspire children to face adversity with confidence, determination and a will to succeed."
Throughout his 20 year career trajectory legendary pioneer Krist Parker who goes by the pseudonym KRS-One (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) has given fans over a dozen classic Hip-Hop albums and spoken at more then 500 universities/colleges. Nicknamed “The Teacha” the New York native and acclaimed MC has been honored by the United Nations, Billboard Magazine, The Source, BET Hip-Hop Awards, VH-1’s Hip-Hop Honors and Harvard University to name a few.
He is presently one of the most outspoken leaders of Hip Hop’s politics and tradition. His integration of Hip Hop and metaphysical knowledge resonates throughout his music, lectures, and writings as his powerful presence continues to inspire generations.
Beyond his music career, Matthew has also been a writer and blogger. From late 1997 through the end of 2000, Good published a series of monthly "manifestos" on the band's website. Many of these were later compiled and released in his debut book At Last There Is Nothing Left To Say.
Throughout his life, Matthew has found a passion for politics and history. He once commented that he would have become a history teacher had he not found success as a musician. In recent years, he has made his political views far more public, and has used his website to express his opinions about the Canadian government, the effects of the United States' foreign policy, and world crises like the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. Matthew has also been heavily involved with Amnesty International, bringing Amnesty representatives on the road with him during his 2004 tour and offering a limited-edition soccer jersey on his website with proceeds going to Amnesty.
Patti Smith is a writer and musician who fused rock anthems with poetry. Her 1975 album Horses more than earned her the title of Godmother of Punk. Her music has influenced generations of artists including some on this page like Michael Stipe.
In addition to supporting Obama in his 2008 campaign, Patti has been a supporter of the Green Party and backed Ralph Nader in the 2000 United States presidential election. She led the crowd singing "People Have the Power" at the campaign's rallies and at Democracy Rising events.
Patti was a speaker and singer at the first protests against the Iraq War. She has also been vocal about the US' continued support of Israel despite human rights crimes, writing the song Qana about one airstrike against a Lebanese village.
Speaking on a special broadcast of Democracy Now, Patti said:
"one of the things that I can do is respond to things that are unjust... and hopefully by putting it out into the world, free, putting it on websites, these songs, maybe it will be of good use."
There aren't too many American bands whose following can measure up to that of the Grateful Dead—particularly ones off the jam-band circuit. But Pearl Jam is on track to be just that. With an extensive catalog of bootlegs, fans who tour with them from show to show, and an emotional connection with their audiences built up over the last 20 years, they may be the most important touring band that can claim the same tread as the Dead (with apologies to Phish).
And it's not just because of their music, though the bluesy emotional wail of Eddie Vedder has indeed changed many lives. It's because they represent something to believe in, they stand for their values, and they have not ever compromised throughout their two-decade career, even when it has meant losing money.
Radiohead had read No Logo by Naomi Klein during the Kid A sessions ("No Logo" was also briefly considered as the album title) and all the members were reportedly heavily influenced by it, though Yorke said it "didn't teach him anything he didn't already know".Yorke's activism in support of fair trade practices, with an anti-WTO and anti-globalisation stance, garnered significant attention in the early 2000s.Yorke had previously referenced maquiladoras in the title of a Radiohead B-side in 1995, and decried the IMF in 1997's "Electioneering". Yorke is also a professed fan of Noam Chomsky's political writings,and is a longtime vegan.
Yorke is friends with the environmentalist writer, academic and journalist George Monbiot; he lent a quote to feature on Monbiot's book Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain. He is also notable as a political activist on behalf of other causes, including human rights and anti-war movements such as Jubilee 2000, Amnesty International and CND, and the Friends of the Earth campaign "The Big Ask".Radiohead played at the Free Tibet concert in both 1998 and 1999, and at an Amnesty International concert in 1998. In 2005 Yorke performed at an all-night vigil for the Trade Justice Movement.In 2006, Radiohead and Yorke performed a special benefit concert for Friends of the Earth, which was attended by representatives of British political parties including Tory leader David Cameron. Yorke made headlines the same year for refusing Prime Minister Tony Blair's request to meet with him to discuss climate change, declaring Blair had "no environmental credentials".
R.E.M. are a major pioneering rock band of the 80s. They sounded different than other artists of the time and their actions were a league apart from the excesses that rock often gets the bad rap for.
In a highly successful lobbying campaign that showed the power of progressive artists and their fans, R.E.M. and Rock The Vote lobbied for The National Voter Registration Act of 1991. Their album Out Of Time came with a "Dear Senator" postcard declaring their support of the bill.
Lead singer Michael Stipe has benefitted numerous charities such as ALAS, Amnesty International, PETA, (RED) as well as causes for disaster relief such as Music Rising.
In 2004, R.E.M. shared a bill with Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty, and Bright Eyes, on the MoveOn sponsored Vote for Change tour, with concerts in six different states key to the 2004 election.
Rapper Naeem Juwan aka MC Spank Rock isn't all fun times and nightclubs. Cornell West was mentioned as a lyric in one of his songs, and Juwan is a fan. West is active in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which the musician admitted is "pretty powerful." When in high school at a youth leadership conference, he got the opportunity to hear the professor and philosopher speak. "It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It really helped me change my perspective on a lot of things in the world."
He took an active role in the 2004 elections working with the League of Pissed Of Voters. His experiences then left him less gung-ho on getting involved in politics himself, but, he says, "I love to see people motivated, trying to change the environment and the way that we live."
In 2008 he worked with Rock The Vote on a video encouraging rappers and rockers to register to vote.
Upon emerging onto the music scene with System of a Down and later as a solo artist, Serj Tankian has always balanced his art with his activism. Besides infusing social commentary within his lyrics, throughout the years, Tankian has been at work raising awareness and initiating action to create social and political change. Whether it be working with Amnesty International to inspire individuals to join a global write-a-thon campaign to end unjust imprisonment, raising money for food banks in Santa Monica, or inspiring thousands to petition the U.S, Congress to recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915, his causes all have the aim to bring justice to those who need it most.
In 2002, along with Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, Tankian co-founded Axis of Justice, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to bring together musicians, fans of music, and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice.
Their aim is to build a bridge between fans of music around the world and local political organizations to effectively organize around issues of peace, human rights, and economic justice.
Tragically Hip front man turned environmental activist Gord Downie's journey with water activism began with a battle against a cement company.
The company was experimenting with burning tires as an alternative fuel source.
He joined forces with the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper after hearing a speech by Robert Kennedy Jr. and put a halt to the unsafe practice in the lakeside village of Bath, Ontario.
"If you jump in and expect the government to help you out - don't."
Famed for his unique style, Tom Morello is one of the most influential guitarists in modern rock. He's played with the bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave and, since '04, has performed as a solo acoustic artist, combining activism and music under the pseudonym The Nightwatchman. Known for his outspoken politics, the Harvard alum co-founded Axis of Justice, an organization that focuses on peace, human rights and economic justice issues. His latest alter ego CD, "World Wide Rebel Songs," is his first featuring a full electric band.