Hozier’s Timely Return To A New Age of Activism
Four years after disappearing from the music scene, Hozier returns with an EP deemed a “thank you note to the spirit of protest”, that perfectly encapsulates the political and social crises’ around the world and those who fight to change them. Though containing only four songs, with each having their own tone and style, they all manage to maintain a distinct trace of Hozier’s unique style in them.
However, despite the uniqueness in the song styles, what really makes the EP stand out is the title song, ‘Nina Cried Power’, which when listened to alone is beautiful but when paired with its music video, it becomes a true work of art. The title of the song is a homage to Nina Simone, a singer and an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, and features Mavis Staples, also a renowned singer and civil rights activist. Adding Staples, a gospel singer herself, to ‘Nina Cried Power’ completed the vocals as her and Hozier’s voices were seemingly made for one another with their soulful harmonies blending effortlessly.
In terms of lyrics, the most poignant is, “It’s not the waking, it’s the rising”. Profoundly aware of society, Hozier is perhaps too familiar with the number of people who are conscious of the problems surrounding society but refuse to do anything about them. Becoming aware of the flaws of society is only the beginning, and just becoming aware of the truth does not make you any better than those who refuse to see it. The hard part of making a change comes from rising – to change the world you have to take a stand, you have to rise up to the difficulties, you have to be uncompromising and most importantly you have to fight back.
Hozier has never been one to shy away from activism and politics, and he certainly didn’t in the music video for ‘Nina Cried Power’, which showcases a number of Irish activists for all different causes listening to the song for the first time while images of protesting and activism play behind them. A simple yet raw video not only left many of the contributors teary-eyed or crying, but it also leaves some viewers moved to tears as well. Hozier has explained his motivations in interviews, “The purpose of the song is really to talk about how – the civil liberties and civil rights that we do enjoy – the kind of common respect for the dignity of the people that we take for granted now – is not something that was ever given. It’s not something that was ever given freely. It was something that was sweated for, and wept, and bled for by people who we thankfully still have around today.”
It is the last part of his quote that is the most important, and the one that leaves the greatest impression, for it makes one wonder how long it has been since these activists who fought for us have been thanked? Two activists in Hozier’s music video that have been fighting and protesting for years for rights are Eamonn McCann, who campaigned for social justice in Derry and beyond since the 1960s, and Bernadette McAliskey who began her activism in 1969 when she become the youngest female to win a seat in Westminster Parliament at just the age of twenty-one. These people, and many more like them, are unknown to most in today’s society and receive no thanks for the work they have achieved, and it is through this video Hozier wishes to change that.
While the song honours the protestors and activists of the years gone by such as James Brown, B.B King, Woody Guthrie, the music video takes the opposite approach and features only Irish protestors, a number of them considerably young, as if the flame is being passed from one generation to another; a symbol of the never-ending act of protest and activism. Hozier himself eluded to this as he has commented that “fights that took place 100 years ago or 200 years ago” are never truly over and that although “There is no final victory”, this does not mean we should give up. His video exemplifies this, showcasing the successes of Irish protestors and giving the viewer the hope and courage they need to join in.
One of the protesters in the video who does not lack courage is Colm O’Gorman, whose story is more relevant now more than ever. In 1995, O’Gorman bravely reported his rape and assault by a priest that had occurred when he was only fourteen years old. His courage to do so led to the uncovering of many other children being sexually abused by those in the Catholic Church. Refusing to stop there, O’Gorman chose to sue the Pope himself for the coverup of the horrific and numerous crimes committed by these men. During the Pope’s visit to Ireland, Hozier stood in solidarity with the victims and survivors of the abuse of the Catholic Church, including O’Gorman, by attending the Stand for Truth protest. Hozier had formerly spoken out against the Church in 2014 when he stated that “the damage done by the Church to the people of Ireland is completely irreparable.”
Following the release of the music video, Hozier took the time to write a thank you note, not only to the viewers but also to each individual activist who took part in the video, the most emotional one perhaps being to Saoirse Long. During the Abortion Referendum Long spoke up about her own abortion in which she had to travel abroad to receive, describing it as “the most lonely journey I’ve ever taken.” In response to this on a TV debate, an anti-abortion speaker patronisingly told her, “you deserve love and respect despite what you may have done”, leading Long to break down in tears and for there to be a public outcry. With this in mind, Hozier’s thank you to her was particularly empathetic: “Thank you to Saoirse Long, whose honesty revealed not only our own failures as people but laid bare the true face of what barred the way of progress for women’s reproductive rights.”
And as a final note, this quote from Hozier is perhaps more necessary and needed now more than ever. In times of unease and uncertainty, it’s important to remember, as Hozier has put it, that “people have faced this before. There have been uncertain times before. There has been bravery before. And it has been overcome.”
By Emma Nolan – Music Writer