About the Author

Image for Where are the Gen Y protest singers?

Where are the Gen Y protestsingers?

Where are the Gen Y protest singers? This was the question posed to a panel that included Billy Bragg and Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett on the ABC’s Q&A on Monday night. Blue King Brown bassist CARLO SANTONE responds, saying you need to look no further than his own band’s commitment to the cause.

Compared to non-political musicians, there isn’t a huge amount of us out there in Australia today who are actively fighting the system, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a negative thing. Revolutionaries are rare, perhaps that’s what makes them special.

Being politically active is not something that can be forced. I see two kinds of “political musicians”: Some are actively outspoken in the political arena, while others are more subtle with their approach. They’ll “support the cause”, but aren’t “protest singers” as such. In fact, there’s quite a lot of those types these days, and I say that’s great. What’s important is the work, the movement, the commitment to the greater good.

What we promote as Blue King Brown is that everyone – from every industry and every community – can be a part of the progressive movement. This is the movement that takes us out of old ways of thinking. It moves us away from old approaches to human rights, environmental awareness, inequality and injustice, and into a more compassionate, humane and sustainable society, where the planet and its people are respected. Summed up nicely by Mr Marley as “One Love”.

I can speak about our singer Natalie Pa’apa’a and Blue King Brown’s activity because I know it inside out. Most of the true political musicians I know are so deeply engaged in their projects, their life and their mission that it’s hard to truly stay on top of what others are doing. We tend to focus all our energy into our life’s work. So for those wondering where the “protest singers” are, it’s perhaps interesting to see what we’ve got up to this year.

At our 2012 WOMADelaide and Bluesfest appearances we staged the biggest show of public support for the Free West Papua movement. People will support important causes if the delivery connects with them. We use our stage as a space to create a sense of unity, a sense of oneness, where we the people are as powerful as any government out there. It’s a magic thing, you know. The images from these shows capture elements of that magic, the footage is even stronger and the experience in the moment is the ultimate.

Natalie Pa’apa’a has also actively supported Amnesty International’s Arms Trade treaty campaign; onegirl.org.au, who are supporting young girls education programs in Sierra Leone; WWF’s Earth Hour; standforfreedom.org, who are advocating for indigenous voices to be heard on the “stronger futures” legislation issues; Julian Assange/freedom of speech justice rallies; West Papua self-determination rallies with rizeofthemorningstar.com and the Serendipity program which works to combat AIDS in Papua New Guinea.

Collectively, we’ve actively been supporting organsiations like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Get Up! and Sea Shepherd. We supported the launch of Anna Rose’s book about climate change Madlands; talked on climate panels at Splendour In the Grass with leading alternative energy specialists; and just last week, spoke and performed at a Northern Rivers action against the coal seam gas industry. We’ve also just about finished an anti-nuke self-education website which has been supported by a number of musicians and will be launched soon. All this in addition, of course, to performing and recording nationally and internationally.

“Revolutionaries are rare, perhaps that’s what makes them special.”

So yes, we’re out there, active, and there other artists who are fighting the good fight, too. I’ve recently seen some awesome images from the John Butler and Claire Bowditch Federation Square concert in Melbourne in support of the Save the Kimberley campaign where they had a great turn-out and show of support for the cause. Ezekiel Ox, Xavier Rudd, The Herd, Street Warriors, Zennith Boyz, Tabura, Yung Warriors, Airileke, are just a small few of the other politically active Gen Yers that come to mind.

It feels appropriate to speak about one of the most significant concerts we’ve been a part of, which saw Gen X and Y come together as one. It was the 30th-year anniversary concert of Goanna’s ‘Solid Rock’ on October 6. Goanna’s Shane Howard pulled together a host of like-minded musicians for this one-of-a-kind concert at Mutijulu community at the base of Uluru. Artists included Natalie Pa’apa’a, Archie Roach, Dan Sultan, John Butler, Amy Saunders, Emma Donovan, Bart Willoughby, Neil Murray, William Barton and Warren H Williams. We were all united by the power of this classic “protest song”. Thirty years after its release it’s still having a powerful impact, which really shows the longevity and strength of music. Politicians could take note of the inclusive and respectful process that Shane and his team took to pull the concert together. In the history of Australia’s reconciliation process, this event was a real highlight, and indeed a magic moment.

Music is powerful. It has the power to shift our mindsets for the positive, which can in turn shift the way in which we react and interact with our communities and society. When society shifts we begin to see a national and international shift in consciousness. Rest assured, there are many Australian singers and musicians out there right now who are part of this collective movement, and many international artists as well. Natalie was the Australian representative judge in “Fairplay”, a global competition for young musicians to write original songs on the theme of anti-corruption, and there were so many Gen Y entries.

As for Q&A, it’s great for creating conversation among communities, and who knows? Perhaps this conversation will inspire a new Gen Y singer to come out of the woodwork and take a stand.

Watch Natalie Pa’apa’a from Blue King Brown’s appearance on Q&A here.

Searching for young soul rebels: A Gen Y protest playlist


www.fasterlouder.com.au arrow left

Andy_1989 said on the 26th Oct, 2012

i don't understand how you consider damian albarn of gorlliaz to be a member of generation y. he was born in 1968.


Braveheart81 said on the 26th Oct, 2012

I think it relates more to the listeners mostly being Gen Y rather than the musician.


gumbuoy said on the 26th Oct, 2012

My guess would be all the potential GenY protest singers are looking at all the success the Baby Boomer and Gen X protest singers had in changing the world, and are deciding to stay the fuck home instead.


Oflick said on the 26th Oct, 2012



batdan said on the 26th Oct, 2012

Q. Where are the Gen Y protest singers?

A. Working at McDonalds


artgirl59 said on the 26th Oct, 2012

sorry carlos , you got your neils mixed up .....it was neil murray at uluru with shane , not neil finn..and
i agree, it was a magical night. anyone who was lucky enough to be there will never forget it. i'll never forget the sight of the elderly women who 10 mins earlier were singing the inma..were up on their feet getting their groove on to solid rock like teenagers


nos235 said on the 26th Oct, 2012

You can't be a protest singer if you've drunk the Kool Aid. This generation haven't been taught to question authority and they think the government is there to look after them. Should rename them Gen N (naive)


gumbuoy said on the 27th Oct, 2012

Actually, I think its the same as the GenY singers - It's not so much they think the govt is there to look after them, and not to question it, rather that questioning it doesn't produce results. All the stories of protest and social activism from the 60's? Those stories are being told by the people who are now in power, and they're taking the same approach that their forefathers took.

If anything is naive, it's believing that the protest singers of the past actually affected real long-lasting change.

The other thing that's worth considering is that, in the past, people united behind protest singers and activists because they were the vocal ones, the leaders, the guiding light. Nowadays you don't need a voice or a leader, you can express yourself directly to the world.

waylon black

waylon black said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Pft, Gen Y and the next one are/will be the most conservative generations ever.
The bulk don't/wont question, as long as they are distracted enough with all the shiny things available they will bend over and take it repeatedly in the arse with a smile.
Only a few will be pissed off and even then all that will lead to is them starting a blog or even worse, a fucking facebook page.


Oflick said on the 31st Oct, 2012

One week generation Y are the most conservative ever. The next week we're too idealistic and progressive. Can everyone older than Gen Y please have a meeting and come to a compromise? Decide once and for all the reason why Gen Y is the worst generation ever instead of hating us for contradictory reasons.


berlinchair101 said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Every generation is shit and the sooner the sun expands and vaporises all life on earth with it the better.


Oflick said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Don't be so cynical. I for one have high hopes for Generation ZA. I assume the generation after Generation Z will be ZA. Any other name would be utterly ridiculous.


berlinchair101 said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Surely they would go AA.

What sober times those would be, amirite?


gumbuoy said on the 31st Oct, 2012

yeah i wouldn't be paying too much attention to crazy old man waylon. If this generation is socially and politically disengaged, it's only because the powers that be have demonstrated so absolutely that being socially and politically engaged fails to produce real change.

The conversation and the movements are happening, they're just not occuring on a platform that most media pays attention to.


Braveheart81 said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Gen Y are the most wishy washy generation ever, always changing their minds.


Oflick said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Surely they would go AA.

What sober times those would be, amirite?

You're right. I don't know what I was thinking when I claimed "ZA".

Typical Gen Y. Never knowing what the fuck I'm doing or why I'm doing it.


gumbuoy said on the 31st Oct, 2012

I sit on the barrier between X and Y, so I'm wishywashy and politically disengaged, but also really cynical about it, and hate everyone and myself.


humanracin said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Are we still in Gen Y ?

Because I would have thought we were up to Gen Z ? (Z is for Zombie... Apple I-Zombies)


gumbuoy said on the 31st Oct, 2012

We're up to generation Z now.


snapcrackleROCK said on the 1st Nov, 2012

We haven't even settled which decade we're in. The Teenies??


Oflick said on the 1st Nov, 2012

I just call it the "2010s". Uncreative, I know, but it's clear what you're talking about when you call it the "2010s".


nos235 said on the 1st Nov, 2012

Where are all the Gen Y protest singers? I think Braveheart summed it up most eloquently when he stated ....



mister_man said on the 4th Nov, 2012

who are all these old people raggin on gen y? what are you even doing on the internet? just die already.


rudagar81 said on the 20th Jan, 2013

perhaps the former generation used their 'causes' to promote themselves as much as their causes. i personally don't need musicians to give me political direction - there's plenty of avenues for this online, in the community and in the media.