By Eduardo Baz
We are all aware that music can be a promising medium when it comes to expressing and evoking emotion. After all, music is highly addicting and something we simply can’t get enough of. The range of emotions you feel differ from one person to the next, many in ways that the artist may not have even intended. You may gain the confidence you lack for your first romantic endeavor after listening to The Smith’s “This Charming Man” or journey into a state of disarray after hearing Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”. A particular aspect regarding emotion through music that is especially thought inducing and has become evermore prominent is the “movement song”, or a song that is associated with a certain movement to breed valuable social change.
A very precious and often disregarded liberty we have as Americans is the act of protesting and expressing free speech. Taking to the streets and organizing to contribute to the plight of a cause is paramount in achieving the optimal ideology of a democracy and popular sovereignty. Yet exercising this birthright doesn’t only occur in the way we are used to. Many artists dispense similar concerns in the form of their art. “We Gotta Pray” by Alicia Keys was written in direct response to the acquittal of the Missouri and New York City police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively. It is a bleak piano ballad that calls to question why instances like this keep reoccurring, and taps into the emotional distraught many people in her community endure. And this song is only one example in a category that is ever growing with new frustration.
This is not a new concept. We have seen the use of the “movement song” for decades, always being associated with some form of social unrest. “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” (1965) by Phil Ohcs was played around college campuses during the Vietnam War criticizing the U.S.’ growing involvement and created a sense of community and refuge for people who shared the same anger and animosity. “Charlie Don’t Surf” (1980) by the Clash, pulled from from the critically acclaimed film Apocalypse Now, also effectively portrayed a counterpoint to America’s imperialistic foreign policy and criticized the militaristic approach as well as motive, in regards to Vietnam. Neil Young’s “Ohio” (1970) was written shortly after the shootings of four Kent State University students who were protesting against Nixon’s Cambodia Campaign.
Modern examples include “We the People” (2016) by A Tribe Called Quest, where frontman Q-Tip echos our current administration with lines such as “ All you Black folks, you must go / All you Mexicans, you must go / And all you poor folks, you must go / Muslims and gays, boy we hate your ways / So all you bad folk, you must go”, and YG’s “F**k Donald Trump” (2016), which serves as a much more direct criticism of our executive leader (then, president-elect). This list continues to expand rapidly in response to new issues and concerns that arise, as well as with issues that persist to exist in our nation.
There is an undeniable sense of community established from people gathering together and fighting for a common goal. Music helps unify these communities and provides another sanctuary where choleric humans can express their acrimony and work together in support of bringing forth positive change in our society, as well as with the rest of the world.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.