“South Gotta Change” is a simmering, vivid declaration of hope and determination, inspired by the life of the late Congressperson and civil rights leader John Lewis. And it is as memorable a protest song as I’ve heard in a long while.
The aural landscape–involving little more than a deep drumbeat and a reverberant guitar–is swampy and spacious (and executive-produced by none other than T Bone Burnett). The guitar is both central and understated; you can hear the notes it doesn’t play almost as clearly as those it does. Victoria’s vocal melody is simple to the point of being relentless, with the verse and chorus more or less the same. Everything is here to cycle again back to the titular affirmation, delivered as something between a demand, a dare, and a fait accompli. It seems so obvious and sensible that the place that birthed and fostered white supremacy can and must overcome its history of bigotry that the song’s plea feels more natural than revolutionary. Of course, you say to yourself (if you have any sensible and humane bones in your body): of course it has to change. And of course the voice of change here is a native Southerner, who can speak with authority on the too often overlooked matter that Black people have their own deep and powerful connection to the South, and may therefore be the ones to not only call for change but to push to make it happen.
Meanwhile, keep your ears on the guitar. It first blossoms out of its economical line at 1:36, which develops into a full-on solo at 1:47, and climaxes into a slightly distorted mirror of Victoria’s plaintive vocals singing, simply, the word “change.” Best of all are the sounds emerging from the guitar starting around 2:50: siren-like distortions mixed perfectly into the background so that they accompany rather than overwhelm. The song from end to end is a masterpiece of restraint, sonically, which to my ears serves to amplify its potency.
Born in South Carolina, Adia Victoria is a singer, songwriter, and poet based in Nashville. She has released two full-length albums, the most recent being 2019’s Silences. “South Gotta Change” is a single that came out in late August 2020, but just keeps seeming more and more relevant. MP3 via KEXP.