Activism in music is not as new a concept as we may imagine. Music has been used as a form of protest and political expressions for centuries. Beethoven’s third symphony for example was originally called ‘Bonaparte’ until 1804 when Napoleon crowned himself emperor and the composer renamed his symphony ‘Heroic Symphony composed to Celebrate the Memory of a Great Man’. Quite a put down.
Although the protest song has continued to play a part in music the big question I wanted to tackle on the show was – has it had any impact? Hip hop for example is often synonymous with political ranting. Public Enemy, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, the list is endless. But whilst their lyrics may educate or inform, do they inspire us to get up and do something about the issues they raise?
My fear was that the answer was no. But something came to light. It’s obvious really. Protest music keeps these issues in people’s awareness. Lyrics keep people’s minds alert. It tells them out there that we are still thinking, we still have opinions, we have not succumbed to brain-mushed mediocrity despite the subliminal (and not so subliminal) mass hypnosis that is pop culture. We still think. We still remember that we can make choices. We believe we can affect the outcome.
We also spoke about Pussy Riot whom I have huge admiration for. Their lyrical themes include feminism, LGBT rights, links between the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government. Pretty ballsy. As it stands two of their members Nadia and Marsha are still in labour camps; it is rumored that they share a room with 120 other prisoners.
I was also interested to notice during our chat that protest music can sometimes becomes a type of historical record of the zeitgeist of the time. It may not make change happen immediately but instead seep through to the collective unconscious over time and eventually influence the way society develops.
For over a century, there has been conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the area’s natural resources. In eastern Congo, these mineral resources are financing armed groups, many of whom use mass rape to intimidate and control local populations, thereby securing control of mines and trading routes. Armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars per year by trading four main minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. This money enables the militias to purchase large numbers of weapons and continue their campaign of brutal violence against civilians. The majority of these minerals eventually wind up in electronic devices such as cell phones, portable music players, and computers.
Given the lack of a transparent minerals supply chain, consumers have no way to ensure that their purchases are not financing armed groups that regularly commit atrocities, including mass rape. We can play a role in ending the violence though, by pressuring electronics companies to remove conflict minerals from their supply chains.
You can find Emma on Twitter at @CarpeDiemNights