Repeatedly during the process of writing The Subversive Seventies, I was moved by how activists in each country learned from and were inspired by revolutionaries elsewhere, deploying strategies of popular power, organizing structures of revolutionary democracy, combatting multiple structures of domination, and seeking liberation in various forms. The music circulated too, along with the militants and their revolutionary dreams.
This playlist was constructed by asking friends in different countries, “what songs would revolutionaries in the 1970s have listened to and identified with?” I was struck, despite differences of musical styles, by the continuity across national borders.
For their aid with this playlist, I am grateful to Ariel Dorfman, Leo Elicio, Yann Moulier Boutang, Zeynep Öztürk, Katayoun Sadri, Marian Schlotterbeck, Thomas Seibert, Sónia Vaz Borges, Ahmed Veriava, Gavin Walker, Jini Kim Watson, and especially Jem Gilbert and Kathi Weeks.
Listen to the full playlist and read on to trace the political history behind seven iconic protest songs from the 1970s.
1. Victor Jara, “Te Recuerdo Amanda”
Victor Jara’s early music career in Chile combined traditional folk music with political protest. In 1970 he strongly supported Salvador Allende’s presidential bid and his song “Venceremos,” often performed with the band Quilapayún, was composed to back Allende’s campaign. During the subsequent three years of revolutionary change in Chile, Jara was a constant presence, beloved by groups across the left. On 12 September 1973, the day after the military coup against the Allende government, Jara was arrested and, along with thousands of others, held in the enormous sports stadium in Santiago. After being horribly tortured, he reportedly sang “Venceremos” defiantly before soldiers shot him dead.
For this playlist, instead of one of his political anthems, I chose “Te Recuerdo Amanda” (I remember you, Amanda), composed in 1969. This song is equally political but on a more intimate scale, recounting the modest and precarious lives of a couple who work in a factory.
2. Miriam Makeba, “Aluta Continua”
This song is a testament to how struggles and music circulate. Miriam Makeba was a South African singer with ties to a range of anticolonial and Black liberation struggles. With the aid of Harry Belafonte, who had heard her sing in London, she moved to the United States in 1959, and throughout the 1960s she performed at events supporting the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. In the same years, she visited African countries and wrote songs to support anticolonial struggle and celebrate independence from colonial rule. In 1968 she married Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Touré), the former Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. When the two were banned from the United States, they moved together to Guinea.
“Aluta continua” (the struggle continues) was the rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during the anticolonial struggle against Portuguese rule. This song was written by Makeba’s daughter, Bongi, when she attended the 1975 independence ceremony in Mozambique.
3. José Afonso, “Grândola, Vila Morena”
José Afonso (also known as Zeca) was a prolific and popular folk singer whose protest songs in the late 1960 and early 70s against the fascist Estado Novo government led to his brief imprisonment and the banning of some of his music.
“Grândola, Vila Morena” is about working-class solidarity in Grândola, a town in Southern Portugal, with the iconic verse, “O povo é mais ordena,” the people are the ones who order or dictate the most. The song was composed in 1971 and played a remarkable role in coordinating the outburst of the 1974 Revolution.
Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, the officer in the Armed Forces Movement who led the coup against the fascist government to begin the Revolution, instructed soldiers throughout the country to begin their action when they heard “Grândola, Vila Morena” on the radio and, with the collaboration of a host of the national radio station, the plan came off successfully. Since that time the song has been strongly associated with the revolution.
4. Ton Steine Scherben, “Rauch-Haus-Song”
The band Ton Steine Scherben was formed in 1970 and throughout the decade its songs resonated powerfully for revolutionary and progressive movements in West Germany, especially West Berlin, where the band was based. The Georg-von-Rauch-Haus, named after an activist who had been shot and killed by the police, was a squat in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin. This song celebrates the successful defense of the squat after police attempted to evict the activists. The refrain “Das ist unser Haus” (This is our house) became a slogan in the movement.
5. Les Rallizes Dénudés, “The Night, Assassin’s Night”
University students in Kyoto formed Les Rallizes Dénudés in 1967. Since the band shunned the studio, recordings of their music are almost exclusively from live shows and have a rough, grainy quality, like this version of “The Night, Assassin’s Night.” Les Rallizes Dénudés’ music is not explicitly political, but the band was associated with leftist movements and some members were directly engaged. The band’s original bassist, Moriaki Wakabayashi, for instance, participated in the Japan Red Army Faction’s 1970s hijacking of a commercial airliner and afterwards sought refuge in North Korea.
6. Farhad Mehrad, “Jomeh”
Farhad Mehrad became a popular singer in Iran in the 1960s and during the 70s he recorded several songs with revolutionary messages. His song “Vahdat” (Unity) was even broadcast on national television in 1979 to celebrate the victory of the revolution. Soon after the revolution, however, the Islamic government disavowed Farhad Mehrad and banned his music.
“Jomeh” (Friday) was written in 1971 and was reportedly not intended as a political song. Its lyrics, however, such as the refrain “Blood drips instead of rain on Fridays,” strongly resonated with the revolutionary movement, especially after the Black Friday massacre in September 1978, a turning point in the revolutionary movement when government forces fired on protesters in Tehran’s Jalal Square killing thousands.
7. Area, “Gioia e rivoluzione”
This Italian jazz-rock fusion group, which was formed in 1972, reportedly derived its name from Allen Ginsburg’s directive, “the message is: expand your consciousness area.” As the 1970s developed, however, the name became strongly associated with the “area of Autonomia,” which described the revolutionary network of articulated worker, feminist, and student movements. Area was an important component of the cultural side of the movement, and it performed regularly at movement festivals and squats.
“Gioia e rivoluzione” (Joy and revolution) highlights the emotional intensities of political struggle: “We fight a battle / that takes us to the streets / of people that know how to love.
To learn more about the revolutionary movements of the 1970s and how they set the mold for today’s activism, read Michael Hardt’s The Subversive Seventies.