Music and Social Activism: A Literature Review

Term Paper, 2008

18 Pages, Grade: 1.75




Literature Review




Music is one of the best ways to communicate with other people. It is a channel of communication that attracts more enthusiasts and even advocates. The expression of views, feelings and emotions, opinions and other matters may be done through music. That is why music is also considered as a means of living. Music artists exist all over the world to entertain people. But the finest purpose of music is to promote appropriate social conditions, positive changes in the society, economic development, world peace, and human development. In that case, music and social activism are intimately linked with each other due to its complementary nature. In short, social activism is made easy through the use of music as a medium of expression.

In this paper, the linkage of music and social activism particularly peace movement will be discussed and reviewed. The four music genres that are usually used to promote social activism are rap music, folk and jazz with funk, punk rock, and reggae. There are huge music ventures that also promote social activism like gospel music prayer, music that promotes nationalism, Hurricane Katrina-inspired music, musicians who performed to raise awareness, and the fame of Indigo girls. All these topics will be tackled in this literature with the aim of knowing the importance of music for the promotion of social activism.

Social activism can be defined as attitudes and actions that challenge to persuade the social delivery of status, power, and resources (Perez, 2009, p. 1). One of the goals of activism is to shift exploited populations into an improved social condition. Debates had been in progress about the degree to which the social work profession should connect in matters of social justice and reform (Perez, 2009, p. 1). Some social workers struggle to uphold the community organizing representation that links methods of progressive universal reform and social justice. Others have adhered towards a more traditional, individual adjustment replica of attempting social transformation. As social work expands and changes constantly, consciousness of the dynamics of social work activism aids social workers to keep in line with social work values (Perez, 2009, p. 1). Yet, social activism does not end there. The incorporation of music in the promotion of social activism proves to be effective through the years. The evidences for that matter continue to pile as some famous musicians attempt to value social activism.

In addition, the most important aspect of social activism is peace movement. Peace movement is composed of persons and organizations that allocate shared attitude that peace must be obtained through nonviolent means—if possible through cooperation, not competition, among states (Schwebel, 2005, p. 398). The group tries to form public opinion for opposition even its own government’s policies if the political leaders approve violence in the affairs among countries, or between groups within countries (Schwebel, 2005, p. 398). Peace activists recount to the peace movement either as part of a peace institutions or as persons who contribute to the shared pro-peace approach and connect in anti-war actions as they prefer.

The two kinds of activists are the conventional and unconventional. Conventional activists are those who operate within the system (Schwebel, 2005, p. 399). They search changes in policies, maybe by persuading the selection of candidates for political office, altering the platforms of the chief political parties, or enriching campaigns to modify government policy. Being within the system, conventional activists have admittance to the media, being invited on TV talk shows and pages in newspapers (Schwebel, 2005, p. 399). Unconventional peace activists are those activists that function outside the system. They generate and preserve peace organizations and seek out to notify and persuade the public through a diversity of means including journalism, the Internet, correspondence to editors, music, rallies, vigils, and picketing weapons centers (Schwebel, 2005, p. 400). These activists however, see little hope for alteration by functioning within the system.

Literature Review

There are four basic music genres of which social activism are promoted. These music genres include rap music, folk and jazz with funk, punk rock, and reggae. The famous rap music in Japan is Banana Ice who released a rap song which ridiculed young hip-hop fans who darkened their skins as a sign of respect toward African-American rappers (Condry, 2007, 637). However, such act of hip-hop fans was considered a dubious two-sidedness to the utilization of hip-hop in Japan. Condry explained that tanning the skin and wearing dreadlocks are done both as sign of respect towards African-American musicians and that the black culture wants to stand out (Condry, 2007, 637). The exhibition of young hip-hop fans, break dancers, and Japanese who are dreadlocks and sporting tanned skins are considered as the most outstanding hip-hop devotion in Japan, but American and Japanese critics mentioned that it symbolizes a misuse and perplexity of black music, style, and culture (Condry, 2007, 637).

In connection, Condry argued that said imitations of Japanese hip-hop fans can be viewed as a new cultural politics of difference which discards racial or ethnic essentialism in lieu of a more composite perception of how individuality is constructed and enacted in various ways (Condry, 2007, 638). His argument is anchored on the apparent truth that Japanese rappers employ in a new cultural politics of affiliation by depicting alliances to African-American rap music. But this observation does not guarantee activities for greater equality among people. Hence, Condry’s imagination of trans-racial utopia is attached with a caveat or warning that positive improvement of hip-hop in Japan could be misleading and was never meant to become a channel for progressive changes in the country (Condry, 2007, 640).

Another researcher who worked on the relevance of rap music in social activism is Barrer. His illustrations of how rap improved the society are peculiar and notable. Barrer studied how rap improved the social conditions of the people in Slovak. Barrer gave illustrations on how rap provides a vector of advantaged admission to discourses within Slovak society. Aside from that his essay also demonstrates an approach into how a global music phrase has been accustomed and re-modeled with local meanings (Barrer, 2009, p. 59). A key part of rap’s appeal and capacity to provoke audiences lies in its lyrical content, which aggressively counters official standards in language and the thematic norms of other styles of contemporary popular music (Barrer, 2009, p. 59).

In the Slovak society, one of the most politically engaged Slovak rap artists is named Zverina (Barrer, 2009, p. 59). He is the rap artist who, in Zosrdca which means “From the Heart” relates himself as a real nationalist with a “white, and red heart’’ while questioning the deceit, dishonesty, disloyalty and immorality of Slovak politics (Barrer, 2009, p. 59). Aside from that, Zverina tried to rise a non-racial imagining of Slovak nationhood by proclaiming that the citizens of Slovakia are ‘‘all one nation’’ who want to co-exist in conformity and common respect (Barrer, 2009, p. 70).

Another group which utilized hip-hop as a means of promoting social activism is the all-female group called Las Krudas. The members of the said group are Black Cubans who wanted to express their dissatisfaction of social and economic conditions in most Cubans. Armstead pointed out that the government of Cuba is trying to advise Black Cubans that there is no need for them to express their grievances in terms of race and class since there are really no problems on those issues (Armstead, 2007, p. 106). The Cuban political leaders would always mention that race and social class problems are already solved after the revolution. But, Black Cubans still experience all classes of discrimination despite the said insinuations of Cuban influential leaders.

The role of the Las Krudas in expressing views about the ethnic and social class issues in Cuba is vital to the end of discrimination among Black Cubans. Hip-hop emerged in Cuba as a powerful tool for political expression with little political channels open to young Black Cubans (Armstead, 2007, p. 106). Armstead declared that hip-hop domination in Cuba is the theater of the oppressed that tackle ethnic and economic problems faced by Black Cubans. The hip-hop group Las Krudas emerged as a peculiar audacious amidst this hip-hop scene in Cuba.

Another influential music genre that promotes social activism is jazz music. According to Tietze, the intimate connection between individual identity and Jazz is apparent in American experience (Tietze, 2008, p. 245). The teaching and learning process that engages the whole person and maximizes self-understanding is the result or outcome of linking individual identity and jazz in an educational course of study which is designed to integrate data from both forms of a person’s cognition, intellectual knowledge and emotionally-valued circumstances (Tietze, 2008, p. 245). The rationale behind this point is that a fundamental social scrutiny of the nature and purpose of art is expressed in jazz music.

In connection, the study of jazz in terms of social view is done with individual improvisation which is created in group framework. On the basis of the call-and-response dialogue between listening and the artistic expression of one’s own voice, improvisation devised upon a groundwork given by the group’s rhythmic arrangement (Tietze, 2008, p. 246). Tietze has been incorporating jazz in his teaching method of a particular subject. In addition, the authority and development represented by students’ narrative and original preferences are part of what makes education meaningful and fulfilling for Tietze (Tietze, 2008, p. 247). In Tietze’s case studies, the importance of jazz in social activism was also revealed.


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Music and Social Activism: A Literature Review
College of Arts and Social Sciences-MSU  (MSU)
Arts and Humanities
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ISBN (Book)
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Music is one of the best ways to communicate with other people. It is a channel of communication that attracts more enthusiasts and even advocates. The expression of views, feelings and emotions, opinions and other matters may be done through music. That is why music is also considered as a means of living.
Music, Social, Activism, Literature, Review
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LLB Graduate Karen Lopez (Author), 2008, Music and Social Activism: A Literature Review, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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