In February 2012, five group members arrived at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior to perform. Their intention was to target the Orthodox Church because of its widespread influence and electoral support for Putin, whom they consider a dictatorial suppressor of freedom. However, their efforts were thwarted when security officials at the church put a stop to their show. Nevertheless, the protest was taped and a music video created and distributed on YouTube. Titled, Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away, the piece shows the women onstage praying and resulted in three members being arrested early the next month.
Two Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were cited for hooliganism while a third member, Yekaterian Samutsevich, was arrested almost two weeks later. All were denied bail until their trials commenced that summer. In August 2012, all three were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for the crime of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. By then, two original members of the group had left Russia in fear they would also be arrested and jailed.
After Samutsevich appealed and won her release, Tolokonikova and Alyokhina were separated and banished to two different prisons. The world’s reaction to their arrest, trial and imprisonment was outrage. With Amnesty International calling for justice for the women, referred to as prisoners of conscience, a multitude of Western celebrities joined in. Artists with superstar statuses like Bjork and Madonna rallied around while Yoko Ono chose the band to receive the biennial Lennon Ono Grant for Peace. Ono also promised to work on behalf of their release. Worldwide protests in support of the group were also held with Amnesty International declaring the fifteenth of August, Pussy Riot Global Day.
On December 23, 2013, Tolokonikova and Alyokhina were released early from prison. Although others in the group suggested the women were no longer members, the two turned up to perform at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. There, they were assaulted by thuggish, Cossack guards that were hired as security. The videotaped incident was then posted on the Internet, proof that the women had their ski masks ripped from their faces, as they were pepper sprayed, beaten with whips and thrown to the ground. Several male supporters were also battered. The band later explained that they had been attempting to perform a song, Putin Teaches Us to Love Our Motherland, and that the Cossacks accused them of being complicit with Americans.
But the physical harassment didn’t stop there. In March 2014, while eating breakfast at a fast food restaurant, both Tolokonikova and Alyokhina were attacked by a mob of youthful local males. In Nizhny Novgorod to inspect a nearby prison, the two women had paint, pepper spray and metal thrown in their faces, causing Alyokhina to suffer a gash on her forehead. That these group members, young women who boldly state their opinions publicly, are continually brutalized physically by men that don’t agree with them, is not only unconscionable, but unacceptable in a modern, civilized world.
Amazingly, Pussy Riot garners enormous recognition that’s not attributable to record sales, as they have never even released an album. Instead, they post their guerilla public performances online as music videos. A quick look at YouTube where they’re posted will scare any believers of true democracy. The comments sections accompanying the videos are chock full of hate-spewing messages mostly from anti-feminists. The violent tone of countless remarks against the group is downright chilling. After all, Pussy Riot has never raised a single fist or weapon against anyone, instead opting to use only performance as their method of protest.
Meanwhile, members remain steadfast in their refusal of commercial financial support. When Bjork and Madonna offered to perform with them, they reiterated that they only participate in illegal performances and don’t charge money for tickets to their concerts. Although one member called Orange said the group was flattered by the superstars’ offers, she’s quoted as saying, “We refuse to perform as part of the capitalist system.”
The irony is that Pussy Riot is now estimated to be worth one million dollars or more. In 2012, hoping to register their name as a trademark in order to dissuade anyone from profiting from it, they discovered that their lawyer’s wife beat them to it and had applied for it for her film company, Web Bio. But before they could file a lawsuit, Pussy Riot had the name relinquished back in their possession.
Not only are these young Russian women dedicated to their belief in free speech, but they’re multifaceted, too. Bilingual, they speak English in some of their videos and press conferences and, of course, the name of their group uses English words. Two members, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have recently announced their plan to meet with nonprofit organizations in the United States to visit prisons there and learn more about the practice and effects of solitary confinement on prisoners.
For such young women to display so much courage in the face of brutal opposition, Pussy Riot is being honored by Global Music Awards and presented with the GMA’s Heretic Award for protest/activism.
Says Global Music Awards’ coordinator, Thomas Baker, “Pussy Riot deserves our respect and recognition for willingness to critique the policies and practices of their government. They stand as an example for people around the world including Americans to protest such government policies such as America being the world's leader in mass incarceration of the poor and people of color. Music can be a powerful force for freedom, human rights and dignity. Unfortunately, at least in America, musicians aren't using their voices at this moment in history. Our goal is to use the Heretic Award to remind musicians of the power of music to foster social progress.”
The term heretic, meaning dissension from religious dogma, is a fitting one for these brave humanists. Fighting peacefully for freedom from restrictive doctrines has caused them to endure physical abuse and confinement. Yet, they continue to stay the course, hoping to bring light to issues that affect the world.
Bravo and congratulations to Pussy Riot.
Honored with Global Music Awards' 2014
first Heretic Award for Protest/Activist Music
by Yayoi L. Winfrey
Defiant, dedicated and determined to bring human rights issues to the forefront of international dialogue, Pussy Riot is probably the best known musical group based in Moscow. The Russian feminist punk rock ensemble, known more for their protests than their actual music, was first created in August 2011. By their own admission, Pussy Riot doesn’t consider itself musicians, per se, but political performance artists in the style of agit/prop (agitation/propaganda).
Dressed in neon-colored tights and t-shirt dresses, members often hide their faces behind bright ski masks called balaclava helmets, first used during the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War in 1854. The group includes about 11 women ages 20 to 33 that turn up at strategic sites and events to focus the world’s attention on pressing and significant topics like sexism, LGBT rights, and their opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian policies.
What is protest music? It is song with lyrics that is grounded in a sense of injustice such as discrimination, environmental degradation, or economic inequality.
Why is protest music important? It is music that raises awareness of injustice and pulls every-day people together to right wrongs and change public policy.
Alynda Lee Segarra & Hurray for the Riff Raff
Honored with Global Music Awards' 2015
Heretic Award for Protest/Activist Music
This year’s honoree for Global Music Awards Heretic Award, Alynda Lee Segarra, has said that her “musical heroes are always people who use their music as some form of political protest”. Please note that it takes a big dose of courage to sing about human rights issues while working in the American music industry which makes money by avoiding serious topics. As one article about said, “New Orleans folk collective Hurray for the Riff Raff has had it with misogyny and violence”.
When Segarra wrote the song, The Body Electric, she said she knew it would make its way into the world. It has. Writer Ann Powers said about Segarra, “Horrified by the rapes that have made tragic news from India to American college campuses, the singer-songwriter noticed that her own people, music makers and music lovers, would regularly sing along with choruses about killing women, comfortably accepting gender-based violence as part of the ballad tradition. No more she said. The Body Electric was her intervention.” LINK
The Electric Body lyrics tell the story of Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was convicted of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot to get her abusive husband to stop attacking her, just ten days after she gave birth to her third child. He was unhurt in the altercation. Despite using the Stand Your Ground defense, the one that exonerated Zimmerman in Martin's death, a jury took 12 minutes to find her guilty and sentenced her to 20 years under the state's arcane guidelines.
When asked about The Electric Body, Segarra said, “The process of writing The Body Electric was very powerful for me, I felt the waves of a 26 year span of desires to see all women free from violence crash into me. It was anger, a desire for justice and a dream of change. It was not until I was done recording it, and I listened back that I heard the questions asked fully. I hope the song not only speaks to women, but to anyone who has the desire to be free. I hope to use our platform as a band to shine the spotlight on those organizations that do the work that can truly change our futures and help encourage our youth to become the next Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde and Dr. Martin Luther King that we so desperately need in these grave and important times.”
Segarra said, “It will hopefully continue to do its work by encouraging the listener to question the culture of violence we are living in. There is a weaponization of the body happening right now in America. Our bodies are being turned against us. Black and brown bodies are being portrayed as inherently dangerous. A Black person’s size and stature are being used as reason for murder against them. This is ultimately a deranged fear of the power and capabilities of black people. It is the same evil idea that leads us to blame women for attacks by their abusers. Normalizing rape, domestic abuse and even murder of women of all races is an effort to take the humanity out of our female bodies. To objectify and to ridicule the female body is ultimately a symptom of fear of the power women hold.”
Segarra and Hurray for the Riff Raff created The Body Electric Fund LINK which supports organizations working to promote peace in our communities including Third Wave LINK and The Trayvon Martin Foundation. LINK The Body Electric Fund is powered by RPM, a nonprofit agency that provides artists with strategy and support for their activism and philanthropy. LINK
Global Music Awards is honored to grant this year’s Heretic Award for Protest Music to Alynda Lee Segarra and Hurray for the Riff Raff for their contribution to the struggle for human rights and social justice. LINK
Honored with Global Music Awards' 2016
Heretic Award for Protest/Activist Music
This year’s honoree for Global Music Awards Heretic Award, Missy Higgins, Australian singer-songwriter-musician for her song/music video, Oh Canada. The song was inspired in memory of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach last year.
Oh Canada tells the story of the three-year-old who was found dead in September after fleeing Syria for Canada, with his brother and their parents. Abdullah, Alan’s father, the only survivor, wanted what any parents would want, a safe place for his family. His sister lived in Canada and he dreamed of his family joining her there away from the violence in Syria. When his attempt to gain a Canadian visa failed, he borrowed money from his sister and paid a smuggler to take his family in a boat across the Mediterranean Sea.
Zaragoza stood with the protestors, enduring 40 below zero weather, to sing, In the River. She said, “I am so grateful for the experience I had at Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota. I had a life changing experience here when I played In the River for everyone, and was overwhelmed with love and emotions. I couldn't feel my hands by verse two, but the love I felt kept me playing. It is truly life changing to meet water protectors who have been here for months, and hear their stories. It is a truly incredible dedication to the land and water.”
“What inspired me most was listening to different testimonials of the Standing Rock Sioux people,” explains Raye. “Hearing them speak of their concern for their children and the generations to come. The more and more I read about what is happening in North Dakota, the more it breaks my heart. I am Native myself, Pima, and will do whatever I can to support the Standing Rock Sioux. Any threat to water is a threat to all of us. I wanted to see what I could do to help, and this video is a start.”
Along with the world, Missy Higgins’ heart wept for the senseless drowning of this innocent, tiny child. She soulfully responded with Oh Canada, a plea to the nations of the world to provide a sanctuary for victims of the Syrian conflict.
Oh Canada lyrics:
“He was carried from the water by a solider
And the picture screams a thousand different words
He was running from the terror with his father
Who once believed that nothing could be worse
“So he’d handed a man two thousand precious dollars
The way you’d rest a bird in a lion’s open jaw
And he told his boys that Canada was waiting
There was hope upon her golden shores
“But at night he said a quiet prayer to the wind
Oh Canada, if you can hear me now
Won’t you open up your arms towards the sea?
Oh Canada, if you can help me out
All I ever wanted was a safe place for my family
“Well the days were long but the nights were even longer
And the babies never left their mothers’ side
But the boat was small and the waves were getting stronger
And they began to fear they’d not survive
“So the father said “We gotta hold each other tighter
I’m not losing everyone I love tonight
And we’ve come so far I know that out there somewhere
There’s a place where we’ll not fear for our lives”
“But as he held onto the side of the boat he looked up at the sky
“Oh Canada, if you can hear me now
Won’t you open up your arms towards the sea
Oh Canada, if you can help me out
The sea is turning and I think we’re going down
“Anyone if you can hear me now,
Won’t you open up your heart towards the sea
Anyone, please help us out
All we ever wanted was a safe place for our family
“There’s a million ways to justify your fear
There’s a million ways to measure out your words
But the body of Alan being laid upon the sand
Tell me how do you live with that?
Written by Missy Higgins. Published by Missy Higgins productions.
Honored with Global Music Awards' 2017
Heretic Award for Protest/Activist Music
This year’s honoree for Global Music Awards Heretic Award, Raye Zaragoza, Native-American (Pima tribe)/Taiwanese singer and songwriter for her song, In the River. This important protest song, like all memorable protest songs, comes directly from the heart. LINK
The song is a protest in support of the movement against the planned $3.78 billion, 1,172-mile-long underground oil pipeline project in the United States running from North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, and ends at the oil tank farm in Illinois. The Meskwaki (Fox), Sioux and many other Native-American tribes object to Dakota Access Pipeline because the pipeline and its construction threatens the tribes’ way of life, precious water aquifers, land and sacred burial grounds. Toward the end of 2016 protesters from more than 300 Native American tribes were residing in the three main camps, alongside an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 pipeline resistance supporters. Unfortunately, a security firm used dogs and pepper spray against the protesters.
“I truly believe that music can be the voice of change, the voice of a generation. So many musicians in history have been a part of civil rights movements, and have helped huge changes in history. The vibrations of music have the power to hold someone’s attention, and if you use that to get the word out about important issues. it can be so powerful. I hope people will like my song and the message; and support the cause.” The video of In the River has received a half a million views on Facebook, and has been shared over twenty thousand times.
Zaragoza was born and raised in Manhattan, New York. At the age of fourteen, she moved across the country to Los Angeles and has since continuously been on the move touring and sharing her music with people of all walks of life. She has performed in more than twenty states on the East and West Coasts as well as Mexico, Canada and France. Her debut EP entitled Heroine was recorded at Red Bull Studios in New York City in 2015.
“Writing and performing is an itch to me.", Zaragoza said, "I just have to keep scratching or I will go crazy. I feel like music is something that everyone in the world has in common. And It’s the best way for me to reach people. I remember as a kid thinking that writing songs was the coolest thing someone could do. I wish I thought of writing them myself sooner!”
Like all great protest music, Oh Canada simply aims to tell a story, not preaching or judging. The song is Higgins’ attempt to make sense out of senselessness. Higgins said, “If it also reminds people of what happened to Alan and his family then I think that would be good; after all, what they went through, they don’t deserve to be forgotten. If the song reminds people how the picture of that lifeless little boy made them feel, then that would be even better because that proves we’re all very similar people who just happen to live under different circumstances. If the song inspires anyone to do something on behalf of refugees, to speak up for their rights and to push back against those who seek to inflame our fears and prejudices, then I think that would be best of all. I think the picture exposes us to the reality in a raw way that the truth becomes inescapable.”
Global Music Awards is honored to grant this year’s Heretic Award for Protest Music with thanks to Missy Higgins for her contribution to the struggle for human rights and social justice. LINKLINK