Three Coachella artists likely to get political as Ukraine, Israel-Hamas wars continue

Music and politics have always been intertwined. In ancient Rome, an enemy of Emperor Nero used music to turn public opinion against him. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture commemorates imperial Russia’s victory in stopping Napoleon’s invasion. And in 1969, the granddaddy of the modern music festival as we know it, Woodstock, is popularly associated with Vietnam anti-war songs.

This tradition of leveraging large music events to platform political messages and statements is alive and well many decades later. Amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, deep divisions over the Israel-Hamas war, and tussles on Capitol Hill over releasing more aid to war-beleaguered Ukraine, Coachella 2024 comes at a politically charged time.

More than 80 performers pulled out of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin in March to protest several defense contracting companies participating in the event, and its "super sponsor," the U.S. Army. Though there have not been any high-profile disputes among artists and Coachella organizers similar to that in Austin, the festival is by no means insulated from the Israel-Hamas war or the war in Ukraine.

Among the event's nearly 150 acts, a handful stand out in their activism and personal connections to the two wars. Here are the three international acts to watch:

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Saint Levant

The artist, née Marwan Abdelhamid, born in Jerusalem to an Algerian-French mother and Palestinian-Serbian father, is known for his agile blend of English, French, and Arabic lyrics. The 23-year-old grew up in Gaza, where his father ran a hotel, named Deira. Abdelhamid and his family moved to Jordan in 2007 to escape the violence and upheaval from the Hamas-Fatah conflict rocking the territory at the time. He stayed in Jordan for 10 years until again relocating to California, his website says, where he is currently based.

Just as his upbringing and parental influences feature strongly in his multilingual music, Abdelhamid's connection to Gaza is also a centerpiece of his work. In February he teamed up with Palestinian wunderkind MC Abdul to release the single "Deira," paying tribute to Gaza and Palestinian culture as the Israel-Hamas war.

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“Deira is the name of the hotel that my father, Rashid, an architect, built with my mother in 2000 when they moved to Gaza,” Abdelhamid said in a February interview with Vanity Fair. “Deira means the Kasbah or the old city. He built this hotel with mud because it was impossible to import cement at the time. Located on the beach, this hotel was one of the most beautiful in Gaza, made up of 22 rooms. It was a true architectural marvel."

In an interview with Arab News, the artist described his childhood growing up in the Gaza hotel as "the best years of my life." The new single, which the artist is very likely to perform at Coachella, includes powerful statements about the Israel-Hamas war and the destruction of his former home. "We left our city behind, heartbreaking exile," he starts out the song. "Say hello to Jericho and the old city for me oh, you traveling bird. On this generous land, they can't take what's inside us." 15-year-old MC Abdel later raps, "Big dreams, heavy nights, praying that my family can stay alive," and "praying that we make it to sixteen."

The song's namesake, the Deira, was completely destroyed by the ongoing Israeli military bombardment, Abdelhamid said.

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Consisting of Arthur Kryvenko and Vitalii Lymarenko, ARTBAT is an electronic group founded in 2014 in the pair's home country of Ukraine, as the Odessa Journal reports.

Their sets often include large projections of the Ukrainian flag and the country's colors, and have held performances to raise money for supporting Ukrainians affected by the war. ARTBAT has also been a vocal critique of Russia and its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, leveraging its social media pages to document the war's early months and express support for Ukrainians.

Their 2023 single "Coming Home feat. John Martin" is about the war's forced displacement of millions and imagines a future when the conflict ends and Ukrainians can safely return. "In the streets we will walk like we used to do, there will be something new to believe in," Martin sings over the pair's lifting beat. "Mother I'm coming home, sister I'm coming home, lover I'm coming home."

The song's music video begins with images of people running frenzied surrounded by smoke and pictures a young Ukrainian man in fatigues throwing his things in a truck and driving off. It ends with a mass of people running toward loved ones and embracing, including the Ukrainian soldier.

Miss Monique

Alesia Arkusha, a Ukrainian DJ who goes by Miss Monique on stage, was forced to flee her home and studio in the early weeks of the war in 2022. She has been vocal on social media and in interviews about how the war has affected her and her family.

She founded her own record label, Sonia Records, in 2019 before Russia invaded with the intention of elevating other Ukrainian artists. In recent months she has used the label to bring awareness to the war. She featured a month-long series showcasing multiple Ukrainian artists, many of whom have been displaced or otherwise deeply affected by the conflict.

Her latest track, "Veselka," is a tribute to her life in Ukraine before the war.

“This track holds a special place in my heart as it was the last one I completed in my hometown, Kyiv, before having to leave due to the war," she says in Electronic Groove. "It embodies pure energy and positive vibes, reminding me of a bright moment of peaceful times.”

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Kathryn Palmer is the California 2024 Elections Fellow for USA TODAY. Reach her at and follow her on X @KathrynPlmr.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Who in the Coachella 2024 lineup will get political? These 3 might