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Marching to their own beat

Women have a long and formidable history of revolt. Be it for reproductive rights, voting rights, the right to end gendered violence, or to lead a global climate movement, women have long stood together to be heard. And these lady-led protests have often been accompanied by rallying anthems. Right now, women across Mexico are united in 24-hour strikes following a series of horrific attacks against young females. In India, women are protesting against new citizenship laws that threaten the lives of female minorities. And women of all ages and nationalities are at the forefront of climate crisis protests. Here are five memorable moments and the music they inspired.

Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday (1959)

Billie Holiday’s famous cover of Abel Meeropol’s song, ‘Strange Fruit’ is often said to mark the movement of political propaganda into popular art. The chilling tune accompanied disturbing lyrics that paint a horrific picture of the lynchings of African Americans that were commonplace throughout the first half of the 20th century. Nina Simone, who later covered the song, described ‘Strange Fruit’ as “about the ugliest song I have ever heard, Ugly in the sense that it is violent and tears at the guts of what white people have done to my people in this country”.

Dolly Parton – Jolene (1973)

Dolly transcends age, race, sexuality and class. Beginning her career as a country music gal from East Tennessee her career has well and truly stood the test of time, her music now a staple in the queer repertoire. Her lyrics are often particularly notable for the way they subvert the narrative of the “cheating husband” from the woman’s point of view. Jolene is original because for the first time, it opens up a dialogue from woman to woman. Sure, they might still be discussing a man, but Parton speaks of the fictional Jolene with such admiration and respect that the song transcends the typical cat fight narrative.

Sinead O’Connor – War (Bob Marley cover 1992)

In 1992 Sinead O’Connor appeared on NBC TV’s Saturday Night Live as a musical guest. Whilst performing ‘War’, O’Connor referred to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church rather than racism, tearing up a phot of Pope John Paul II at the song’s finale. A stunned crowd offered no applause and the repercussions that followed saw O’Connor’s career suffered a great deal. It would be another nine years before the Pope ever acknowledged sexual abuse within the church.

Beyoncé – Formation (2016)

As if she couldn’t get any better, in 2016 Beyoncé released the single Formation. Described by Los Angeles Times music critic Mikael Wood as a “statement of radical black positivity”, Formation is a call to arms for African American women of all ages to stand side by side in formation. Referencing Hurricane Katrina and the Black Lives Matter movement, the video takes place in New Orleans. More than a protest, it is a celebration of black America, and paints a picture of an empowered and hopeful future.

Fat Boy Slim – Right Here Right Now Remix (2019)

In an electrifying acknowledgment of climate activist Greta Thunberg’s speech at the UN Climate Conference last year, British DJ Fat Boy Slim promptly integrated goose-bump raising excerpts into his 1990s club favourite, Right Here, Right Now. He debuted the re-mix during a live set in the UK last September, dropping Greta’s cry of Right Here, Right Now into the original – updating a dance club classic and creating a rallying anthem for climate warriors around the globe. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/oct/09/right-here-right-now-fatboy-slim-samples-greta-thunberg-for-live-show    

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