Soundtrack for a (Green) Revolution

The Vancouver International Film Festival wrapped last week, and of the movies that I saw Soundtrack For a Revolution was easily my favourite. The documentary, directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, focuses on the songs that were the backbone of the American civil rights struggle.

This portrait of the way that music can bring people together and give them the strength to overcome tremendous odds may seem like strange content for a sustainability blog.

The VIFF was also packed with quality environmental content. The Age of Stupid [trailer], for example, was a big success. But at the core of Stupid, and a lot of other commentary that has been coming out about climate change recently, is the message that change will only come if we fight for it. Protest is a necessary part of the process that leads to effective legislation and cultural change. (Georgre Monbiot had some interesting diagrams to that effect in Stupid).

Through a mix of archival footage, interviews with key civil rights figures and new performances of classic struggle songs by groups like The Roots, Wycleff Jean, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Joss Stone (who gives a totally riveting performance), Soundtrack for a Revolution gives an amazing portrait of what motivates a struggle, what binds it together and what guides it. The trailer above doesn't nearly do it justice – catch it if it comes to a theatre near you.

It has got me wondering -- what are the songs of the climate struggle going to be?


15 Responses to "Soundtrack for a (Green) Revolution"

Alex Aylett said... 22 October 2009 at 23:09

I just stumbled on another great post in a similar vein. It's ends with pretty much the same question, but I still haven't found an answer.

What tracks would be on the playlist of the soundtrack for a climate change revolution?

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said... 13 November 2009 at 13:09

On my playlist, Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi and What a wonderful world - Louis Armstrong would figure. What about you?

Alex Aylett said... 13 November 2009 at 13:20

Great choices, especially the Louis Armstrong. I think I would add Ben Harper's "Excuse Me Mr." And something by Michael Franti, but I'm not sure which song - "Rock the Nation" maybe?

Paolo said... 13 November 2009 at 14:40

One song that comes to mind is Richard Butler's California:

This is an interesting challenge Alex - maybe it's time to sit down and spend an hour or two building a playlist... hmmm...

Alex Aylett said... 13 November 2009 at 15:14

I hadn't heard of Richard Butler before and I gotta admit, I'm not immeiately convinced. It seems a bit to mellow to inspire action and a bit too down to support people in times of trouble. More like a lament than a protest song...

I was thinking maybe "We're not Going to Take it" by Twisted Sister. Is that too cliché?

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said... 13 November 2009 at 23:01

Ben Harper definitely :) Marvin Gaye - Mercy Mercy Me. I found this great list on treehugger and another one on grinning planet

Alex Aylett said... 16 November 2009 at 23:18

Hey, those are cool links. Grinning Planet has a ton of stuff!

I'm still not hearing a really good playlist for a green revolution. I think we are still missing a few energetic songs that motivate change and bring poeople together.

Alex Aylett said... 9 December 2009 at 11:20

Alright, I've got two more additions, both from the most recent album by Winnipeg based indie-folk group The Duhks:

- Mighty Storm:

- Fast Paced World: (don't let the video distract you too much from the lyrics...)

Alex Aylett said... 12 December 2009 at 23:09

More additions:
- Beds are Burning:

- Emergency on Planet Earth (Jamiroquai)

- Le déni de l'évidence (Mes Aieux):
[this last one has great lyrics]

Alex Aylett said... 12 December 2009 at 23:16

- Eyes on the Prize (Mavis Staples):

a beauty from the civil rights struggle with a message that's still worth listening to: "Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!"

nathiuria said... 12 January 2010 at 09:35

what song does joss stone sing?

ted said... 14 January 2010 at 14:34

hey all,

nice choices! especially mavis staples. sweet.

i have a few thoughts on songs for our revolution, and people might not agree with me (that's okay: i think revolution should invoke respectful disagreements!)

first, i don't think the extremely overt, extremely earnest songs are so effective in our time. i remember being in quebec city for the summit of the americas in 2001, and before the major demonstration they played traci chapman's "talking 'bout a revolution." it might have been a good choice, but i couldn't help thinking that so many other traci chapman songs are more political, though in subtler and more interesting ways: "fast car," for example.

songs that make you think a bit, rather than giving you the answer ("the poor are going to rise up and get their share") get me more excited. radiohead and bjork are some of my favourite artists in this way: their lyrics are a bit of a puzzle, and they don't always give you a straight-up message, but they're sometimes pretty brilliant commentaries on our world. "fake plastic trees" summed up the 1990s for me, better than any other song. the lyrics are depressing, but the song is beautiful. somehow that leaves me feeling both miserable and hopeful. that's not a bad place to find your politics, i think.

second, i'm really interested in songs that help to dislodge your sense of who you are and where you are, and yet leave you feeling held and somehow safe in the midst of indefinition. there are some instrumental bands like Do Make Say Think and Deerhunter that i think do an amazing job of this. the big social movements of the past were largely based on a strong sense of unity and identity (labour movement, civil rights movement, feminist movement). i think our struggle is to find a way to support each other while not losing sight of what divides us, what makes us different. the demonstrations at the copenhagen summit gave me a lot of hope that this could happen.

so what does this point to, song wise? i've posted a few songs on let me know if any of these move you!


Alex Aylett said... 23 January 2010 at 09:04

Hi Ted,
I still haven't managed to listen to those songs you posted. Something about the login isn't working for me. I'll try again and see.

In the meantime, I'd add Sarah Harmer's song "Escaprment Blues"

very folky - not to subltle - but great all the same:

"We'll keep driving on the blind line / If we don't know where we want to go."

Alex Aylett said... 11 February 2010 at 17:50

Here's another good one:

Danny Michel -- *Feather, Fur, and Fin"

Alex Aylett said... 1 March 2010 at 18:48

Macaco's Mama Tierra also great:


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