How Music Is Moving Protests Around the World

By Evan Minsker

The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others have sparked widespread international protests over the span of several days. With hundreds of people speaking out against systemic racism and police brutality, music is playing a crucial role to bring people together at gatherings across the world. Popular music is being sung and chanted by crowds, songs like N.W.A’s “Fuck the Police” and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” are seeing significant streaming bumps, and a detained woman telling a security guard “you about to lose your job” has become a viral remix. Music has also become a tool for disrupting police scanners.

People are chanting, playing instruments, blasting songs on speakers, and taking the opportunity to dance together. If you search “protest dance party” on social media, you’ll find tons of region-specific examples: people doing Chicago footwork atop a police car, chanting along to techno in Detroit, participating in massive go-go rallies in D.C., and twerking to City Girls in New Orleans. We’ve gathered videos that show the many ways that music is being used in protests across the country below.

Jon Batiste’s “We Are” march in New York City

On Saturday, June 6, Stephen Colbert’s Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste invited the public to join him for “We Are: A Peaceful Protest March With Music.” Batiste was joined by a Louisiana-style brass band, leading chants and playing songs like “We Shall Overcome” and “Lean On Me.” With a keytar strapped to his back, he gave an interview with CNN during the march. “We are the chosen ones,” he said. “We can change this.”

Techno float at Black Lives Matter march in Detroit

During a march in Detroit, chants were fueled by techno—a music from the city’s history that’s inherently political in its origins. “No justice, no peace, fuck these racist police,” people chanted to the beat of Bruno Furlan’s “Line Five” blasting from speakers mounted to a float.

Pickup truck hardcore band in Los Angeles

Vandalize—a Latinx hardcore and power violence band from Pico Rivera, California—packed their gear into the back of a pickup truck amid protests in downtown Los Angeles. There’s video of kids screaming and moshing joyously in the streets while the band plays on the back of the truck.

Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” singalong in Washington, DC

On June 3, singer Kenny Sway held a microphone at a protest in the nation’s capital and began singing the Bill Withers classic “Lean on Me.” The moment spurred a massive singalong near the White House.

Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” chanted in Auckland, New Zealand

“Alright” has been a standard at protests since its release, and the recent protests are no different—the song saw a spike in streaming, reaching over a million streams. Footage shows that chants of the chorus went up at a Black Lives Matter protest in Auckland, New Zealand.

Ludacris’ “Move Bitch” in New York City

As police have begun the practice of kettling protesters—trapping them into a confined area so they’re unable to escape arrest (or the use of force)—Ludacris’ “Move Bitch” has become an unlikely anthem of resistance. In the video below, it’s employed by protesters responding to police kettling amid the now-lifted New York City curfew.

The National Guard and Los del Río’s “Macarena” in Atlanta

As protesters began dancing in Atlanta, a woman invited deployed members of the National Guard to dance with the protesters. That’s apparently how footage of National Guard and protesters doing the Macarena together came to exist. It’s since been pointed out that the Macarena has been used as a counter-insurgency tactic to pacify people in occupied countries.

Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” for Breonna Taylor in New York City

Breonna Taylor would have turned 27 on Friday had she not been shot by Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers on March 13. Protesters paid tribute to Taylor with a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s birthday song.

Beyoncé’s “Before I Let Go” in Minneapolis

A rally in Minneapolis ended with DJ Baati Babe helming a dance party, and in the video below, you can see a sea of people dancing to Beyoncé’s Homecoming soundtrack rendition of Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Before I Let Go.” Here, the same Electric Slide group dance normally reserved for graduation parties or family reunions is done by people wearing masks and holding signs.

Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” in New York City

Another protest standard was sung at Washington Square Park on June 4—Bob Marley and the Wailers’ classic “Get Up, Stand Up.” Accompanied by live drums and saxophone, people sang the words “don’t give up the fight.”

Malik Dope at the Washington, DC go-go rally

On Saturday (June 7), go-go drummer Malik Dope rolled through the streets of Washington, D.C. to perform as part of the Go-Go to the DOJ Black Lives Matter rally. The event was coordinated by Long Live Go-Go, the producers of Moechella. “Wow yesterday was so epically DOPE for us as a people,” he later wrote. “I came out to spread light in the streets like old times and that’s just what happened.”

Jam sessions and dance circles in Philadelphia

After a massive protest at the Philadelphia Museum of Art ended with a dance circle yesterday, today a series of rallies around the city have hosted jam sessions.

Marching band dance party in Norfolk, Virginia

In Norfolk, Virginia, one journalist followed a Black Lives Matter protest that grew from around 30 people to over 200 people and featured a surprise performance from the Norfolk State University marching band.

Read “George Floyd Rap Collaborator Chris Ward Remembers His Friend’s Unceasing Positivity and Freestyling Skills” and “Remembering George Floyd’s Life and Legacy in the Houston Hip-Hop Scene.”

Find resources in the fight against police brutality and systemic racism, including a list of organizations to donate to if you’re able, here.