A primer for teenagers on the how and who behind world-changing music
Rise Up and Sing!
Power, Protest and Activism in Music
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The excellent illustrations in Rise Up and Sing!, published by Greystone Kids, are by Vancouver-born and Toronto-based Louise Reimer

  • PLAYLISTS – hear the playlist of historical and current songs for each of the 8 chapters as chosen by author Andrea Warner in her book. See the full list and links below.
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Vancouver author, music critic, podcaster and broadcaster Andrea Warner‘s new book is aimed at teenagers with an activist bent and interested in music.


A primer for teenagers on the how and who behind world-changing music

Rise Up and Sing! offers a compelling snapshot of 75 years of world-changing movements and the musicians who provided the soundtrack.

Vancouver author, music critic and podcaster Andrea Warner aims at a teenage audience presenting an engaging and well-researched overview of dozens of socially minded artists who’ve made a difference. She covers eight distinct movements and lovingly introduces their musical founding mothers and fathers plus a new generation of diverse players who carry on singing for equality, equity and justice.

“A great activist song or protest song is one that gets you ready to go out into the world and gets your head and your heart right,” she writes in the Introduction. “It can make you brave or bold, courageous or daring, or raise your consciousness and motivate you to be part of something bigger.”

Just a few of the “Hall of Fame” artists she roll calls include Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, k.d. lang, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. The newer generation includes Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga.

The book is focused on eight areas of activism—the climate emergency, Indigenous rights, civil rights, disability rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, gender equality, the peace/anti-war movement and human rights. Warner opens each chapter with informative short essays followed by brief biographies of key players under the headings Dance Break, Hall of Fame, Viral Hit, In the Spotlight and Listen Up. Each chapter concludes with a Top 10 Playlist of both historical and current day tunes, 5 Bonus Tracks plus three questions for students in Music Notes.

The book’s promotional materials suggest Rise Up and Sing! is for readers aged 11- 14. Initially I thought I’d share this collection with the very well-read and savvy 12 year-old in my world. However, while the writing is clear and accessible, some of the topics are a bit involved and the edgier music skews to a slightly older listener. As a result, I’ll be holding off on sharing this one with her for another year or two. At the same time, I think it’s a good read for adults young and old!

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Black and gay hip hop artist Lil Nas X broke musical ground in 2018 with his surprise hit Old Town Road which mashed together hip hop and country music. (Louise Reimer illustration)

The 8 playlists on Spotify

Warner draws on her deep and wide-ranging musical vocabulary to build the wildly diverse 10-song playlists – plus 5-song Bonus Tracks that close each chapter. In Chapter 1’s Earth Revolution (Climate Justice, the Environment and Land Back) for example, she introduces new and lesser known artists like rapper and MC Mumu Fresh and BC’s Ta’Kaiya Blaney from the Tla’amin Nation. Also included are world famous youth favourite Billie Eilish, Iceland’s bold Björk, Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagak as well as Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye and eight more artists.

Of the numerous other relatively new-to-me musicians and songs, ones that caught my ear include Mali’s Inna Modja, veteran player Pura Fé in Saskatchewan, the hip hop funk of Jurassic 5, Lil Nas X playing Montero (Call Me By Your Name), black country music player and feminist Mickey Guyton, Rihanna’s strong protest pop tune, American Oxygen, Canada’s Halluci Nation (formerly A Tribe Called Red), Tanya Tagak’s Retribution and more.

In order to get a good feel for the book I made the recommended playlist for each chapter in Spotify to give a listen. I haven’t heard the full eight hours of music and I’ve focused on songs and artists I didn’t know. The playlists below are a solid representation of the historical, musical and thematic ground Warner so admirably covers in Rise Up and Sing!
(Ed. Note: A few songs are unavailable on Spotify).

Chapter 1: Earth Revolution

Chapter 2: Indigenous Existence Is Resistance

Chapter 3: Fight the Power

Chapter 4: Nothing About Us Without Us

Chapter 5: I Was Born This Way

Chapter 6: Respect

Chapter 7: Give Peace A Chance

Chapter 8: Stand By Me

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09 December 2023