Where are the Gen Y protest singers?

Where are the Gen Y protest singers? This was the question posed to a panel that included Billy Bragg and Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett on the ABC’s Q&A on Monday night. Blue King Brown bassist CARLO SANTONE responds, saying you need to look no further than his own band’s commitment to the cause.

Compared to non-political musicians, there isn’t a huge amount of us out there in Australia today who are actively fighting the system, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a negative thing. Revolutionaries are rare, perhaps that’s what makes them special.

Being politically active is not something that can be forced. I see two kinds of “political musicians”: Some are actively outspoken in the political arena, while others are more subtle with their approach. They’ll “support the cause”, but aren’t “protest singers” as such. In fact, there’s quite a lot of those types these days, and I say that’s great. What’s important is the work, the movement, the commitment to the greater good.

What we promote as Blue King Brown is that everyone – from every industry and every community – can be a part of the progressive movement. This is the movement that takes us out of old ways of thinking. It moves us away from old approaches to human rights, environmental awareness, inequality and injustice, and into a more compassionate, humane and sustainable society, where the planet and its people are respected. Summed up nicely by Mr Marley as “One Love”.

I can speak about our singer Natalie Pa’apa’a and Blue King Brown’s activity because I know it inside out. Most of the true political musicians I know are so deeply engaged in their projects, their life and their mission that it’s hard to truly stay on top of what others are doing. We tend to focus all our energy into our life’s work. So for those wondering where the “protest singers” are, it’s perhaps interesting to see what we’ve got up to this year.

At our 2012 WOMADelaide and Bluesfest appearances we staged the biggest show of public support for the Free West Papua movement. People will support important causes if the delivery connects with them. We use our stage as a space to create a sense of unity, a sense of oneness, where we the people are as powerful as any government out there. It’s a magic thing, you know. The images from these shows capture elements of that magic, the footage is even stronger and the experience in the moment is the ultimate.

Natalie Pa’apa’a has also actively supported Amnesty International’s Arms Trade treaty campaign; onegirl.org.au, who are supporting young girls education programs in Sierra Leone; WWF’s Earth Hour; standforfreedom.org, who are advocating for indigenous voices to be heard on the “stronger futures” legislation issues; Julian Assange/freedom of speech justice rallies; West Papua self-determination rallies with rizeofthemorningstar.com and the Serendipity program which works to combat AIDS in Papua New Guinea.

Collectively, we’ve actively been supporting organsiations like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Get Up! and Sea Shepherd. We supported the launch of Anna Rose’s book about climate change Madlands; talked on climate panels at Splendour In the Grass with leading alternative energy specialists; and just last week, spoke and performed at a Northern Rivers action against the coal seam gas industry. We’ve also just about finished an anti-nuke self-education website which has been supported by a number of musicians and will be launched soon. All this in addition, of course, to performing and recording nationally and internationally.

“Revolutionaries are rare, perhaps that’s what makes them special.”

So yes, we’re out there, active, and there other artists who are fighting the good fight, too. I’ve recently seen some awesome images from the John Butler and Claire Bowditch Federation Square concert in Melbourne in support of the Save the Kimberley campaign where they had a great turn-out and show of support for the cause. Ezekiel Ox, Xavier Rudd, The Herd, Street Warriors, Zennith Boyz, Tabura, Yung Warriors, Airileke, are just a small few of the other politically active Gen Yers that come to mind.

It feels appropriate to speak about one of the most significant concerts we’ve been a part of, which saw Gen X and Y come together as one. It was the 30th-year anniversary concert of Goanna’s ‘Solid Rock’ on October 6. Goanna’s Shane Howard pulled together a host of like-minded musicians for this one-of-a-kind concert at Mutijulu community at the base of Uluru. Artists included Natalie Pa’apa’a, Archie Roach, Dan Sultan, John Butler, Amy Saunders, Emma Donovan, Bart Willoughby, Neil Murray, William Barton and Warren H Williams. We were all united by the power of this classic “protest song”. Thirty years after its release it’s still having a powerful impact, which really shows the longevity and strength of music. Politicians could take note of the inclusive and respectful process that Shane and his team took to pull the concert together. In the history of Australia’s reconciliation process, this event was a real highlight, and indeed a magic moment.

Music is powerful. It has the power to shift our mindsets for the positive, which can in turn shift the way in which we react and interact with our communities and society. When society shifts we begin to see a national and international shift in consciousness. Rest assured, there are many Australian singers and musicians out there right now who are part of this collective movement, and many international artists as well. Natalie was the Australian representative judge in “Fairplay”, a global competition for young musicians to write original songs on the theme of anti-corruption, and there were so many Gen Y entries.

As for Q&A, it’s great for creating conversation among communities, and who knows? Perhaps this conversation will inspire a new Gen Y singer to come out of the woodwork and take a stand.

Watch Natalie Pa’apa’a from Blue King Brown’s appearance on Q&A here.

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