Recommended If You Like: Hanni El Khatib, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, Led Zeppelin
Rock music isn’t supposed to hide from calling out injustice. Music from rock pioneers The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and countless others throughout rock history should be enough to make that argument win itself. And if not, Bob Dylan’s recently-awarded Nobel Prize is proof that a major part of rock’s identity is founded on engaging in and critiquing the world, and that its doing such is not just important, but necessary. Today, it may seem like the 1960’s are a long way off. Finding any sort of bright spot in today’s political climate (much less finding new music from socially-engaged rockers today) seems nearly impossible, if not completely not worth the effort.
Enter Gutxi Bibang, an international rock act whose first single, “System of a Gun,” doesn’t hesitate to criticize flawed systems worldwide. With their roots on multiple continents, the group’s dynamic single is sure to find willing ears everywhere. Frontman and guitarist Gutxi Bibang is “a second-generation African [hailing] from the Basque region of northern Spain” who created his stage name from combining a common Basque nickname (Gutxi) and blending it with “his roots in Africa” (Bibang). Bibang’s group also consists of American bassist Tabatha Beu (who is also Bibang’s girlfriend), and London-based drummer Gary Lee. If the group’s combined heritage wasn’t enough to prove that rock crosses barriers, “System of a Gun” was released via French label OSKAR Recordings, and the band recently played several live shows in London (and will play a show at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall on December 6). How’s that for international?
“System of a Gun” sees Gutxi Bibang following in a long line of rockers speaking back to the world around them. Ever since Dylan first played a note, the history of rock has been entwined with responding to the world’s ills and injustices, and Gutxi Bibang doesn’t see the music he produces as being an exception from that tradition. According to the band, “System of a Gun”s lyrics are “wrenched from the evening news,” and the Gutxi Bibang has stated that he seeks to “deal with violence, poverty, unrest, racism and sexism [through music, and] believes in the spirit of the ‘peace and love revolution.’”
Watch: “System of a Gun” – Gutxi Bibang
With its forceful vocals and strong guitar, the energy of “System of a Gun”’s beginning notes rip the song open in the best possible way. Slightly reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” in its opening structure, the song begins with Bibang screaming “Little by little, got to get away,” with a pregnant pause following its opening guitar riff. Though the pause doesn’t last more than a fraction of a second, it places the emphasis on the following lyric (“The elite are on the search to kill today”).
Little by little, got to get away
The elite are on the search to kill today
In less than ten seconds, Gutxi Bibang demonstrates his ability to call out The Man (a.k.a. any flawed system that only benefits those in power) — firmly placing himself in rock tradition — and forges a path for the future of socially-engaged rock music. The pure energy with which “System of Gun” bursts forth proves that rock can still question and criticize social systems without having to sacrifice any fervor.
System on the gun
Got to serve and obey
The truth only strays
Plague of system dysfunction
The song’s chorus is just as powerful as its verses, demanding an explanation for the wrongs the flawed system has caused. Challenging listeners to face a system that encourages and applauds people who sell out and become “slave[s] for the money” isn’t easy, but Gutxi Bibang does such so naturally that listeners can’t help but feel a sense of indignation. Is the rat race really what we’re all about–so much so that we don’t care who gets (literally and proverbially) gunned down by those in power, as long as we’re safe and comfortable?
There’s so much subtext implied in “System of a Gun” that’s meant to grab our attention. On one hand, there’s socioeconomic systems that pit the “elite” haves against the have-nots. On another, there’s rampant violence (especially gun violence, implied in the title) and a system that seems at a loss as to how to fix it. No matter where you look, it seems, “system dysfunction” is prevalent–whether that be with socioeconomic systems that encourage divisiveness, broken political machines ( Electoral *cough* College), and an overall feeling that the entire world is lacking in understanding and empathy.
This divisiveness at so many levels, as well as the systems at play that institutionalize it, is exactly Gutxi Bibang’s target. Through heavy guitar riffs and spitting vocals, the group calls out the powers that pit human against human and calls them out for what they really are–heartless. In true rock n’ roll-meets-social-action fashion, the song ends with a demand:
Explain to me, cause I don’t know
Just how could you be so cold?
Gutxi Bibang has taken a look at the world’s problems and named unjust systems as their main cause in “System of a Gun.” And the group isn’t backing down, even releasing the song in their two primary languages (the Spanish version is available on Spotify as “Mundo Nuevo”) to ensure its maximum impact. In doing such, Gutxi Bibang has established himself as not only a major international force, but also a veritable force for making modern, accessible rock music that inspires change — all while flipping a finger (or two, depending on your country) at dysfunctional systems everywhere.
— — — —
Cover Photo © Hazel Gaskin