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This monograph offers a unique analysis of social protest in popular music. It presents theoretical descriptions, methodological tools, and an approach that encompasses various fields of musicology, cultural studies, semiotics, discourse analysis, media studies, and political and social sciences.

The author argues that protest songs should be taken as a musical genre on their own. He points out that the general approach, when discussing these songs, has been so far that of either analyzing the lyrics or the social context. For some reason, the music itself has been often overlooked.

This book attempts to fill this gap. Its central thesis is that a complete overview of these repertoires demands a thorough interaction among contextual, lyrical, and musical elements together. To accomplish this, the author develops a novel model that systemizes and investigates musical repertoires. The model is then applied to four case studies, those, too, chosen among topics that are little (or not at all) frequented by scholars.



Chapter 1. Definitions and Categorizations

The present chapter serves as an introduction to the whole topic, but also—and mostly—as a problematization of two important issues in terminology and stylistic categorization. Firstly, indeed, I suggest that the classic definition “protest song”, commonly employed to name the types of repertoire investigated in this book, is probably unsatisfying to correctly circumscribe the semantic field, and should rather be replaced by the more complete “song of social protest” (SSP). Secondly, I reflect on the status of SSPs as “genre”, offering some insight on the legitimacy of a “musical” (that is, not just lyrical) classification. After that, the chapter introduces the triadic theoretical model that will be thoroughly discussed in Chaps. 23 and 4, and which constitutes the main analytical novelty proposed in this book: context-lyrics-music.
Dario Martinelli

Chapter 2. Songs of Social Protest and Context

The present chapter focuses on the first variable of the triadic model (context-lyrics-music) introduced in the first chapter: the various dynamics of context-positioning in an SSP. Re-elaborating from Stefani (Una strategia di pace: La difesa popolare nonviolenta. FuoriThema, Bologna, 1993), I suggest five different types of relations between an SSP and the context/occasion it is performed in or conceived for: “Specific relation”, “Indirect relation”, “General relation”, “Phatic relation” and “Paratextual relation”. After that, I suggest that an SSP can also be written/performed by “positioning” the political action (or lack thereof) in some particular chronological (“Before”, “During” and “After” the protest) and spatial (“exposed”, “clear”, “ambiguous/neutral”, “hidden/rejected”) location. I then proceed to cross this classification with Greimas’s theory of modalization (e.g. Greimas in On meaning: Selected writings in semiotic theory. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1987) and separate the modalities of “Doing/Not Doing” from those of “Being/Not Being”, in order to distinguish between songs whose main ideological point is to underline the very action of protest (“Doing/Not Doing”), and songs which instead are inclined to describe a context/situation/character/etc. (“Being/Not Being”).
Dario Martinelli

Chapter 3. Songs of Social Protest and Lyrics

The focus of this chapter is the lyrical dimension of SSPs, that is, the aspect that tends to be analyzed most often within existing research on these repertoires. It is claimed here that the historical development of SSPs (which departs from early 19th century, when an appropriate and modern idea of “popular music” is established) was brought to completion during the 1960s, with the final establishment and overall dominance of four main typologies of lyrics: an analytical type, which discusses a topic in a detailed, focused way (generally during the strophes) and then generally offers a “tagline”-styled prescription (generally in the refrain); a spiritual type, which is emotionally involved but operatively passive, where the main “action plan” is that of asking, praying, waiting or hoping for social change; a universalistic type, a less analytical type of song, with a general, metaphorical (and sometimes anti-ideological and nihilist) lyrical approach, that however gains more on the side of the adaptability to various contexts of the message; and a satirical type, a category that may use any of the above strategies, plus specific ones, to a comic, sarcastic effect: as we know from the whole history of human art, satires and parodies have been among the most effective vehicles for social protest.
Dario Martinelli

Chapter 4. Songs of Social Protest and Music

This chapter offers a classification of the musical songwriting strategies of SSPs. Five musical types are emphasized: (i) Simple (simple instrumentations, catchy melody, etc., usually found in genres like country, world, blues, and various singer-songwriters schools), (ii) Solemn (mainstream, pop quality, lavish arrangements and big productions, typical of charity events); (iii) Aggressive (usually emerging from the underground/alternative scene, and normally found in genres like indie-rock or hip hop); (iv) Manneristic (a rarer type that displays reminiscence to acts/genres/periods generally acknowledged as quintessentially pertinent to social protest; (v) X (a black box for all those instances which reflect the specific artistic paradigm of single authors or genres, an explicit refusal for categorizations, or songs that simply elude any of the previous four types). The chapter is concluded with a summary of the whole model presented in the first four chapters of the book.
Dario Martinelli

Chapter 5. Case Study 1: On the Left-Right Dichotomy and Its Musical Manifestations

The “death of ideologies”, and the perception of the left-right distinction as something obsolete, have been a dominant discourse in the last few decades, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Within popular music, the ideological status of politically-committed songs and songwriters also seems to have become less relevant than it used to be, occasionally disappearing in a melting pot of neutrality, disengagement and—most of all—program-based (as opposed to ideology-based) politics. This case study intends to present ideological commitment as a vivid process within/through the various phenomena related to popular music (individual acts, entire genres, etc.) as a still very lively one, particularly when it comes to the infamous left/right distinction. Indeed, despite a visible crisis at the level of “political action”, ideologies (even in their clearest connotations) have never been “dead” as cultural models, and their vitality has been constantly tangible throughout the whole of popular music history, last decades included.
Dario Martinelli

Chapter 6. Case Study 2: The Lithuanian Singing Revolution and the Case of Antis

This case study aims at looking into the social phenomenon known as the Singing Revolution, occurred in the Baltic States during the last years of Soviet domination, with a focus on the case of Lithuania, and one of the leading bands of the period, Antis . I would like to look at this topic from two angles: the lyrical-musical one, in accordance to the analytical modes developed in this book, but also—so to speak—the institutional one, particularly in relation to the way the Singing Revolution was contextualized and handled at the level of Lithuanian social and cultural policies. For the latter point, I am particularly interested in applying the perspective of what, after Joseph Nye (1990 and, more specifically, 2004), has been called Soft Power.
Dario Martinelli

Chapter 7. Case Study 3: Environmentalism and Animal Advocacy in the Beatles

Although better known for their role in the pacifist movement, The Beatles have been often active in issues of environmental concern, as musicians but also as private citizens. It is probably fair to state that their ecological conscience developed during their mediation period in India, in 1968: the album released after that journey (known as The White Album) had more than one reference to nature, environmental conservation and even animal rights. More hints of environmentalism popped up in The Beatles ’ songs until the end of their career, but after their split, more definite attention to certain topics became more central in the repertoire and lifestyle of Paul McCartney (who also became a spokesman for the animal rights movement) and, in a milder way, George Harrison . In the present case study I intend to analyze the environmentalist repertoire of The Beatles , as a band, and as solo performers, having in mind the double goal to (a) analyze a portion of the band’s music that tends to be somewhat overlooked (at least as a category), and (b) bring to attention the value of environmentalism and animal advocacy within the realm of SSPs, that, too, are underestimated by existing literature (where, basically, only The Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder” and very few others get the privilege to be labelled “protest songs”).
Dario Martinelli

Chapter 8. Case Study 4: The Subtle Protest of Italian Jazz Against Fascism

In this case study I would like to explore the ambiguous and certainly contradictory relation between jazz and the Italian fascist regime. Appreciated by many Italians (including fascist authorities and even members of Mussolini’s family), jazz was however ostracized, due to its connections with Afro-American “black” culture, particularly after the enactment of the “racial laws”. In such conditions, jazz musicians attempted various strategies to survive as citizens and artists: the most effective, and institutionally-tolerated, of such strategies turned out to be a strong stylistic mediation between American jazz and Italian melodic tradition, which produced some of the most famous acts of the period. One of these, Alberto Rabagliati , shall be the main focus of this case study, as one of his songs—I shall argue here—carried a subtle yet clear statement of protest against the regime’s restrictions.
Dario Martinelli


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