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Music for social change during/following unrest?

I’d like to have a dialogue about the power of music and its contribution to change during times of political or social unrest.

I chose the song “Wavin’ Flag” as a case for music being used for change during unrest because I think it provokes a sense of unity and overcoming of adversity. The musical artist K’NAAN is originally from Somalia and then lived in Canada. He is classified as a hip hop artist. This is one version of the song which is a collaboration with the artists will.i.am. and David Guetta.

If you type “Somalia” into Google, as I just did, you will probably see results that talk about “rescuing,” “aid,” and “pirates.” I’ve never known anyone from Somalia, but the media in the U.S., to me, has framed it as an unsafe and violent place, so that is all I have to go by. Therefore, I assume that K’NAAN must be safer and freer since he has left Somalia.

K’NAAN made a conscious decision after he rose as an artist in western culture to voice injustices and to talk about his roots.

I’d like to ask everyone to view the music video below for the song “Wavin’ Flag.” If you think it is difficult to hear or understand the words of the song, then simply scroll down the screen and read the lyrics provided while you listen to the song play out. Then there are some questions for discussion at the bottom.

“Wavin’ Flag” K’NAAN ft. will.i.am & David Guetta

Lyrics:

When I get older, I will be stronger
They call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag
So wave your flag, now wave your flag
Now wave your flag (Ooh Oh)

Born to the throne, stronger than Rome
But Violent prone, poor people zone
But it’s my home, all I have known
Where I got grown, streets we would roam
Out of the darkness, I came the farthest
Among the hardest survival…
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak
Except no defeat, surrender retreat

So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day
It’s not far away, so for now we say

When I get older, I will be stronger
I’ll make it better, struggle no longer
When I get older, I will be stronger
They call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag
So wave your flag
Now wave your flag, now wave your flag
Now wave your flag, now wave your flag
Now wave your flag, now wave your flag (Ooh Oh)

So many wars (wars), settling scores (scores)
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
In this situation, when there’s no compensation
They got no occupation, to buy no medication
It’s a combination, of no education
We go never get and say tomorrow’s generation
‘Cause they can’t control us
No, they can’t hold us down
We go pick up

Even though we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait (wait), for the fateful day (go)
It’s not far away, so for now we say

When I get older, I will be stronger
I’ll make it better, struggle no longer
When I get older, I will be stronger
They call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag
So wave your flag (yeah)
Now wave your flag (yeah), now wave your flag (yeah)
Now wave your flag, now wave your flag
Now wave your flag, now wave your flag
Ooh oh, Ooh oh, Ooh oh, Ooh oh

And everybody will be singing it (Ooh oh)
And you and I will be singing it (Ooh oh)
And we all will be singing it (Ooh oh)
Woo woo, Woo woo, Woo woooo

When I get older
I will be stronger, stronger, stronger
I will be stronger, stronger, stronger
I will be stronger
They call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag
So wave your flag
Now wave your flag, now wave your flag
Now wave your flag, now wave your flag
Now wave your flag, now wave your flag (yeah)
Just like a wavin’ flag, just like a wavin’ flag
Just like a wavin’ flag, just like a wavin’ flag

Here are some points for discussion:

  1. What do you think the role of music is in social or political change?
  2. Do you think we ever look back on music and notice how it aligned with the ways of its time period?
  3. How far do you think musical artists should go to promote causes of social action, political awareness, peace advocacy, etc?
  4. Do you think that music that speaks to injustices and overcoming adversity can affect future circumstances in other situations?
  5. Can you think of particular musical artists or genres of music that have perhaps been looked down upon and then had a positive impact?
  6. Do you know of any musical artists or songs that have very well told political or social commentary through song, or provoked change doing so?
  7. Is there a musical artist from your country or culture who has told through music about social or political unrest? Is this accepted in your culture?

Stay tuned for my follow-up post this weekend.

-Alex

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33 Comments

  1. KSA ROCKS! says:

    1) What do you think the role of music is in social or political change?

    I think the role of music in social or political change can be to galvanize people and make them recognize the plight of their own situation. When someone hears a song like “Wavin’ Flag,” it can help to band a group of people together and help them realize that they are not alone in feeling repressed and alone. Furthermore, it can help to bring hope that the social or political change needed can happen.

    2) Do you think we ever look back on music and notice how it aligned with the ways of its time period?

    I believe that we do often place music in terms of their context (time period, area, etc.) For example, there are many people who equate songs like ‘Fortunate Son’ with the Vietnam War, recognizing the meaning of the artists in protesting the war itself.

    3) How far do you think musical artists should go to promote causes of social action, political awareness, peace advocacy, etc?

    I think musical artists have a certain level of responsibility for raising awareness, though it can get tricky when celebrities try to become the primary spokespeople for causes. I would love for the people in charge of charities or organizations to be the ones giving the public the facts of a social action or need. All the same, I recognize the widespread audience a musical artist can reach.

    4) Do you think that music that speaks to injustices and overcoming adversity can affect future circumstances in other situations?

    I think music has a limited capacity to make people aware of the extent of a people’s suffering; these universal themes of hope and strength, as evidenced by ‘Wavin’ Flag,’ can inspire the right people to action and provide the impetus for lasting change. While there is a wide gap between listening to a song and bringing about socially progressive change, there is a kind of basic emotional connection that music can reach that can help to inspire people to do the right thing.

    5) Can you think of particular musical artists or genres of music that have perhaps been looked down upon and then had a positive impact?

    When rock ‘n roll started becoming popular in the 1950s and 1960s, it became the voice of that generation’s youth. While the adults of that generation saw it as lascivious and dangerous, it helped to give young people the freedom to speak out against injustices (see the protest songs of the 1960s). By turning an enjoyable casual experience into a political message, you can reach people who might not otherwise think about politics.

    6) Do you think that music can ever be taken too far and perhaps promote brainwashing, propaganda, or discrimination?

    Music has frequently been used for propaganda purposes; anthems and ballads and the like are often used to teach people that their government is working in their best interests, that certain people should be hated, etc. I think, given music’s huge influence on people, it can help to at least enhance latent feelings and preferences in a negative way, just as it can in a positive way.

    7) Is there a musical artist from your country or culture who has told through music about social or political unrest? Is this accepted in your culture?

    A lot of male artists in my country do talk about social unrest through music – for example, when a kingdom’s leader dies, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding who the next leader will be, and what kind of changes will come after following the old leader for so long. In order to address these issues and uncertainties, a lot of big-name artists, with large followings, often put out songs that will encourage loyalty to the new leader, following their own example. In these songs, the artists reassures their audience about the positive changes that will come; this leads to a greater sense of security among the people, and they are more willing to accept the change in leadership.

  2. drcookejackson says:

    Alex, Oddly enough I’ve heard this song under different circumstances and didn’t realize it had a political commentary on the life experiences of this young man! How fascinating to consider the words from a completely different vantage point. CJ

  3. Laura Chechette says:

    Before I answer your questions I want to share my immediate reaction to this song. I am one of those people who music can instantly change my mood, for good or bad, but don’t worry I LOVE this song. When it started to play I immediately thought of the 2010 World Cup. Even though the Shakira song, Waka Waka is the office song of the 2010 World Cup, Wavin Flag is the unofficial anthem that I remember. I was doing a year of service when the last World Cup was happening and that was the one time everyone would get together and watch the games. This song reminds me of that positive time in my life and I think that people sometimes underestimate the role that music can play in a persons life.

    Now to your questions, I want to tackle number 3. When I was younger I remember being really excited to buy the “What’s Going On” CD. It was a CD made up of a variety of artists singing the same song, What’s Going On, in variety of ways. All of the proceeds of the CD went to AIDs relief and research. I remember being so excited because not only was I getting a CD with all my favorite artists, but I was also helping out a cause larger than myself.

    Whenever a huge disaster happens (September 11th, the Haiti earthquake, etc.) musicians get together and put on a televised show to raise money for charity and relief efforts. I think that is a great way to help in the moment, but to answer your question I think that musical artists could do a lot more to help promote the various causes they believe in. For example, I know that Lady Gaga is a big supporter of gay rights, but no other artist and their cause comes to mind immediately as a second example. I’m not saying that every song on an album has to be promoting a cause, but I think that every once and a while it would be nice for a musical artist to promote a worthwhile cause instead of worrying about how it may affect record sales.

    • Alex says:

      Laura, I also remember the What’s Going On project. I think there are some artists who use music as a tool to expose a injustice, talk about some sort of adversity, or call for action. It is true that it is probably not as common as it should be. As sad as it is, I am not sure if the vast majority of people are seeking that type of music. I know that Black Eyed Peas, for instance, has often had a song or two on each of their albums along this theme, but it never makes it to the radio, so only people who purchase Black Eyed Peas albums would hear these tracks. And then for instance, Kelly Rowland came out with a song about bullying (you can view it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o01uU7OdnQ), but that never made it onto the radio, and I don’t know if it’s because people don’t want it on the radio, or if it’s because it’s such a stark contrast with her other music that it doesn’t strike a cord or is surprising or confusing to people. I think this all definitely calls into question how a musical artist can balance the purpose(s) of their music with providing commentary about injustice and meeting people’s societal expectations of music.

  4. Alex says:

    Dr. CJ, I have also experienced before hearing the same song in different situations. It is interesting how the mood in which you hear a song, the atmosphere in which you hear it, and how much attention you pay to the melody or lyrics can make for such a different experience.

    Mimi, That is interesting about the male artists in your country using music as a tool to encourage people to follow the new leader. This makes me curious, do any musical artists there ever speak out against the new leader? Would this be accepted or would they be penalized?

  5. Boon Han says:

    I felt the same way as Laura about the song being related to the 2010 World Cup. However, that version of the song had a more celebratory tune to it and if you listened to the both of them one after another, you will notice that there is a stark contrast in the “mood” although the melody is retained.

    I think that music is indeed a very powerful tool to stir up human emotions and spur them to action as I think it somehow resonates with our innate subconscious in an inexplicable manner. However, I must add that the even if the melody is constant, it may strike a different chord with different groups of audiences with different cultural backgrounds and experiences.

    I feel that the main reason as to why every nation would have a National Anthem is actually to have a common melody in which all citizens can relate. We often see the gold medalists at the Olympics tear up when their national anthem is played during the medal presentation ceremony… Have YOU ever felt your eyes getting watery when your national anthem is played and your heart swells up with all kinds of nationalistic pride? I know I have….

    • drcookejackson says:

      Wow Boon Han… that’s amazing how the tempo and mood of this version is so different from the other version – the exact same song… Almost more celebratory and stirring! The dancing of the crowd of course takes the energy to a whole different level as well. One is challenging a people in war-torn times ….the other stirring a crowd after a victory! Fascinating huh!?
      And yes I have on a number of occasions experienced tears in my eye during the singing of the national anthem.

    • Alex says:

      Interesting Boon Han, thanks. I had not heard that version before, nor have I watched the FIFA World Cup, but I did hear this song had been used in some form. I can see different power and depth in both versions. This second version from FIFA had the same chorus lyrics but different song verses. The FIFA video gives me a mood of celebration, whereas the original video I posted gives me the sense of overcoming adversity and but yet posing a dilemma about sticking to roots while rising up.

  6. andreslmc says:

    Alex, I think that musicians have the ability to play an important role in promoting social change and political awareness. This certainly the case with one of my favorite rock artists, Juanes.

    Juanes is a world famous Colombian rock musician who sings about war, peace, and political awareness. He is held in high regard by Colombians because he serves as an ambassador for Colombia’s dynamic artistic culture; more importantly, through his music Juanes has been able to express how a lot of young Colombians feel about life, their country, and their future.

    Recently, when Colombia and Venezuela were on the verge of war, Juanes helped organize a concert on the border of both countries to call for peace. The concert was highly covered by the media and helped subdue the tension between both countries. Here is a clip of this concert, titled “Peace without Frontiers.”

    • drcookejackson says:

      I just checked out your video – boy this concert was packed with people! It amazing to see how many people are touched for this cause and goal of promoting Peace! It makes me realize that often when the people come together around music for a political objective that all things are possible and voices can be heard in a united song!

    • KSA ROCKS! says:

      Hey Andres,

      The information about the war between Colombia and Venezuela and Juanes’s concert to help prevent it from happening is very interesting piece of knowledge that I didn’t know. I saw the video and even though I didn’t understand the language, yet the intention and the title meaning sends a positive message to the audience. I also enjoyed the rhythm of the song to be honest ^_^. My question to you is since he did the concert on the boarders of the 2 countries, were the audiences mixed of both countries? If so, this is really powerful and the message these people send to their governments is strong!

      I am asking cause you said that Juanes is very popular in Colombia, but is he in Venezuela too?

      If the audience is a mix of both countries it is really fascinating to see them come together despite what the different sources of media, and we know how biased in their messages they can be, were feeding these people, especially when it is sending false messages about the other country or messages that are pro wars.

      It is amazing how different types of arts can bring people together whether is happy stable or sad tragedy times. I want to specifically mention “Sugar” the outstanding performance by Robbie McCauley that I went to this past Friday. She was telling her life journey from being a little disease free child to her adulthood exciting Broadway times, yet dealing with silent disease “diabetes”. Her artistic performance gave us as audience an insightful look into the inner thoughts and emotions, especially pain that the diabetic people experience and live with probably all their lives. I really enjoyed the piece and I now look at diabetes with a new lens.

      • andreslmc says:

        Maha–The crowd was a mix people from both countries. These two countries are deeply intertwined. Indeed, at one point in history they were liberated from the Spanish empire by the same revolutionary fighther Simon Bolivar, who was born in Venezuela and died in Colombia. We share the same language and many cultural traditions. Today the Colombian-Venezuelan border is an area of robust economic activity.

        In regards to your question about Juanes, yes, music his has been able to transcend the political differences between Colombia and Venezuala.

    • Alex says:

      Andres, it’s nice to hear about artists from different countries using music as a tool for peace. The size of that crowd who came out for a concert during a time of such unrest is impressive – they are demonstrating their desire to keep peace, and the artist performing gives them an outlet to show this.

    • Boon Han says:

      Andres, I would just like to share a little on another angle of the role of music in society besides acts by noble musicians like Juanes in promoting peace and understanding.
      I’m pretty sure that this happens in several countries too (albeit in different forms and by different personalities), but in my country, there is this chap who uses the pseudonym “Mr. Brown”, and he makes use of music in his podcasts (on a website which he calls The Mr. Brown Show) which he uses for political satire and pokes fun of aspects of our lives and events which happen in Singapore. He was one of the pioneers who did this in Singapore, as prior to this, political appointment holders in Singapore were exalted and expected to be of impeccable character and with razor sharp wit to boot. The Government was deemed infallible and credited with creating an economic miracle by bringing Singapore from a 3rd world country to a 1st world country within a short span of 30 years.
      As times change and people started to be more critical of the government, Mr. Brown taught us to laugh at certain government policies and gradually helped us become less uptight and more able to laugh at ourselves and appreciate how our society has gradually matured.

  7. Ji Li says:

    I just LOVE this song so much for its lovely beats and rhythm when I first heard it in 2010 World Cup, and this kind of song is always my favorite. However, I didn’t pay much attention to its lyrics and used to think that it should be a “happy” song (I just took it for granted because of its happy rhythm). Alex, thanks for sharing this music video as well as the complete lyrics here, which allows me to step closer to this song and get the deeper meaning of it.

    In China, there are also some great musical artists who are not satisfied with current social circumstance, taking music as their tool to express their feelings and attitudes. I have heard some nice rap songs by a Taiwan musical artist named MC Hotdog, who is especially good at making such kind of songs,and is well-known by most Chinese young people. Young people admire and follow him for his courage and passion. Since he sings all his songs in Chinese, I think it makes no sense for me to put his music video or lyrics here.

    In mainland China, Chinese government neither prohibits such kind of music nor provides a free zone for it, which means that these musical artists can make such kind of songs but may not have the opportunities to officially release them to the public. People can find some of these songs online, but if the lyrics are too heavy and overmuch, or go too against the government, they will probably be deleted by the web administrator.

    For me, music is a good thing for people to wreak their bad moods, disappointment and unsatisfactory in a relatively peaceful way when facing political or social unrest. I also find that when musical artists are making this kind of songs, most of them will not only shout out their resentful feelings but also express their belief and confidence in changing the situation anyway, which could provide other people who listen to their music with confidence and hope as well.

    • Alex says:

      That’s great Ji to hear about the impact and those musical artists in China and Taiwan, and it is interesting to learn about the different levels of censorship in different cultures (if the music is allowed, if it can be posted online, if it can be taken offline and how and by whom). The other interesting thing you made me think about is young people. It seems to me that young adults make music more a part of their lives and internalize it than older people do, but I don’t know if that’s just my perception. I wonder if it’s because the older people can’t relate to the music styles that are coming out nowadays, or if music served a different function for them, or because of new technology we have now to better understand music (we can look up lyrics on Google or see the music video on TV or on YouTube to gain a better understanding of the song’s message).

      • Ji Li says:

        To answer your first question, Alex, if the musical artists want to make their music (with “inappropriate lyrics”) officially released to the public, they have to make some compromise. For example, they have to change some of the lyrics which are too provocative into some words that sound “acceptable” by the government. Or they can change some direct criticism into some metaphors as well. Then they may have their music legally published. The publicity department of China will offer the permission.

        Although these musical artists in China who make such kind of music are not willing to make compromise in this way, they are still common people anyways, who have to earn money from their work, they have to survive. Thus most of them will give in by making changes of some of their music, and try to do some other kind of music in the meantime.

        For your second question, yeah, as you mentioned, I agree that young adults make music more a part of their lives than older generation. I don’t know how older generation regard music in U.S, for my parents, their preferred music type is always like the praise of our homeland, praise of life, praise of love, which they are pretty happy with. In most cases, my parents just don’t understand my preferred music, they don’t understand pop music, hip-hop, jazz, rap, which they think are all noisy and stupid. But I noticed and don’t know why that they usually don’t pay much attention to lyrics of a song, which seem much less important than the rhythm for them. I used to discuss such kind of question with my mom, and she told me that music for them is not a big part but somewhat a kind of seasoning in their life. They can live pretty well without it, but could be more enjoyable if they have some.

  8. grabernieto says:

    Besides the song being recognized as the anthem of the world cup, this song was also featured in HTC commercials that ran all through summer, but this is out of focus from the subject. I believe music is a global equalizer, regardless of background and culture music is enjoyed by everyone, everywhere. Music is a form of self expression and thus is a great tool to convey different subjects such as societal and political inequality. The power that music has on society is one that needs more recognition. For example, in North Korea propaganda music has had a key role in influencing the thoughts of the country population. Also, the music we listen through the year is reflective of the specific time period. Who can’t forget about the music of the 60’s that protested against the war and issues of the time. Music thus provides a voice for those who can’t openly speak about their opinions and their feelings. Artists such as Kannan have the duty of not only express their opinions through music but also are the voice for an entire community. Artist draw inspiration from personal experiences and Kannan is great example of an artist’s that drew from cultural struggles to create music that relates to people that go through same experiences. Lastly, one regardless of background can agree of experiences such as heartbreak, happiness and inequality and that is how music becomes a global equalizer.

    • Alex says:

      Yes, Enrique, I like how you call music a global equalizer. I know the HTC commercial. Strangely, that is how I found out about this song. I have never watched the World Cup, but I saw the little girl playing the keyboard and singing the chorus of this song while she was being videorecorded on a smartphone. I liked the melody, so I looked up the TV ad online and read commentary to find out what the song was. If I had heard it in another context, I am not sure if it would have struck the same chord for me. To me, there was something powerful about hearing a young child singing “when I get older” and using the word “freedom.”

      • grabernieto says:

        I liked that you knew about the ad that I was talking about. It does raise a lot of questions about how through appropriation of a medium cause change the meaning and the context of the lyrics. The ad talked about the future of technology and how it can improve future generations, hence the girl talking. Same song different meaning different context. We see this also when politicians use songs to convey a message of campaign, like when Regan (correct me if I am wrong) used the song “Born in the US” by Bruce Springsteen in his campaign, the song ment to critic American society, while politically its meaning was used to celebrate this country. Songs can different meaning to different people, a song meant to celebrate freedom for some can mean be an anthem for human rights for others. It shows how music has an important meaning in our lives and how they are indeed a tool for communication.

      • Alex says:

        Just so that everyone knows what Enrique and I are talking about for the HTC ad with the girl singing part of the Wavin Flaf song, and what others had mentioned, check it out here:

  9. I first heard the song “Wavin’ Flag” a few years ago at a pictorial presentation from undergraduate students at my alma mater. The presentation depicted students who had visited Nicaragua and helped revitalize a domestic violence shelter for women there. The emotion it stirred brought the entire auditorium to tears. It is funny then, that I was planning on using this song as the background in my upcoming pictorial presentation for this week! I believe that music can be extremely influential in the lives of people. We look back to the oldest written works by Homer, which were originally poetry set to music. Music, more than the written word, stays with us in our hearts and minds. Many events have songs tied to them or written about the events, such as 9/11. Music has an ability to remind us of specific days or events unlike other mediums, as the Kenny Chesney song “I Go Back” describes better than I can in words:

    Your question #5 is particularly interesting to me, as I think that much of reggae music has been looked down upon, but has had a great impact in a variety of cultures through the likes of Bob Marley and more recently through Matisyahu.

    • Alex says:

      That’s interesting that many of us have had different experiences with the same song. Jacki please feel free to use the song for your presentation. I agree about reggae music, and what others mentioned about rock music. Many forms of music are often looked down upon initially, even The Beatles, and then people warm up to it or it’s even praised years later.

  10. sonigreca says:

    Alex, this is a great song. When I first heard it several years ago, I didn’t think there was a political background related this song either. If you ask me to relate music to politics in my culture, I just cannot stop thinking about one important moment in Chinese history, when the Chinese C party( I hope you understand what the C stand for) just formed and fought hard to establish PRC. The Chinese opera or pop music were forbidden during the Culture Revolution. And people at that moment all sang so called “Red Songs” (because red is the color for China) to praise the C party and to appreciate what the soldiers have done to save civilians during the wars. As a kid, I learned a lot of Red Songs. When I went to high schools, we had a week military training. Every time before lunch or dinner during the training, we all needed to sing red songs. I think Red Songs in China is the symbol of the spirit of Chinese people fighting hard to establish China. Also, they remind people to respect the C party. 2010 was 90th birthday of the C party, all schools, organizations, business, were required to sing red songs to celebrate. I don’t know if I like it or not. But I think Red Songs mean a lot to my mom’s generation back in the war period.

    Think about more recently. We have so many local “underground” hip-hop singers compose some songs reflect the problem in the society. We don’t hear their songs in public radio or on TV. We can only find theirs songs online, or some small local CD store. They are not well known. But they sing about the reality in China.

    • Alex says:

      Interesting that it sounds like the Chinese people were required to sing certain songs. I wonder how ften this has happened in other cultures. I would imagine that if people didn’t like what the songs stood for and didn’t believe in what was going on, then they wouldn’t have appreciated that. Also interesting that you said it means more to your mom’s generation. I think we often see trends like this in cultures where things change or the importance of them across generations.

      • sonigreca says:

        Well, not everybody has to sing such certain songs. But we have a tradition in China that on December 9 every year, all schools or organizations, or businesses have chorus performing in memory of the protest on December, 9, 1935. As I said, those red songs are kind of symbol of Chinese people fighting hard and their collaboration to establish a nation. But you hear those songs more in 2010. I agree with you when you mentioned that “we often see trends like this in cultures where things change or the importance of them across generations”. I think certain types of songs generate in different time period under different political circumstances. And those certain types of songs have impact on different generation. Interesting you brought up the topic in this blog post. I can see that red songs purely praise the C party during the social and political change in an older generation. People may not agree with the lyrics, but they didn’t say. Now, move to my generation, China is developing fast, during such a social change, you hear songs that saying bad things about it. Not too many, but you hear negative aspects in the songs. I don’t what it will be like in the future generation. But I think and I hope the government will be more open and let more people hear some negative aspects. Being positive is not always good. I believe people sometimes need to hear negative voice. Many Taiwanese artists like Softlipa,composed many songs about social change in Taiwan, such as the use of marijuana. Many artists were under arrested because of using it. Softlipa composed a song saying it’s not fair to blame artists because many young people are using it… etc… Well, such songs, you don’t hear in mainland China….

  11. Kristina Coppola says:

    This is a really interesting topic, Alex. Thanks! I agree with everyone else that the power of music is undeniable, and with that power, I think that its use in politics is inevitable.

    I also think that since music artists today are often afforded celebrity status, the political message(s) they choose to support or oppose can be a powerful force for their fans. For instance, the whole “Rock the Vote” movement is designed to use the celebrity of music artists to reach and motivate young people to participate in the voting process (http://www.rockthevote.com), but from what I recall its simply a call to engage in our political process and not toward a particular issue or position. So, its interesting the music artists can use their celebrity status and their lyrics/music to influence political thought.

    I also find it interesting that several of us (myself included) are familiar with the song from its use in a marketing campaign rather than in the context intended by the artist…and yet here we are having a discussion about its “real” meaning. To be able to create a song that is a commercial success (to fund future work) and yet still get out profound messages about your personal experience and that of your country is a pretty amazing thing. I also think that it is a good reminder about the power of the instant information and technology we have at our disposal.

    • Alex says:

      Right, to transcend both the market demand in what people may want to hear in melody and words, and to advocate, preach, etc. about a cause or your own struggles must be a diffiicult objective to achieve.

  12. lisamedina says:

    This post made me really think about the impact of benefit concerts like Live 8. Live 8 was a series of concerts held in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Philadelphia, Tokyo and Moscow — one in every G8 country — as an attempt to raise the public’s awareness of the poverty afflicting Africa and pressure the G8 leaders into making the issue a priority at Gleneagles.Tickets to the Live 8 concerts were distributed free of charge in hopes of raising awareness, rather than money. Organizers were optimistic that they would increase the public’s understanding right from the beginning, as ticket hopefuls were required to answer a question about what the G8 leaders can do to “make poverty history” in order to receive a pair. I wonder why there aren’t more large scale benefit concerts today. Is it because they’re not effective? Does attention to the issues fades too quickly?

  13. tjglover23 says:

    2) Do you think we ever look back on music and notice how it aligned with the ways of its time period?
    I think we have to. For African Americans in history our music reflects the times in which we are living and express a certain mood of the people. I have created a list of a few songs with a social or political message. When you look at the times in which they were released you can feel what was felt at the time and get a look at our country though songs and the eye of the artist. A song is a wonderful manipulator of emotion, a artist who understands this power that they have, can use their power to reach its audience.
    Songs in order of release date:
    ‘Strange Fruit’ –Billie Holiday (1939)
    ‘War’ –Edwin Starr (1970)
    James Brown- ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’ (1968)
    ‘What’s Going On’ –Marvin Gaye (1971)
    ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ –Bob Marley and the Wailers(1973)
    Public Enemy- Fight the power (1989)
    Changes—Tupac Shakur (1998)
    Why—Jadakiss, Styles P, Nas, Common (2004)
    My President is Black—Young Jeezy (2008)

  14. meredithmckenna says:

    3) How far do you think musical artists should go to promote causes of social action, political awareness, peace advocacy, etc?

    Musical artists need to be especially careful when voicing their opinions on political matters. They have a huge responsibility because of the position they are in to influence so many people. If musicians are going to take a stand for a political cause, it is important that they are well informed on what they are supporting and that they truly know all the details.

    It is also worth taking a look at what happens when an artist takes a stand for a particular political candidate. In the 2008 election and again for this years upcoming election, the media has taken an interest in which famous musical artist supports which party, even compiling lists of supporters for both parties. In addition to supporting candidates financially, their endorsement can often influence thousands of people who otherwise may have remained indifferent. Some artists, like the country band Lady Antebellum have chosen not to voice their political opinion, which to me seems responsible because of the weight the opinion holds.

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