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Taken from The Globe and Mail (Jun 25, 2010)

Sounds Like a Revolution: Music to protest by

Movie Review

by Liam Lacey

Michael Franti
Rocker Michael Franti

A documentary captures arguments from the left of punk rock and hip hop

Sounds Like a Revolution

  • Directed by Summer Love and Jane Michener
  • Written by Margaret Susan Martin
  • With Michael Franti, Fat Mike, Paris and Justin Sane
  • Classification: 14A

These days when we hear stories about a new American revolutionary fervour, it’s usually thundering from the political right, from the Tea Party Movement and conservative broadcasters. In the last decade, though, the political left has had its own resurgence in a spectrum of anti-war, anti-corporate and environmental political activity.

That makes Sounds like A Revolution a timely look at the current state of protest music, which has flowered since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Directed by Toronto’s Summer Love and Jane Michener (and narrated by Toronto singer Jackie Richardson), the film is a television-style music documentary which focuses on four American performers: Michael Franti of Spearhead, rapper Paris, Fat Mike of the San Francisco punk band NOFX and Justin Sane of Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag. Additional commentary is provided by David Crosby, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, along with York University music professor Rob Bowman and radio host Alan Cross (CFNY’s The Ongoing History of New Music) who provide some useful historical context. Along with a lot of feel-good expressions of political solidarity, the most interesting point here is that, although political musicians popped up in every genre from country to rap during George W. Bush’s second term in office, they have little opportunity to reach the mass audience of say, Justin Bieber or Katy Perry. Ideologically conservative American radio (especially the Clear Channel chain) and major record distributors such as Wal-Mart suppress product they consider too politically disturbing.

At the same time, indie musicians are finding a new solidarity with their fan base through social networking sites and finding better ways to distribute low-cost music.

Otherwise, Sounds like a Revolution sounds like something we’ve heard before.. The musicians are generally articulate and altruistic but have a tendency to treat the obvious as profound (“The corporate consciousness is about money,” declares David Crosby).The most thoughtful is Michael Franti, whose annual Power to the Peaceful festival in San Francisco draws 50,000 people. His song Bomb the World has a well-phrased message: “We can bomb the world to pieces but we can’t bomb it into peace.” The rapper Paris takes anti-government paranoia to an extreme, with his conviction that the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks.

Some songs amount to little more than sing-along invective: Hey, Wal-Mart (Blow Me), 500 Ways to Kill a CEO, or the George W. Bush ode Idiot, Son of an Asshole (which barely meets Alexander Pope’s standard for true wit as “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed”).

What’s not explored here is the intriguing area where capitalism and oppositional culture feed off each other. Several celebrated rock artists – M.I.A., U2 and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few – write a kind of protest music, created and sold through corporate channels. As director Michael Moore has said, in reference to the corporate financing of his anti-establishment documentaries: “Capitalists will sell you the rope to hang themselves with if you can make a buck off it.”


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