We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for the first ever ZYZZYVA Labor Day Playlist! Here you’ll find a series of songs our staff chose for their resonance in this fraught (and often emotionally exhausting) moment. Music is always an essential source of inspiration and solace, and these are some of the songs we’ll be listening to over this long weekend. We hope you may enjoy them, too, perhaps in the background of your holiday barbecue, or after the guests have departed when you’re left with some quiet moments of contemplation. And who knows, maybe we’ll have to make the ZYZZYVA Playlist something of a tradition. Feel free to comment with your own song selections as well.
1. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Full Band Version)” by Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron’s song both expresses and provokes an aggrievement that rests not in disaffected anger but instead in a sharp, controlled call to action. There are no excuses in Scott-Heron’s call and the precision with which he intonates every syllable perpetuates this feeling of disciplined anger. The ferocity of domination over one’s experience of dehumanizing injustice through the idiosyncratic and spontaneous nature of jazz demonstrates just how invincible and irresistible this force, once pierced open, can be. As the song continues, and seeps further and mounts higher, there is nothing left to do — but stand up and do something. Why? Because “You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out.” Why? Because “The revolution will not be right back after a message.” Why? Because “The revolution will be no re-run brothers/The revolution will be live.”—Samara Michaelson
2. “Somos Sur” by Ana Tijoux feat Shadia Mansour
In a time where opposing home-grown, American-as-apple-pie fascism is quickly becoming mainstream, artists like French-Chilean Ana Tijoux and Palestinian-British Shadia Mansour remind us of the importance of anti-imperialist analysis and resistance (I could have chosen a song like “Strictly Against Nazis” by Wizo or Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” but that would be too easy, right?). Tijoux is probably most well-known for her song “1977,” which was featured on Breaking Bad and Broad City, but her music has been part of anti-imperialist and decolonial movements for a while now, and she deserves more recognition. Mansour’s verses are always incredible – I never like to say that rappers “spit fire” because it feels corny, but in the case of Mansour, it’s true. Lyrically, the song reminds me why opposing US imperialism is central to any resistance efforts, eleven within the imperial core. Liberation for all comes in the form of liberation for the Global South and all its people – and this song is the perfect encapsulation of that (and, honestly, any song that tells Yanquis to get out of Latin America is gold).—Jasmine Lee Ehrhardt
3. “Hard Times” by Baby Huey & the Baby Sitters
Though Baby Huey is “filled with love,” no one around him seems to care about returning the love and being decent to their neighbor. This song, I think, speaks to the frustration a lot of people around me have been expressing. It’s not just a frustration with the current political state; it’s a grievance with everyone, those we work with, live with, and deal with every day.—Paola Vergara
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4. “Divenire” by Ludovici Einaudi
Language is an opportunity for us to explain, in great detail, the wild, torrential, all-encompassing beauty that is the human experience. It is how we express, understand, accept, and share our internal and external worlds to ourselves and to one another, and while I am forever grateful to words for helping me do just that, I can’t help but feel like sometimes we need another primordial outlet for expression: sound. “Divenire” by Ludovico Einaudi is a composition that reflects that intensity in our world today, politically and otherwise, just through music. It has its soft moments, where we strive to better understand and accept one another as individuals and as a collective. It has violent moments, where we are at odds because of ignorance, shame, anger, disconnection, hatred. It has hope and it has sadness, but most importantly, it moves like the intricacies and complexities of being imperfect in an imperfect world.—Melissa Halabe
5. “Get By” by Talib Kweli
My fondness for “Get By” isn’t recent; it’s been a perennial favorite since I first came across Talib Kwelli in college. Part of what I love about this song is how it combines concerns with social justice and a very sharp perspective on the big picture, with an ethics of personal responsibility. Though the picture it paints is in some ways grim, the chorus returns to a kind of hope or determination– returns to the conviction that the choices we make every morning as we set out into the world for the day make a difference.—Laura Cogan
6. “I Shall Be Released” by Nina Simone (cover of Bob Dylan)
I’m sure “I Shall Be Released” needs no explanation– but why the Nina Simone cover, rather than the Bob Dylan original? I’m rarely a fan of a Dylan cover, but Simone’s incomparable voice and phrasing with Dylan’s unforgettable lyrics make this track another perennial favorite, and one that offers particular solace just now. And this is a good way of making sure two of my all time favorite singer-songwriters (Dylan and Simone) are in some way represented on our mix.—Laura Cogan
7. “I Am Waiting” by The Rolling Stones
“I Am Waiting” is an odd little song, but there’s something about its anxiety that feels so
apropos since the election– because with each new day bringing yet another revelation (thank you, Washington Post and New York Times) about the connections between Trump’s campaign/family/business and Russia/election interference/obstruction of
justice/corruption, it often feels as though we are holding our collective breath as we wait to see the whole picture, to get the full scope of the wrong-doing, and to find out how it will all fall apart.—Laura Cogan
8. “Down for Some Ignorance” by Saul Williams
Well, let’s be honest: at times, things feel grim. “Down for Some Ignorance” is a track for when you need to take a moment to sit with your sadness and frustration, to let
incredulousness and grieving for humanity’s endless mistakes wash over you.—Laura Cogan
9. “September Song” by Agnes Obel
“September Song” at first sounds like how pain feels; how it feels to experience an injustice, or witness cruelty (perhaps your authority over your own body has been threatened due to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, or maybe your president refuses to denounce the actions of white-supremacists). The song is sparse, shaky, and dark. It sounds shocked, with elements of repetition, like one is processing what has happened, taking stock of injuries and how one has been wronged. There is a silent pause, a breath, a rest…and then the mood starts to shift. The piano swells with brighter notes. It builds and builds until it is more powerful than before, and ready to retaliate against injustice with strength.—Devan Bretkelly
10. “Yes, I’m a Witch” by Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono’s “Yes, I’m a Witch” is at once an old-school, punk feminist anthem and a playful nod to her fascination with magic and witchcraft. With cool and perfectly measured lyrics against a screaming electric guitar, Ono proclaims, “Yes, I’m a witch/ I’m a bitch/ I don’t care what you say.” She takes up space, and she’s not sorry about it. Recorded in 1974, and released on LPs in 1997 and 2007, this song shrieks self-possession and power at maximum volume. Being yourself is a political act to Ono; it doesn’t require “vengeance/But we’re not gonna kill ourselves for your convenience.” Protest can happen day or night, in front of your mirror or in a crowd, and this track provides the perfect riot grrl noise to march to.—Kailee Stiles
11. “This Thing Was Bound to Happen” by The Radio Dept.
Last fall Swedish indie poppers The Radio Dept. returned with their first album in six years. The world has changed a great deal since 2010 and the band has been paying attention, particularly to the rise of Far Right elements in their native country. As such, Running Out of Love could be said to be the first overtly political statement from a band previously most well known for their lovelorn and poetic lyrics. Like the best cultural critics, The Radio Dept. doesn’t fail to implicate themselves: besides being a ridiculously catchy number in the tradition of early New Order, “This Thing Was Bound to Happen” sees its the narrator calling themselves out for their own political inaction (“I drink Cuba Cola/It’s my contribution/to the political debate/My silent cheer/for a change”). In turn, the oft-repeated mantra “This Thing Was Bound to Happen” expresses the overwhelming ennui of our current moment and the lingering sense that, given the divisiveness of our political system, the toxic culture of the last year and a half was perhaps inevitable.—Zack Ravas
12. “Tramp the Dirt Down” by Elvis Costello
Is this the most seething political pop song in the past thirty years? One of the cuts from Costello’s solo album Spike, an album juicy with vitriol for a Western world decidedly corrupted by unregulated greed (“…This Town…”) and technological brawn (“Satellite”), “Tramp the Dirt Down” names names, singling out Margaret Thatcher, the British embodiment of the toxic brew of fear and hate cynically embraced by politicians the likes of Reagan in the ‘80s. “When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam,” Costello sings. “And the future looked as bright and as clear as black tarmacadam.” The song is about the singer’s desperate wish to outlive the prime minister so he can witness “when they finally put you in the ground.” The pollution introduced into the body politic by Thatcherites is brutally summarized thusly: “I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap.” Upon listening to the song today, Costello’s righteous indignation sits all too well. You need only replace “Margaret” with, say, “Paul” or “Mitch.” This is a j’accuse of those leaders who place their societies in danger for the sake of their mean agendas.—Oscar Villalon
13. “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday
Named ‘Best Song of the Century’ by TIME magazine in December 1999, “Strange Fruit” is as unforgettable as it is earth-shattering. Billie Holiday’s version– performed to little applause in New York at the height of Jim Crow–is the haunting original, but Nina Simone’s Civil Rights era cover is stratospheric. The track has all the hallmarks of a romantic jazz standard, but none of its sweetness; its meandering, potent lyrics come over a simple, pounding piano melody that lends the song both force and room to breathe as the poetry unravels. It hardly needs to be said, but know the “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” aren’t swollen peaches. Often overshadowed by their other protest standards, this single belongs in a whole other category of protest music: one that unveils the grotesqueness of the past to remind us why we protest at all. Quiet and fierce, “Strange Fruit” chills the spine even as it ignites the resistant soul.—Kailee Stiles