Music has the power to influence the way we see the world. It can unite people in song, convey a powerful message, stir emotion, create memories and draw attention to a cause. Music can impact the way we think and act, and can encourage us to participate in our communities to address deep social issues.
Joe Hill, an early 1900s Swedish-American songwriter and activist said “A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once. But a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over.”
From artists using their influence to draw attention to campaigns, to concerts and charity tracks that raise funds and unite audiences behind a cause, to the themes and social issues addressed in the music itself, there are many ways in which music as a creative expression can become a driving force for positive change.
With the four questions in mind, browse the following short films, examples of protest music and articles and consider how you would respond to those questions in the context of music:
How can we use music to achieve social change?
In this article living composers share their views on the many ways in which music can be used to promote social change, and not just when words are included, but also through transmission of emotion and through music that accompanies a narrative and images Here>
10 music collaborations that changed the world – Vicky Ramirez
For decades music stars from all genres, across the world have been coming together to make music for a cause. Whether to raise awareness for apartheid or funds for famine relief, benefit concerts and songs have raised awareness and funds and promoted change. Here are ten music collaborations that show how some of the world’s biggest artists used their voices for the humanitarian issues of their time Here>
Music can change the world – Dana da Silva
The right lyrics, rhythm and instruments can build a group identity, stir strong emotions, engage audiences and amass people to take action, making music the perfect partner for social change. This article shares how a variety of NGOs, bands and activists are trying to make a difference in Africa through music. Here>
Say It Loud: How Music Changes Society – Jamie Atkins
A song doesn’t have to have a message in order to change society. Race relations, gender equality and identity politics have all been shaped by music. This article explores how songs hold a mirror to the world, reflecting the things going on around us, and argues that music changes society like no other artform. Here>
How Aretha Franklin Raised Her Voice for Civil Rights
Aretha Franklin is remembered as the legendary Queen of Soul but her six decade career (during which she won 18 Grammy awards and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) isn’t the only legacy she’ll be leaving behind. This article explains how the musical icon was also an integral part of the Civil Rights movement, using both her platform and her voice to advocate for racial equality. Here>
Bob Marley And The Wailers – Get Up Stand Up (1973)
“You can fool some people sometimes / But you can’t fool all the people all the time.” Written by Marley and fellow Wailer Peter Tosh and released on their 1973 album Burnin’. It was inspired by Marley touring the Caribbean island of Haiti and being alarmed by the poverty of the people there. It would be the last song that Marley performed live onstage before his untimely death in 1981, aged 36.
Midnight Oil – Beds Are Burning (1989)
This Australian band’s frontman Peter Garrett is now an MP, but back in the 80s he was writing politically-charged songs with his group Midnight Oil. This song was a plea to the Aussie government to allow the Aboriginal group the Pintupi to return to their homelands: “It belongs to them / Let’s give it back.”
The Special AKA – Free Nelson Mandela (1984)
The South African political activist was arrested in 1962 for “conspiring to overthrow” the country’s ruling white National Party, who advocated apartheid. Mandela spent 27 years in prison, and Jerry Dammers’ song about his plight brought his name to a wider audience for the first time. Mandela was released in 1990 and four years later he became the South African President.
John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band – Give Peace A Chance (1969)
“All we are saying… is Give Peace A Chance” Have struck out with a solo career away from The Beatles, Lennon publicised his and wife Yoko Ono’s peace publicity campaign by recording this simple protest song in their honeymoon hotel room. It was immediately adopted by anti-war protesters.
Redemption Song – John Legend
John Legend is on a mission to transform America’s criminal justice system. Through his Free America campaign, he’s encouraging rehabilitation and healing in our prisons, jails and detention centers — and giving hope to those who want to create a better life after serving their time. With a spoken-word prelude from James Cavitt, an inmate at San Quentin State Prison, Legend treats us to his version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?”
Playing for Change
PFC (www.playingforchange.org) is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music, break down boundaries and overcome distances between people by recording musicians performing in their natural environments and combining their talents. These videos gave rise to the Playing For Change Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to building music and art schools for children around the world. Here is just one example of the many YouTube videos created by the movement: