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The Senator George J.Mitchell Institute
for Global Peace, Security and Justice

Politics of Performance

Sarah Fox

Sarah Fox reflects on how music expresses politics, beliefs, struggles, fears and dreams.

I’m a third year Anthropology Student. What I’ve learned from ‘Politics of Performance’ is that music isn’t just something we enjoy in solitude when travelling down on a bus to University or chilling out in our bedroom. At least, it shouldn’t be! Music is, in fact, a dialogue.

It expresses politics, beliefs, struggles, fears and dreams. While it can be a source of resilience, it can also be a source of resistance. Of speaking out against oppression, drawing emotions out of us that can impact our behaviour in both positive and negative ways.

From the modern-day, urbanised streets in Columbia, to the political arena of West Africa’s Malian music in the 1960’s, music has the ability to unify people from all walks of life. It can create understanding, compassion, belonging and friendship. More importantly, it can create change.

For instance, in Mark Smulian’s workshop on cognition and wellbeing through music, he described in detail his experiences of working with two ‘white flag’ bands during the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict. They didn’t speak the same language, nor did they speak the same “musical language.” Mark wondered; how could they create music together when they couldn’t communicate?

Cue his life-changing moment!

The members from each band began to play music, and gradually, they became equals. It was then that he realised, that, “Music does not merely assist the dialogue. It is the dialogue.” When asked why Mark was an advocate for peacebuilding in music, he emphasised that music not only impacts the physical world around us, creating cohesion, it lights up our brain as well!  “When we actively engage in- rather than passively listen to music- different chemicals are released into our brain. Stress levels drop, our immune system heightens, our memory and cognition are improved.” Music can physically create change within us.

Likewise, music producer Raphael Frank reiterated how music can create change around us. Trap music, usually associated with a drug lifestyle, reflects the reality of this way of life in its “gritty, slow, mean” sound. He argued that while some affiliate UK garage, drill or grind with glorification of a criminal lifestyle, the rappers see themselves as telling a story. Their aim is to shock you into paying attention NOT to sensationalise. It’s about telling people about these experiences, creating much-needed awareness.

My favourite part of this module was being asked to design our own creative piece and relate it back to what we’ve learned. A great challenge and lots of fun! It made us think more about music’s impact in peacebuilding through active participation, rather than merely passive observation.

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