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Searchlight 2016: 10 activist, protest and socially conscious songs

Andrea Warner

We all know music matters, but it's sometimes easy to forget why. These Searchlight songs are full of heart and hope, resilience and courage, fire and frustration. They are written with one thing at the forefront: a desire to affect change.

More than 2,000 artists have entered this year’s edition of Searchlight, and we understand that voters might be a little overwhelmed. So we’re trying to help: we have a Searchlight recommendation engine, and we’ve parsed out one-person bands, artists under 20 and family bands.

In the gallery below, we’ve highlighted 10 songs that explore powerful themes of decolonization, environmental sustainability, social stigmas and more. Click through to learn more, and cast your votes accordingly.

Don't forget to watch, share and vote here.

Who: Jorgina Sunn
Song: “Freedom”

About: This timely piano-driven anthem about resistance, survival, courage and Aboriginal identity is equal parts declaration and affirmation: “Have you felt like you don’t belong here/ that you don’t feel needed/ but you’re wrong if you think it’s your fault/ it’s how you were treated.” 

Who: Midwest Mindset
Song: “Erasing My Mind”

About: This live instrument hip-hop band calls Calgary home and they are all about the truth bombs in their lyrics, vowing “The music is why/ I refuse to be blind/ to the proof of abuse that the noose has designed.” 

Who: aRc Aurelia
Song: “Life”

About: Aurelia’s heartfelt story-song seems to come from a place of profound recognition of social stigmas: “If you really wanna know someone/ ya gotta step inside where they come from/ because this is life/ when you’re living to survive.”

Who: Mason Weselowski
Song: “Not in Here Anymore”

About: This heart-wrenching folk song about a man suffering from dementia is devastating and painfully real to anybody who has experienced this kind of loss. Lower your guard, feel the feelings, pass me a tissue: “Now every friend I ever had/ is just a box of bones and ashes in the ground/ and I’d be fine/ but, God, I’m lonely all the time.”

Who: Neil Chapman
Song: “People on the Beach (What’s Wrong With This Picture?)”

About: An environmental protest song that challenges human complacency and the natural cost of innovation: “Smokestacks tower like temples above/ as the waves begin to roar/ they say something’s not quite right/ what’s wrong with this picture?”

Who: Andrew Lang
Song: “There’s Nothing I Can Do”

About: This acoustic number grapples with helplessness in the face of overwhelming global disparity, inequality and every other ill-will we’re coping with in the 21st century: “A billion souls that live with hunger/ but never wonder why/ There’s nothing I can do to help/ So I blame it all on you.”

Who: Phil Le Ross
Song: “We Are Moving, a Refugee Song”

About: There’s so much empathy for the tremendous upheaval, danger and devastation for the plight of refugees in this song: “If ever one day there is peace/ I’ll return to the land of my people/ kiss the stones and touch the trees/ until then I will carry it with me.”

Who: Kassie
Song: “Independent”

About: The young songwriter wrote this emotional anthem for suicide awareness after her best friend took her own life: “I feel your heartache/ I know your mistakes/ think of the bright side/ none of us have perfect lives.”

Who: Jake
Song: “Treehugger”

About: An environmentally-minded folk song inspired by real events in Saskatchewan: “The minister of greed/ says it’s something that he needs/ to keep his markets free/ he murders the trees.” 

Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner