Zeb And Haniya – Dadra

“Two days after a bombing in Lahore killed over 70 Pakistanis at an Easter gathering this year [2016], the pop duo Zeb and Haniya released ‘Dadra,’ which they dedicated to their beloved city. It’s a sweet lullaby of lament, the Urdu lyrics guided by an electric guitar’s undertow. Zeb and Haniya have found an especially strong following in South India. Zeb says she was surprised and touched by how many Indian fans wrote with sympathy from across the border” (The Economist, “1843 Magazine,” June/July 2016, p. 25).

Zeb and Haniya, cousins, are American college educated Pakistanis. They blend pop music with traditional melodies from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

A Pakistani branch of the Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attack. It appears to be a failed political mission: it killed mostly Muslims, and women and children, though the group’s apparent intent was to target Christian men.


Bruce Hornsby – The Way It Is

Does passing a law change people’s thoughts and behaviors?

Bruce Hornsby was skeptical in 1986 – “the law don’t change another’s mind” – thinking back to the US 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This law banned discrimination based on skin color and religion at private establishments like lodging and restaurants, and public places at the state and local government level. Employers were forbidden to discriminate on these grounds and gender, too. The law eased restrictions on voting for African Americans, though did not end qualification requirements. It started the progress toward desegregation of public schools.


KISS – Rock And Roll All Nite

The Demon, Gene Simmons, plays bass for KISS, one of the world’s best known hard rock bands. Maybe he had sex with more than 4,000 women. Less obvious is the man was born in Israel.

Simmons has expressed views on Israeli politics seemingly at odds with the dominant narrative in celebrity culture that is sympathetic to Palestine. He has been supportive of defending the territorial integrity of the state of Israel at the expense of Palestine.

Israel was “created” after the Second World War, in territory also claimed by Palestinians. The land itself is considered holy according to Christians, Muslims and Jews. Several wars since then have kept Israel as Israel, leaving Palestinians without a permanent place to live. There have been many attempts at peace accords, and proposals to accept a “two-state” solution have not been successful.

Even discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict, as it is also known, as part of foreign policy debates in other countries, is fraught with political peril. Is it rock and roll, anti-establishment for a KISS member to speak openly on the situation, taking a side?

Whatever, it’s a long way away from this 1975 party anthem!

Bob Dylan – Maggie’s Farm

So many lacklustre live versions over the years have made this song lose its shine. The simple melody unfortunately seems consciously designed to permit latter day Bob to mumble the lyrics incomprehensibly. But it is surely one of Dylan’s most famous protest songs, and one that can really rock.

The narrator doesn’t want to work on Maggie’s farm no more. Now, it’s been joked that Dylan would hardly make a very productive farmhand, and that Maggie would have fired him long ago… but the farm has been interpreted to represent many things: industrial exploitation of workers, racism if the employees are African American, overly powerful governments, the military, and more. The song is also widely seen as Dylan’s kiss off to folk music: a protest song against the protest songs he became typecast with; he performed it at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in a raw, electric blues manner off putting to many, but perhaps necessary to free this artist to move on to other challenges.

One mark of a truly great folk and protest song is when it can mean many things to many people, but also not be so vague as to be meaningless. Dylan achieves this here. If we could tie the interpretations together with a common thread, Maggie’s Farm is like a countercultural rallying call, an anthem of nonconformity presaging or welcoming the late 1960s hippy movement. At least, a message to us all to not follow the crowd so readily. Alas, all of us going separate ways brings challenges for governing society that is easier done with a predictable, homogeneous agglomeration of individuals. So be it?

INXS – Original Sin

1980s Aussie rockers liked laying down sparse grooves that if not so danceable, might also seem like unfinished demos. The song is widely thought to be a message of patience for eventual acceptance of mixed-race couples, and perhaps back in 1984, this was considered less acceptable.

The reference to “original sin” may be a Biblical one. In this context, original sin typically refers to the fall of man with Adam’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. But given that the verses refer to murder, perhaps singer Michael Hutchence had something else in mind (some online interpretations of this song think it is about colonization in Australia).

Whatever, how about the message from INXS is to treat all people equally?

Sting – Children’s Crusade

Trust Sting with his Big Ideas to pen a song with a narrative spanning nearly 1,000 years!

The Children’s Crusade goes back to the 13th century, with Catholic efforts to rid the Holy Land of Muslims. Historians continue to work out whether this movement was solely kids doing the expunging, but Sting draws the larger picture of children throughout time being used for political purposes. This includes young soldiers dying in the First World War, right up to the date of his tune, 1985, with kids selling drugs. The reference to poppies as both for Remembrance and heroin is both artful and chilling.

According to the organization, Child Soldiers International, thousands of kids continue to fight in armed conflicts. A lack of consent typically is in play.

XTC – Dear God

This protest song takes aim at God as the cause of suffering in the world. Now, a Christian apologetic rejoinder to new wavers XTC’s 1986 song could note that evil exists in the world as God gave humans free will; that it is their task to shape up and not cause harm and suffering to others.

Dear God is considered an atheist song, yet the narrator is writing to God, as if He lives. So, the song is simplistic (including having a child sing) and a little confused (so what does XTC believe in?). Still, the tune is refreshing as a protest song, for laying the blame beyond us, our politics and governments.