words + playlist: Zoë Madonna
Lady Justice doesn’t concern herself with what individuals want, or thinks is right. Justice only cares about what is fair. She’s the card of the consequences that come with every action. I’ve heard some Tarot people say that Justice and emotions don’t mix; I don’t exactly agree with that. I think more that Justice knows that every emotion has its place and its uses, and knows how to use the energy of each emotion and put it to work.
It’s important, I think, to not confuse the Justice of the Tarot with the law, especially the deeply rigged American legal system. She asks you if you are being treated fairly, to look past the initial anger and find the reasons behind it. And then she calmly hands you a sword to fight with.
Justice is also a card of accountability. There’s no room for excuses. It’s often one of the brightest cards in the deck, with very few shadows to hide in. If you owe someone an apology and you see Justice, it’s a good time to give it. If you hurt someone or fucked something up, it’s time to be accountable. If you know someone in your community is hurting others, don’t be the one that lets them keep doing so. Think very carefully about the consequences of your actions, and don’t let emotions get in the way. Justice is a message to not let your opinion and bias get in the way of being a real agent for change.
When Justice comes up when something bad has already happened to people, that's not the cards’ way of saying "yes, that was fair," it's saying "yes, that happened, and yet here you still are."
For my Justice playlist, I chose a series of songs that fall under the wide category of “protest songs.” They take the emotions triggered by injustice and distill them through music. At the end of the day, you know how the cry goes: if we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace. And there is no peace on this playlist.
Nina Simone - Mississippi Goddam
“This is a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet,” Nina Simone shouts from behind the piano. The show it was written for was the American South, as it played out on the TV news and in headlines across the American North where Miss Simone lived.
She enters with exuberance so great it strains the edges of the recording. You can smell the vintage greasepaint in the chugging beat and the belting vocal line. It’s almost a kissing cousin to “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” which blasted onto the Broadway stage the same year (1964), but no one was singing about the murder of Medgar Evers in a musical. “The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam, and I mean every word of it.”
It was banned across the South. Ostensibly this was because of the swear word in the title. (Yeah. Right.)
Jeremy Dutcher - Ultestakon
My love for Western art music exists in uneasy parallel with the history of its existence being deployed as a reason why the “West” is superior to Everyone Else. Jeremy Dutcher is a classically trained tenor, a two-spirit, a storyteller and a scholar. This album’s existence is resistance, a giant fuck-you to the legacy of indigenous languages being erased and indigenous music being written off as primitive and unsophisticated.
Angelique Kidjo - Batonga
Told you back on the Empress column she’d have more than one song on this series. This isn’t technically a protest song, but Angelique Kidjo invented the word “Batonga” as a preteen, as something she could spit back at bullies. “For me, it means ‘give me a break,’” she’s said in an interview with Harvard. “Get off my back. Leave me alone. I’ll do whatever I want, be whatever I want to be. What I do is none of your business. Just cut me some slack, and get out of here.”
I also interviewed Angelique for my other job at the Boston Globe, and she really holds nothing back. During our conversation, I learned something new: many African entertainers, she said, had to be associated with a politician to have a career. In her case, when she was a teenager in what was then called the People’s Republic of Benin, all non-propaganda music was banned, so it was clear she had to leave. But irrespective of that, her father advised her against being associated with politics. “If you want to continue your art and be free, and be the voice of the voiceless, you can’t be associated with a political party,” she said he told her. “You can like somebody that is doing a good job, and not be part of it.”
Tell her to do one thing and she’ll do what she knows is right. Batonga.
Emel Mathlouthi - Kelmti Horra
Like Angelique, Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi lived under a dictatorial government that banned dissent. She had been singing out against injustice for years before she came out with “Kelmti Horra,” a deceptively sweet melody set to the words of poet Amine el-Ghozzi; she ended concerts in France and Tunisia with it. “We are free men who are not afraid,” she sings. “We are the secrets that never die, we are the voices of those who resist.” It was banned on Tunisian radio. She was banned from playing festivals.
She had moved to France in 2008, but was back in Tunisia for a few concerts on the day street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, an event that sparked the Tunisian Revolution. When people took to the streets weeks later, Emel was right there singing along.
Hurray for the Riff Raff - Rican Beach
Lady Justice dances in the rain, shimmying barefoot to this gently fierce and determined groove. An updraft of big-sky guitars lift Alynda Lee Segarra’s voice off the ground. There’s hurt here, and anger too, but it’s not nihilistic. “I would like to see us move forward as a generation who will create work to heal and to manifest a peaceful society we never knew was possible,” she told NPR. “It is up to us to imagine a bright future: If we fall silent I fear the future that we face."
Anais Mitchell - Why We Build the Wall
If you hear this for the first time today, you might think it was written yesterday, and no one would blame you. But this wasn’t written as a protest song about Trump’s wall, or any existing wall. Anais Mitchell has been asking why we build the wall since ten years ago, when she mounted the original production of “Hadestown,” a folksy American adaptation of the Orpheus myth. Eurydice suspects Orpheus won’t be able to provide for her with just his music, and is enticed to a company town run by Hades, a corrupt boss. In universe, “Why We Build the Wall” ends the first act, and it’s sung by Hades and the residents of Hadestown, who are hard at work building -- you guessed it.
Ten years ago, Hadestown was a small community theater production, and now it’s on Broadway. Ten years ago, xenophobia and exclusionism were, in fact, already a problem, and now the chief executive of the United States of America is telling us to build a wall to keep us free, the wall keeps out the enemy, because we have and they have not, we have work and they have none --
When it’s performed as part of Hadestown, Hades speaks his verses in a gravelwracked, paternal voice. I still prefer Anais Mitchell’s singing-and-guitar recording on “Xoa.” It takes it off the stage and onto the street corner.
Army of Me - Bjork
This is the most individually rooted “protest song” on the list, but it keeps proving itself relevant. Bjork wrote it about her brother, whom she says was going through a period of being destructive and defensive, and refusing to take responsibility for his actions. To me, this song is about reclaiming your time, emotional space, and brain space from whichever psychic vampires have been telling you that you owe it to them. Especially if we’re socialized female, it can be fucking hard to speak up and say “I’m sorry, I can’t do _____”, or call someone out for bad behavior when they’re going through a hard time, especially if that person is someone we love - a best friend, a partner, a family member. This song has given me the words and confidence I need to be fair to myself.