Do you ever listen to a song and find yourself moved so deeply you are almost in tears? Have you ever been to a live performance that turned your worst day into your best? Have you ever heard a song that inspired you? Music has the power to move us and to change us. Yet today’s music mostly does not seem to have the same earth-moving, society-shaping effects as that of the past.
Much rarer are the antiwar sentiments of composers like Bob Dylan of the USA. The anti-apartheid and government-challenging lyrics of musicians like South Africa’s Miriam Makeba and Nigeria’s Fela Kuti have largely been exchanged for party-hard, live-the-rich-life lyrics.
With today’s technology, music has become even more of a part of our life experiences: we listen to it on our drive to work, when we go to parties, while we study, when we exercise, and in so many other settings. Yet we see fewer and fewer people taking to the streets with picket signs because of its messages. There are, however, still musicians who hope that their words will inspire change.
Known throughout the world, Youssou N’Dour is a musical peacemaker in his native Senegal and lends his words and music to critical campaigns, such as malaria prevention programmes. Oliver Mtukudzi’s music has created awareness and dialogue around HIV and AIDS in his home country Zimbabwe. In Benin, UNICEF goodwill ambassador Angélique Kidjo keeps a strong note of social concern in her lyrics—singing about hunger, homelessness, AIDS and injustice. And some up-and-coming musicians are also lending their voices to protests against crime, human rights violations, xenophobia and much more.
Music with a message
The combination of the right lyrics, rhythm and instruments can build a group identity, stir strong emotions, engage audiences and amass people to take action. This makes music the perfect partner for social change. In Africa a variety of NGOs, bands and activists are trying to make a difference through music.
The Sigauque Project is a band based in Maputo, Mozambique, whose music is all about raising issues and trying to bring about change. Its musical influences include Senegalese mbalak, Nigerian Afro-beat and Mozambican marrabenta. A unique pan-Africanism stems from the band’s use of music originally recorded across Africa, which it performs in its own unique style. The band’s two singers, with full horn section, throbbing bass and rhythmic percussion, create sound, including jazz that keeps audiences grooving all night, while the messages come through loud and clear.
“Now, you see musicians singing about girls, money and fast cars. Not long ago Africa was full of music that made a statement—about government, corruption, things that matter,” says Sigauque Project leader and trumpet player Daniel Walter. “Our music talks about HIV, women’s rights, recovering from a disaster, xenophobia and much more. It’s not just great music, we’re saying something.”
Music for social change
Most of the music performed by the Sigauque Project was produced by Community Media for Development (CMFD) Productions, which records music and radio projects for social change. The project Musicians Against Xenophobia brought together musicians from Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe to produce four songs about discrimination.
South Africa’s large migrant population faces discrimination and harassment. “Many people do not know these things are happening,” says Machotte, a Mozambican saxophone player. “Through this music, maybe we can make people know and think about this, and people will change.”
Noting the power of music to reach youth especially, CMFD Productions and the Sigauque Project also recently produced two songs about HIV awareness. One combines the band’s hard-hitting jazz sounds with a local rapper’s lyrics about being faithful, while the other uses the popular passada rhythms that Mozambicans love to dance to.
The CMFD also produced other songs for radio programmes. The most recent, “Hungry City,” accompanies a documentary and radio drama series about the state of food security in Southern African cities. Another song talks
about floods in Mozambique and accompanies a radio series about the country’s recovery from the floods that hit it in early 2013.
Music as a platform
Music is an important part of popular culture, it entertains us, and so it is a great platform for discussions on social issues. Concerts are particularly effective because artists have the opportunity to address large crowds. For social messages to take root, they must be accepted by large numbers of people, and individuals are more likely to accept these messages if their peers do.
When music is played over the radio, people hear and sing along to the songs, repeating the messages so that they and others really hear them. This gives people an opportunity to understand what messages the music holds and then to speak about them.
Music is a means by which people can convey important messages and ideals to others in the hope that they will truly listen and, as a result, come together and bring about social, political and economic change.
When asked about the possible future uses of music, Daniel Walter has big hopes. “In many African countries today there exists democracy in name only criticising the government can lead to a loss of opportunities. I see an important role for music in the coming years using a lot of popular messaging.”
So the next time you wish to make change, why not make a song about it?
Music was an essential part of civic, religious, and courtly life in the Renaissance. The rich interchange of ideas in Europe, as well as political, economic, and religious events in the period 1400–1600 led to major changes in styles of composing, methods of disseminating music, new musical genres, and the development of musical instruments. The most important music of the early Renaissance was composed for use by the church—polyphonic (made up of several simultaneous melodies) masses and motets in Latin for important churches and court chapels. By the end of the sixteenth century, however, patronage had broadened to include the Catholic Church, Protestant churches and courts, wealthy amateurs, and music printing—all were sources of income for composers.
The early fifteenth century was dominated initially by English and then Northern European composers. The Burgundian court was especially influential, and it attracted composers and musicians from all over Europe. The most important of these was Guillaume Du Fay (1397–1474), whose varied musical offerings included motets and masses for church and chapel services, many of whose large musical structures were based on existing Gregorian chant. His many small settings of French poetry display a sweet melodic lyricism unknown until his era. With his command of large-scale musical form, as well as his attention to secular text-setting, Du Fay set the stage for the next generations of Renaissance composers.
By about 1500, European art music was dominated by Franco-Flemish composers, the most prominent of whom was Josquin des Prez (ca. 1450–1521). Like many leading composers of his era, Josquin traveled widely throughout Europe, working for patrons in Aix-en-Provence, Paris, Milan, Rome, Ferrara, and Condé-sur-L’Escaut. The exchange of musical ideas among the Low Countries, France, and Italy led to what could be considered an international European style. On the one hand, polyphony or multivoiced music, with its horizontal contrapuntal style, continued to develop in complexity. At the same time, harmony based on a vertical arrangement of intervals, including thirds and sixths, was explored for its full textures and suitability for accompanying a vocal line. Josquin’s music epitomized these trends, with Northern-style intricate polyphony using canons, preexisting melodies, and other compositional structures smoothly amalgamated with the Italian bent for artfully setting words with melodies that highlight the poetry rather than masking it with complexity. Josquin, like Du Fay, composed primarily Latin masses and motets, but in a seemingly endless variety of styles. His secular output included settings of courtly French poetry, like Du Fay, but also arrangements of French popular songs, instrumental music, and Italian frottole.
With the beginning of the sixteenth century, European music saw a number of momentous changes. In 1501, a Venetian printer named Ottaviano Petrucci published the first significant collection of polyphonic music, the Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A. Petrucci’s success led eventually to music printing in France, Germany, England, and elsewhere. Prior to 1501, all music had to be copied by hand or learned by ear; music books were owned exclusively by religious establishments or extremely wealthy courts and households. After Petrucci, while these books were not inexpensive, it became possible for far greater numbers of people to own them and to learn to read music.
At about the same period, musical instrument technology led to the development of the viola da gamba, a fretted, bowed string instrument. Amateur European musicians of means eagerly took up the viol, as well as the lute, the recorder, the harpsichord (in various guises, including the spinet and virginal), the organ, and other instruments. The viola da gamba and recorder were played together in consorts or ensembles and often were produced in families or sets, with different sizes playing the different lines. Publications by Petrucci and others supplied these players for the first time with notated music (as opposed to the improvised music performed by professional instrumentalists). The sixteenth century saw the development of instrumental music such as the canzona, ricercare, fantasia, variations, and contrapuntal dance-inspired compositions, for both soloists and ensembles, as a truly distinct and independent genre with its own idioms separate from vocal forms and practical dance accompaniment.
The musical instruments depicted in the studiolo of Duke Federigo da Montefeltro of Urbino (ca. 1479–82; 39.153) represent both his personal interest in music and the role of music in the intellectual life of an educated Renaissance man. The musical instruments are placed alongside various scientific instruments, books, and weapons, and they include a portative organ, lutes, fiddle, and cornetti; a hunting horn; a pipe and tabor; a harp and jingle ring; a rebec; and a cittern.
From about 1520 through the end of the sixteenth century, composers throughout Europe employed the polyphonic language of Josquin’s generation in exploring musical expression through the French chanson, the Italian madrigal, the German tenorlieder, the Spanish villancico, and the English song, as well as in sacred music. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation directly affected the sacred polyphony of these countries. The Protestant revolutions (mainly in Northern Europe) varied in their attitudes toward sacred music, bringing such musical changes as the introduction of relatively simple German-language hymns (or chorales) sung by the congregation in Lutheran services. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525/26–1594), maestro di cappella at the Cappella Giulia at Saint Peter’s in Rome, is seen by many as the iconic High Renaissance composer of Counter-Reformation sacred music, which features clear lines, a variety of textures, and a musically expressive reverence for its sacred texts. The English (and Catholic) composer William Byrd (1540–1623) straddled both worlds, composing Latin-texted works for the Catholic Church, as well as English-texted service music for use at Elizabeth I‘s Chapel Royal.
Sixteenth-century humanists studied ancient Greek treatises on music, which discussed the close relationship between music and poetry and how music could stir the listener’s emotions. Inspired by the classical world, Renaissance composers fit words and music together in an increasingly dramatic fashion, as seen in the development of the Italian madrigal and later the operatic works of Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643). The Renaissance adaptation of a musician singing and accompanying himself on a stringed instrument, a variation on the theme of Orpheus, appears in Renaissance artworks like Caravaggio’sMusicians (52.81) and Titian‘s Venus and the Lute Player (36.29).
Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art