Music For Social Change Essential Part Of Progress
This is largely because music, unlike any other art form, has the power to effectively unite a group of people in the interest of a particular cause. The experience of singing a song as a group, whether during marches, demonstrations or concerts, results in an invaluable social bond.
That connection becomes even more effective as a means to unity when one considers that music constitutes a means of reaching vast numbers of people with an idea, and the power of one single song to affect an entire generation of individuals makes it an invaluable tool of education and mobilization.
In an interview, Noel (Paul) Stookey, of Peter, Paul and Mary, reasoned that music not only inspires what he calls “a common experience of emotion,” both eliciting emotion from a single listener while uniting that listener with others in that same experience, but it also allows for a powerful teaching and learning experience when lyrics express thought coherently.
Thus, while the experience of music serves to unite people emotionally, the lyrics bring to listeners a new way of thinking. Musicians, and artists in general, have the ability to see particular truths of the world that other media cannot, or neglect to see, and to which it therefore does not respond.
Musicians have a particular role “to transcend conventional wisdom, to transcend the word of the establishment, to transcend the orthodoxy, to go beyond and escape what is handed down by the government or what is said in the media,” as historian Howard Zinn writes in his collection of essays, “Artists in Times of War.” The musician, then, reveals what he or she sees as the truth neglected by traditional forms of media, and “thinks, acts, performs music, and writes outside the framework that society has created.”
A song has the power, because it unites listeners on the basis of both emotion and knowledge, to move people to action in the interest of social or political change. Think of “Give Peace a Chance,” which united large numbers of individuals during the large-scale anti-war protests during the “60s,” and helped to drive that movement forward on the basis of a single idea – peace – because of that unity.
However, given that different people respond to different kinds of music more enthusiastically than others, it is important to consider the validity of popular thinking that music for social change belongs most exclusively to the genre of folk music. Music for social change in fact truly transcends divisions among genres.
Songs of conscience have originated, and continue to originate, from the genres of folk music, rock, punk rock, blues, metal, country, rap, hip hop, jazz, reggae, soul – the list goes on. While Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, and Phil Ochs are clearly musical activists of the folk genre, artists like Anti-Flag, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, the Dead Kennedys, Rage Against the Machine, The Clash, Queen, Rise Against, Dar Williams, the Dixie Chicks, Emmanuel Jal, Matisyahu, will.i.am, Billie Holiday and Bob Marley have also contributed to the larger field of musical activism.
Although stemming from different genres and musical traditions, any music created from a politically or socially conscious mind for the purpose of protest and change is musical activism. Similarly, although popularity may be an indication of the impact a particular song or album had, or has, on the social and political consciousness of an era or movement, one cannot disregard the evidence of musical activism provided by artists without as much exposure.
What this field has lacked is a space in which music for social change from all genres and degrees of popularity can be compiled to strengthen the already existing, but currently separate, communities of listeners and artists into one that transcends all boundaries and exists solely on the desire to change the world for the better.
One answer could be Music2Life, a new hub of musical activism, currently in the stages of early development (the website just launched in March of this year), and aiming to become “the leading organization harnessing the power of music for social change – through technology, artist engagement, and education – for current and new generations of musicians, fans and causes.”
The site will offer visitors the opportunity to search for music for social change by cause as well as by genre, and allow visitors to grow the musical database themselves by adding new music to the website.
Elizabeth Stookey Sunde, daughter of Noel (Paul) Stookey and co-founder of Music2Life, said in an interview:
“We want to bring heightened mainstream awareness and credibility to music for social change, to legitimize it as a genuine musical genre, so that it doesn’t become popular only in moments of crisis. Music of meaning has its own place and value, and we created Music2Life to leverage technology to give music for change more power – to revive the music and put it to work.”
The importance of uniting music for social change across genres, and thereby uniting listeners not by genre but by cause, cannot be overstated. Not only would being able to unite listeners by cause help to drive forward movements for social and political change, but it would also help to enrich listeners’ consciousness of both the music and the cause. Comparing experiencing different musical genres to learning different languages, Sunde explained:
“If you really care about a particular issue, you’re going to know more about it because of the way it is communicated to you through different languages. Music2Life aims to promote musical literacy, producing a multi-genre language to communicate one central theme – whether that theme is human rights, education, environmentalism, labor rights, peace, freedom, and so on.”
Before that musical literacy is possible, the music must be available for those who visit Music2Life. The vision of Music2Life is threefold: distribution – namely, the technology used to compile the music into a database; engagement – chiefly, hosting events, such as concerts and music festivals, that feature cross-genre performances centered around a particular cause; and nurturing new talent in the field of music for change – knowing “that every artist connected with the world has a song for change,” Music2Life aims “to convince those artists to move their music into the world, and give them a place where their music can have meaning,” according to Sunde. She continued:
“It is a musician’s responsibility, as a troubadour of our time, to create music for change and be proud of it, and get it out there for people to hear.”
Musicians writing songs of change – whether considering themselves primarily musicians who happen to have a social consciousness, or primarily activists simply using music as a vehicle for political expression; whether part of one genre or another; whether a popular artist or one without as much public recognition – each has a place in movements for change.