The Lion’s Den | Soundtracks to the Struggles

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DANIEL McCLOUD

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

The lyrics above from the song “Strange Fruit” famously sung by Billie Holiday shed light on the horrific practice of lynching African Americans in the South.

What does this song and songs like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” “Fight the Power” and “We Shall Overcome” have in common? They, along with hundreds of other songs, fall under the genre of socially conscious music, or as I would define them, socially conscious protest music (SCPM). Throughout history, this music has played a pivotal role in social change.

As once aptly stated in the Keenen Ivory Wayans directed Blaxploitation parody, I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, “theme music, every hero should have some.” Along those lines, every cause needs a soundtrack. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, many of the world’s premier African American musicians not only marched as a form of protest, but they also lent their voices to the cause. When the hardest working man in show business, James Brown, sang the self-affirming lyrics “Say it loud I’m Black and I’m proud,” people in the struggle were more determined than ever to persevere. Likewise, when the rap group Public Enemy rhymes in Fight the Power,

Cause I’m Black and I’m proud
I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped

The lyrics move beyond self-affirmation, towards a call to action. And the civil rights staple “We Shall Overcome,” is a study of patience, faith and courage in the face of extreme violence and despair. Needless to say, the entire album, “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, is as socially relevant now as it was at its release in 1971.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, eheh
Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, oh oh oh

You can feel the angst in his voice as he attempts to make sense of the pain that a mother can only feel when a child is lost. There is a call for unity that can only take place when love is present. History has shown that it can repeat itself, for the good as well as the bad. And with every instance of social injustice that arises, there has been socially conscious protest music to provide a soundtrack to the struggles. Music has a way of making us remember, and this type of music assures that we will never forget.

Daniel McCloud



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