Music is pretty much the beginning of everything for me – whether it’s writing a poem, getting out of bed or cooking a meal – it is my consistent catalyst.
So a playlist felt like the only way to kick off this residency. ‘Hold Up Magna Carta’ is a collation of 15 songs that made me stop and think about constructs of power and the struggle for self determination and freedom at a time where governments are trying to strip us of so many essential freedoms. Whilst songs may not directly be able to stop Theresa May from calling elections as and when she pleases, or reverse London’s affordable housing crisis, they can spark the fire in the bellies of the population, and encourage critique, debate and hopefully, change.
During my residency I’ll be looking at the different ways in which language – be it legal jargon, song lyrics, poems or memes – can be used artistically to shift power dynamics and creative constructive dialogues with authority. This week I wanted to shed light on artists calling out injustice and calling in new ways of thinking about identity, nationhood and governments’ (mis)uses of power. Ranging from Gorillaz to Janelle Monae via Radiohead, these songs are vibesy history lessons and calls-to-action all at once.
‘How does Kendrick relate to Magna Carta’ I hear you cry. Though Magna Carta was a treaty between King John of England and his Barons (i.e. women, labourers, etc. were never included or given a voice) the document was crucial in asserting the legal idea that the King had to answer to his subjects, and couldn’t just rule as he pleased. Clauses 39 and 40 evoke themes of justice, lawful judgement and equality; tenets that are
not consistently being adhered to by the UK or US governments (more on that in the coming weeks). Kendrick’s line “Don’t tell a lie on me/ I won’t tell the truth bout you […] Electoral votes look like memorial votes/But America’s truth ain’t ignoring the votes” speaks directly to alack of trust in his government. He is calling out the hypocrisy implicit in legal systems that are not concerned with the truth. It is this energy of using dialogue and language as a means to critique ruling powers and eventually create change, that I am exploring through my playlist choices.
A Tribe Called Quest’s powerhouse track off their latest album We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service
engages with the rise of intolerance, racism and misogyny experienced in the US since Trump’s election, yet the sentiment “We don’t believe you/ coz we the people / are here in the rear / ayo, we don’t need you” taps into the universal idea that freedom and empowerment start with the individual. Whilst it would be naive and inaccurate to equate the plight of medieval barons to that of marginalised groups in the US, the emphasis on autonomy and a reclaiming of power can be gleaned in both contexts. Many of the songs I’ve chosen weave the concept of the power of the individual into their choruses. Songs like Farai’s Warrior are an antidote to the sense of powerlessness spreading in a country that is still seeking to scrap the Human Rights Act, which is firmly rooted in Magna Carta itself. [Check out Shami Chakrabati’s article about the relationship between Magna Carta and the Human Rights Act to find out more – essential reading!]
This week, I will be focusing on the poetic elements of these protest songs, exploring how different artists wield language and music to express their feelings about the state of our world. By zooming into lyrics, the subtext of powerful music videos and poems about music – I hope to carve new paths towards a creativity that is personal but also responds to the current state of our world. In the words of Nina Simone, “an artist’s’ duty is to reflect the times and situations in which we find ourselves.” Check back over the week for more political prompts to get you thinking, for now it’s over to you.
Whilst the playlist was devised to help you shake a leg and spark critical thoughts about our government, I’m aware that it only encompasses certain issues, and that the US is disproportionately represented! Are there any UK artists you think I’ve missed out? Which songs would you add to the playlist and why?
Remi Graves is the Digital Poet-in-Residence for 1215.today and will be exploring themes around resistance, language, poetry and the meaning of Magna Carta in the modern world.