Protest music has rarely enjoyed a good press. Even in the 1960s, when it was widely perceived to be enjoying its heyday, its leading representative, Bob Dylan, was quick to distance himself from the genre. Protest music came to be seen as worthy and a bit dull. It was polemical rather than poetical, and in an early version of today's online echo chambers, was deemed to be preaching to the converted. Audiences were expected to agree with the song and the singer, rather than be moved by them. Despite these poor early reviews, the protest song still features in media coverage, but this time as part of a narrative of decline and neglect. Every year, or so it seems, stories will appear in the press asking after the fate of the protest song. Set against the backdrop of austerity and political dissent, journalists and other commentators will ask: 'Where have all the protest songs gone?'
Rarely do either of these pictures of the protest song—as dull propaganda or dying species—receive serious, scholarly attention. In part, this is a product of the claims themselves. [End Page 320] To talk of the fate or failings of the 'protest song' depends on some agreement about what is meant by the term. How does the 'protest song' differ from the 'political song' or the 'song of resistance'? Even if it is possible to resolve this particular conundrum, there are the further difficulties of knowing who responded to it and how. And beyond this there lies the question of how we might track its rise and decline. How might we measure the number of protest songs in existence at any one time?
These problems might constitute a counsel of despair, as grounds for passing over the protest song in favour of more pressing concerns. But to do so would, I think, be a mistake. The use of music as a form of political expression and communication remains an important topic, and one that has attracted a large literature. The tendency, though, has been for this literature to concentrate on the political movements to which the music relates, and to pay relatively little attention to the music itself and how it fuels the political action with which it is associated.
Against this background, then, Noriko Manabe's book is very welcome. It is an immensely detailed and rigorous study of how precisely music and political protest are linked. It is enriched by a range of multimedia content that brings its subject matter to life. Manabe does not pretend to map global or national trends in protest music; instead she focuses on a very specific context. Her interest is the protests that followed the Fukushima nuclear power disaster that occurred in 2011 and claimed more than 16,000 lives.
The Revolution Will not Be Televised, a title borrowed from the late Gil Scott Heron's song, is meticulous in its dissection of the role that music has played in the protests against nuclear power. Beginning with a history of nuclear power in Japan and the resistance movements that it provoked, Manabe documents the multiple levels and forms that the music took. Key to the story is an appreciation of how firmly entrenched the commitment to nuclear power is within Japan's political economy, and hence the size and seriousness of the task of protesting against it. Indeed, it is precisely the hegemonic character of support for nuclear power that, according to Manabe, accounts for the importance attached to music as a 'means by which antinuclear citizens can present their views, vent their frustrations, and feel validated' (p. 66). More than this, music served also to 'create a sense of community', to invest the protest with strength and solidarity (p. 66).
In tracing how music performed these functions, Manabe begins with the musicians, charting the challenges that they face as employees of the record industry, as 'representatives' of a cause, and as artists charged with the task of making...