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Five Songs and Artists Protesting Joe Arpaio's Racial Profiling

Five Songs and Artists Protesting Joe Arpaio's Racial Profiling

A federal judge ruled last month that Sheriff Joe Arpaio was using racial profiling against Hispanics in Maricopa County. Many Phoenicians didn't need a judge to tell them that, but now it's at least been acknowledged by someone who has the power to demand change.

On the heels of the decision came the end of a massive recall effort meant to challenge Arpaio's contested sixth term as sheriff of Maricopa County. Ultimately, the recall failed, but the saga of Phoenix and Arpaio is far from over. So, here's a list of artists who have come out in opposition of Senate Bill 1070, the infamous "papers please" legislation.

Bright Eyes Conor Oberst, the lead singer of Bright Eyes, was one of the earliest supporters and strongest proponents of The Sound Strike, a collective of artists boycotting Arizona in opposition of SB 1070. The video for "Coyote" features Oberst playing the piano in the desert and walking parallel to the permanent border, calling out to his loved one who has "gone below the border": "I'm sending the coyote to bring you back to me."

A coyote (as well as being a mammal) is also a guide who brings migrants from Mexico into the U.S., and the reference to a dangerous facet of life on the border made Oberst's narrative the subject of a lot of contention. Like many Bright Eyes songs, "Coyote" has the signature folksy sound combined with Oberst's croaky voice that the band is recognized for, but the difference this time around is that he's singing about the border, rather than a Bowl of Oranges, or A Perfect Sonnet.

 

Desaparecidos Desaparecidos, the band another Oberst project that recently reunited to record an album after a 10-year hiatus, released a song entitled "MariKKKopa" last summer. When it was initially released, Mesa native and Jimmy Eat World singer Jim Adkins tweeted Conor Oberst, the lead singer, "Hey @comvb. Not everyone is Maricopa County supports #SB1070 and @sheriffjoe. Your song title is unhelpful."

Read More: Conor Oberst Releases "MariKKKopa" by Desaparecidos, a Song About Sheriff Joe

In "MariKKKopa" Oberst takes on the persona of the nativists, the birthers, and the Arpaio supporters in Maricopa County, who've voted Arpaio into office for six terms. He alludes to Arpaio's famous round-ups: "We got to round 'em up / Door to door tonight we're ready / Knock Knock Knock." Oberst is not from Arizona, but what words could be more apt to "Sun City," as he calls it, than, "This place is strange and getting stranger"? The song ends with the famous YouTube clip of Arpaio comparing himself to the KKK, and calling it an honor.

 

Manu Chao Manu Chao, the multilingual artist, has the most compelling video of all, as he plays his guitar and sings, "Clandestino," directly in front of Phoenix's famous Tent City. The video was directed and edited by sci-fi filmmaker Alex Rivera, who directed the 2008 award-winning film Sleep Dealer--a film about the subject of immigration and drone use.

Read More: Manu Chao Stands in Solidarity with Sheriff Joe Arpaio Protesters (Video)

"My life is prohibited / Says the authority," he sings, of the "Clandestine" label placed on those without papers.

 

Ana Tijoux Ana Tijoux, the French-Chilean artist, also contributed a video directed and edited by Alex Rivera. The video features Tijoux rapping her song, "Shock," from her latest album, La Bala. Two musicians playing an acoustic guitar and drums back her intimate-style performance as she raps from atop a rock in the desert.

Behind her is a group of young people holding up a white blanket that reflects stills of Arpaio and protest footage with a background of dusky mountains beyond the frame. Tijoux brings historical context into the track, by singing: "With memory and with history, the future is now." She alludes to previous governments who have created race-based laws of discrimination.

No doubt Tijoux's music is influenced by her upbringing: her parents are Chilean dissidents who lived in exile in France during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. Although Tijoux released the video in opposition to the racial profiling of SB1070, the song was originally written in support of student uprisings for free, quality education in Chile. Different contexts, yet her lyrics could not be more true to Phoenix, when she raps about, "this trial tube.../this daily laboratory.../this failure, everything: this condemned economic model from dinosaur times."

 

Chuck D There could be no article about protest songs in Arizona without mentioning Public Enemy and their famous single, "By the Time I Get to Arizona," which was originally written in opposition of Arizona's refusal to observe Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. This time around, Chuck D came back with "Tear Down That Wall." Back in 2010, Chuck D said about the song: "What they're doing to immigrants is appalling, but it will be even more damning if we remain silent."

These artists all come from different backgrounds, languages, influences, and musical styles. And they're not only coming out against SB1070, or Sheriff Arpaio--they're expressing an attitude about Arizona that's become prevalent on a national and international scale.

Spend time in any other state in this country, and when you get on the topic of what your native state is, people will ask, how can you live there? More importantly, they'll ask, what's it actually like? Most outsider views might be exaggerated, but for a significant population of the state's residents it's not so ridiculous at all. Those of us who live here only know that it's a complicated tale--one that's still to be continued.


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