If I may, please allow me to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that this very column, Basslines and Protest Signs, took second place in the annual LA Press Club’s Arts and Entertainment Awards, Columnist category. The achievement is all the more humbling when considering that it’s a national competition, and that we only lost out to the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s excellent column for the Hollywood Reporter. Other finalists included columnists for the Orange County Register, and Variety.
Of course, we don’t do this for the awards but it’s rewarding to know that our column about music and politics, in which we’ve gone out of our way to highlight important scenes, albums, and performers while making people aware of some of the far-right evil that’s out there, struck the right notes (pun intended) with the judges. It’s a team effort, so a big thanks to CCO & CMO Sherin Nicole and senior editor Alex Bear for making me look good. Meanwhile, we’ll endeavor to keep shining lights where they need to be shone.
Such as on Los Angeles band Otep, formed in 2000, led by livewire frontwoman Otep Shamaya. The band and Shamaya have always worn her heart on her sleeve. Last year, Otep released their eighth studio album, Kult 45. That title needs very little explanation.
“It’s an absolute reflection of our times, in opposition, as part of the resistance,” Shamaya told this writer recently, on assignment for L.A. Weekly. “Living under a president who obviously committed conspiracy with the Russians to hack the election, he lost the popular vote by three million votes, he only won the electoral college (which was designed to help slave owners), by 77,000 votes and some change. My goal was to remind people that this is our nation. It doesn’t belong to the politicians, it doesn’t belong to Resident Trump, Traitor Trump, Donnie Little Fingers — I’ve got a lot of names for this guy. It’s not his country, even though he thinks it is. It’s ours.”
Shamaya said all of that a year ago, yet the sentiments couldn’t be more timely right now as we watch the impeachment proceedings unfold. She’s very aware that California residents live in a blue bubble, but elsewhere LGBTQ+ employees can still be fired for no other reason than their sexuality and/or identity.
“That’s not a byproduct of the Trump regime, that’s a byproduct of ignorance and some failures by the Obama administration to make sure that those protections were secure for us,” she said. “I was a fan of President Obama. I didn’t agree with him all the time — he and I had major disagreements on the LGBT community in particular, and the way that he compromised way too much with the Republican party on good faith, thinking that if he did something for them they would do something for him quid pro quo, and that of course turned out not to be the case. Kult 45 initially started out to be about the people that Donald Chump supports, which is white supremacists, hate groups, these groups of toxic masculinity tribes who think that women should only be vocal in the home when they say ‘dinner’s ready,’ that’s about as much as they should speak. But also to touch on other issues that are still pervasive in our country, with regards to rape culture, gender roles, and even fighting for your own self-care and self-love, stepping out of your comfort zone to achieve your dreams and goals and not allowing anyone else to define you.”
A self-proclaimed political junkie, Shamaya says that she saw the dangers of Trump and his oppressive policies coming a long time ago.
“I saw the trend coming when I first heard old Traitor Trump was running for president,” she said. “I saw the danger and the peril that he posed to our nation because, first, he’s never governed. He has no idea how normal people live. He has no idea how government works and how a bill becomes a law. All he wanted to be is famous. How he ran as a job creator when his slogan was ‘You’re fired’ — he got off on firing people on national TV — the disconnect there is unbelievable to me. The people that voted for him — he was speaking their language in that he made it ok to be hate-filled — racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, all the way around.”
If you’re not already “friends” with Otep on the various social media sites, it’s well worth the add. Shamaya is often outspoken, though her band’s heavy metal leanings have resulted in some fans that vehemently disagree with her. It makes for an entertaining back and forth.
Meanwhile, the lyrics also let us know where they stand, such as anti-war anthem “Said the Snake” from the new album:
“Put another rifle in their hand
Send them like cattle to a foreign land
Said the snake…
I alone can save your soul
Just give me complete control.”
– Otep – “Said the Snake”
On their previous album, Generation Doom, Shamaya sent out this rallying cry to fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community:
“He called me a dyke,
I called him an ambulance
I can make you famous too, but you tremble at the thought of that
I’ve seen more spine in jellyfish
That’s an invertebrate, Google that
I’ve been in the shadows long enough
I got nothing to lose so I’m playing rough
So humdrum, so dumb
You picked a fight with the wrong one
You brought a butter knife to a tank fight
I put you on blast then fucked your wife.”
– Otep – “Equal Rights, Equal Lefts”
That’s Otep. A badass woman who will stand up for what she believes in. People on social media have tried to silence her and they generally regret it. It has no effect anyway — Otep will continue to release incendiary albums and make herself heard. Which is exactly what we want from her.