Music is Art because it’s Political

A Reflection from the Roger Waters Concert Tour.

About four months ago, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters kicked off his North American tour entitled “Us + Them”. Although he performed many of old Pink Floyd songs, the tour was pretty much related to “Is This the Life We Really Want?”, his first solo album in twenty five years. As you might have guessed from the title, the nature of the tour was 100% political; it condemned the travesty of Donald Trump and his Presidency.

In an interview with Michael Smerconish on CNN, Waters explained his reason behind his politically-motivated tour,”In my view, you have to make your choice as to whether you do the right thing or the thing that makes you the most money.” When asked about people who are looking for escapism rather than politics at a rock concert, Waters simply said,” Go see Katy Perry, you know?”

Us + Them — Charade via Youtube:

What makes us flabbergasted is Roger Waters’ persistence in remaining political throughout his career amid the long standing massive commercialism. The fact that he is the “child” of counter culture movement in the 60s does not reduce such achievement since the majority of musicians from this generation has “left the building”. Being political has been the oxygen of all arts; it’s what gives arts the breath to be alive, kicking, and evolving to new forms.

Context and Art Forms

Rock (and just about any other genre within the popular music “industry”) has been dead for over 40 years; it has lost its purpose since the mid 1970s when most, if not all, of the artists bowed to commercialism, and no longer lived the context.

Making music hasn’t been about signifying the mind and conscience anymore; it’s been about making money and being famous. The irony behind this view and practice is the fact that every musical genre that has been commercialized and mobilized by “the industry” was born out of cultural and sociopolitical context, even in the case of Hip Hop, the today’s most popular genre. Fortune and super-stardom in music business evidently have swallowed the true roles and functions of music in societies.

Different time or period undergoes different context, and this is the very reason why music (and other art forms) keeps evolving and finding its new form. Almost two decades has passed in this 21st century, and world issues like global warming, racism, terrorism, anti immigrant & refugee, white supremacy, war, nationalism, extremism, and economic domination & injustice have perturbed humanity. In the meantime, the world still seems to have no common view in how to confront these dehumanizing matters, let alone the answer.

Arts that used to lead the way in addressing injustice and immorality seem to be too busy in making “sell-able and/or sensational goods”. Some people in the art scene argue that today is the period of individuality; others even say that art form is no longer relevant, any individual is entitled to create his/her own form. Well, an art form is a manifestation of a collective or common conceptual thought that grapples with growing and/or disturbing issues within the existing context; thus the societal concord in thought, message and act are the key elements that shape the forms in art.

In the case of Rock music, the birth of it is the proof of what we just discussed. The name Rock was meant to rock the mainstream mores and culture. The later sub-genres like Progressive, Punk, New Wave (in the US), and Grunge are simply affirmations of such proof. In late 60s, Progressive rock was born to disapprove commercialization (including the music modeling imposed by major labels) that swept the earlier generation; such disapproval was symbolized by presenting a sophisticated musical form with no concern whatsoever over whether the audience would like it. In the late 70s, Punk emerged while Progressive died out. Punk movement actually addressed the same issue, but came up with the opposite musical structure that progressive rock embraced; instead, they chose simple chords and disregarded technical virtuosity. Around the same time, New Wave in the US was more concerned about the press media that controlled information and shaped opinions. Still in the US, New Wave was also a self-critique to White people by ridiculing themselves with silly costumes and stage acts.

Gentle Giant, one of prominent Progressive Rock Bands – Another Show (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

Talking Heads, one of the pioneers of New Wave from NYC – Lifetime Piling Up (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

In mid 70s, Breaking (then developed into today’s Hip Hop) was also in the making. The gangs in South Bronx, New York City, had enough with the wars among themselves, and begun to focus on “war” against violence, and socioeconomic injustice. The movement transformed the gang war into art form, and “battle” was the chosen form. Breaking is a symbol of physical fight between “enemies”; the movement vocabularies are inspired by Kung Fu that was popularized by Bruce Lee at the time. Rap, on the other side, is a verbal battle in which two opposing sides throwing “lethal wordings” to each other until one side “surrenders”.

Grunge, in the late 80s, was voicing out the “young nobodies” in middle class America who were mostly unemployed due to the country’s economic downfall. The musical form was a result of a marriage between Hard Rock and Punk of the 70s that felt best in symbolizing the condition at the time. Being unemployed (and not because you’re lazy) is a miserable feeling. Grunge itself literally means filth or dirt, and that was how the young generation at the time felt about themselves; they felt as the dirt of society.

Such misery is well represented in the darkness of the music. The dreadful lyrics symbolize anxiety, the vocal is pretty much about torment, and the distorted guitar sound represents their being unfit in society.

“Canned” Music

The above brief descriptions show how a movement shapes the form of its art. Individuality always has a place, not in the shape of individual art form, but in signature. In High Renaissance art, we can easily differentiate the works of Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Titian, and Rafael. In Baroque music, it’s easy to notice the differences among Vivaldi, Couperin, Bach, and Scarlatti. In Impressionism, the differences among Matisse, Cézanne, and Monet are quite obvious. In Rock music, it’s no way that we can’t tell the differences of guitar playing among Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page.

The non-existence of new common form of art today perhaps should be seen as the incapability of our societies to unite against inhumanity. The aforementioned individual form of art is not born out of collective concern or movement, and most works cannot be considered as new form(s) of art either. In music, for instance, most new works are mere replications of the old forms. There has been no new sub-genre in Jazz since Jazz Fusion, no new sub-genre in Rock since Grunge, no new sub-genre in Blues since Pop Blues, and no new sub-genre in Classical since the 20th Century music.

What we’ve been listening so far is actually a preserved music. If music is food, then we’re actually listening to “canned food” music; changes only takes place in packaging and prices, not in contents. Canned food is a preserved food, thus an all season edible; it remains the same no matter what the situation is. A can of Campbell soup is always a Campbell soup, in breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even in years time, a Campbell soup we had when we were kids will be the same soup we’re having at the time we are grandparents.

Preservation, Cultivation, and Evolution

Preservation has its own function; it’s the archive of the past that no longer lives. It’s important because we need to learn from our history. Never forget that our today is the result of our yesterday. In Classical music, preservation is called conservation, and that is the reason why the school for it is named Conservatory. Cultivation is the act of keeping our heritage living and functioning in real life. In the West, for example, criticism is a tradition that has been kept alive and well in their societies for hundreds of years. Evolution is the consequence of cultivation, and also a mechanism that eventually provides new solution(s) to the problems faced. There are past arts that we should preserve, there is cultural heritage that we should nurture, and there are new answers that we need to find to address present and future challenges.

 

During Vietnam War, Music Spoke to Both Sides of a Divided Nation

Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff, University of South Carolina

Music is central to Ken Burns’s new Vietnam War documentary, with an original score accompanied by samples of the era’s most popular musicians, from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan. According to USA Today, the people interviewed for the film were even asked to provide their 10 favorite songs from the war years.

While it’s natural that a historical film would include period-specific songs, music played an outsized role in the Vietnam War era. Whereas during past wars, musicians wrote songs to unite Americans, Vietnam-era music spoke to the growing numbers of disillusioned citizens, and brought attention to the cultural fissures that were beginning to emerge.

A unified sound

World War II influenced an entire generation – many say the “greatest” – but few of those who came of age in the 1940s would probably call music a core component of their collective identity.

Music did play an important role in the war, but only as a way to unite Americans; like the films, radio reports and newspapers accounts of the era, World War II music resounded with patriotism.

Glenn Miller and his lively swing orchestra played hits such as “Tuxedo Junctionfor U.S. troops, while bandleaders such as Benny Goodman and U.S.O. entertainers such as Bob Hope reinforced the government’s promotion of unwavering patriotism to willing and eager listeners.

Young people embraced swing music for what historians David Stowe and Lewis Erenberg describe as the genre’s democratic ethos – the way Americans of different races and ethnicities enjoyed a new kind of sound with an upbeat tempo and new dance moves such as the Lindy Hop.

A huge crowd fills New York’s West 52nd Street for a swing party to raise war bonds in July 1942. AP Photo

 

As I argue in my book “Black Culture and the New Deal,” the government also employed African-American musicians such as Duke Ellington and Lena Horne to boost the morale of black citizens and project democratic values on the home front and for troops. Many African-Americans hoped a battle against fascism could lead to the end of discrimination in the U.S.

Songs of resistance

But Vietnam was different. Unlike the 1940s – when Americans thought the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and Nazi aggression in Europe justified the sacrifices of war – young people in the 1960s were deeply suspicious of the government’s decision to go into Southeast Asia. As the military’s commitment grew and the body counts piled up, many couldn’t understand what they were fighting for.

Songs were able to express these feelings of anger and confusion with lyrics that could be abstract – like Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” – or explicit, such as Phil Ochs’s “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.”

Music also filled a void in the country’s media landscape. Hollywood didn’t release films that probed the complex nature of the Vietnam War until years after the fall of Saigon. While television news broadcasting became more critical after the Tet Offensive, the big networks were hesitant to promote entertainers who were vocally opposed to the war. Popular programs would censor artists who planned to perform protest music; for example, in 1967, folk singer Pete Seeger appeared on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” only to discover that his song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” would be later be cut due to its anti-war message.

Because Vietnam-era musicians seemed to be the only people talking about America’s failure to live up to its democratic principles, many young people viewed them as “their own.”

Protest music took several forms. There was The Beatles’ more tepid “Revolution” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s everyman anthem “Fortunate Son.” Groups like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane excoriated the hypocrisy of American values, shunned commercialism and supported anti-imperial movements across the globe. People chanted lyrics while marching, listened during gatherings like the “Be-In” in San Fransisco’s Golden Gate Park or simply absorbed the meaning and messages of these songs on their own.

Forgotten voices

Much of the power of Vietnam War-era music came from its connection to the civil rights movement. Young men and women in the black freedom struggle had, since the 1950s, broadened their call for freedom to encompass oppressed people around the world. Artists like Nina Simone, Dylan and Seeger had been chronicling the tragedies of southern violence in their music, so pointing out the wrongs of Vietnam came naturally.

But interestingly, Google searches for “Vietnam Era Music” yield only protest music. This disregards the many who found the protesters abhorrent, who undoubtedly listened to apolitical songs or songs that backed the military.

The Americans that President Richard Nixon dubbed “the silent majority” – those angered by protesters – constituted a huge swath of the country. They had catapulted Nixon to the presidency and fueled a resurgent conservative political movement. The deep-seated resentment felt by so many Americans – against those on college campuses, those who defied military orders, those who questioned American patriotism – cannot be ignored, and they, too, turned to music that provided solace. Merle Haggard said he wrote his 1969 hit song “Okie From Muskogee” to support U.S. soldiers who “were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free.”

“What the hell did these kids have to complain about?” he wondered.

To many, students on college campuses knew nothing about the true meaning of sacrifice. The Spokesmen’s pro-Vietnam ballad “Dawn of Correction” insisted on the “need to keep free people from red domination,” while “The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley,” performed by C Company and Terry Nelson, topped Billboard charts. (The song defended Lt. William Calley who, in 1971, was convicted of slaughtering civilians in the Vietnamese village of Mai Lai.)

The popularity of these songs paints another portrait of the war; politically, the music was much more multifaceted than is often remembered.

The ConversationHopes for the era weren’t as simple as the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which promised “there’s a better life for me and you.” Instead, understanding the music of the Vietnam War era requires indulging a variety of perspectives. The overseas conflict cannot be divorced from the culture war back home – a battle over who gets to define the nation’s identity.

Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff, Associate Professor of History, University of South Carolina

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Indigenous people need control over digital tech

by Inga Vesper

Indigenous people need more support to become tech-savvy and deal with the threats digital technology can pose to their culture, a conference has heard.

Digital technologies such as smartphones and drones can bring problems as well as advantages to indigenous communities, an expert panel said at the World Conservation Congress on 5 September. Without in-depth knowledge of the scope of such technology, indigenous people may allow themselves to be misrepresented and their knowledge to get exploited, they said.

One issue is the struggle to keep sacred sites a secret in a world where posting photos and publishing blogs can reveal their locations. Often, well-meaning researchers compound the problem when they digitise photos of cultural sites or traditional knowledge for scientific purposes, says Mikaela Jade, the founder of Indigital Storytelling, an Australian company using digital technologies to preserve aboriginal culture.

“Companies supplying indigenous people with services should have a cultural protocol to clarify who are the custodians of their data,” she told SciDev.Net. “We need to know, can we take our data back and can we destroy it if it is causing a problem to have it in the public space?”

These issues are compounded by the fact that many indigenous communities still lack access to the digital world, the event heard. Having better access can encourage them to become more assertive in protecting their culture, suggests M’Lys Flynn, a digital mapper working with indigenous people in Australia.

The panel, which took place on 5 September in Honolulu, Hawaii, acknowledged that digital technology can enable indigenous communities to claim rights over land and better preserve traditions. Having access to GPS mapping, social media platforms and other communication tools is also crucial, to make their voices more prominent in global discussions, the panellists agreed.

The best way forward, says Roberto Borreo, a consultant at the International Indian Treaty Council, is for communities and digital companies to work together. The Taino people in the United States, for example, helped a start-up game company to develop Arrival: Village Kasike, a mobile-phone strategy game set in pre-Columbian Central America.

Taino representatives were involved throughout the development process, ensuring the game represents their culture correctly and gives a balanced view of their lives.

“Some game developers just appropriate Indian culture, they use our stories and symbols without any benefits to the communities,” Borreo says. “They represent us as violent or primitive, and we do not need to encourage any more racism or violence against indigenous communities.”

With better knowledge of digital technologies, indigenous people will also be in a position to choose which technologies they want to let into their lives, Jade says.

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

I Am Human living in Diversity

“Thanks to J. M Basquiat who inspired me and people who fight against Racism, let’s keep the equality in humanity …” – Adikara Rachman | 170cm x 150cm | Acrylic on canvas |2017

[LttW, Jakarta]. In recent years, diversity that was once embraced as human treasure seems to be taken as a threat to humanity. This far right view has gained followers in many parts of the world, and at the same time caused tensions, conflicts, killings, and wars within and between countries.

Humans are bound to be different due to the order of nature; there’s nothing we can do about it. Our physical (including racial) and cultural differences are the natural results of our adaptation to the environment. However, diversity is not the only thing we share. We also have common possessions: conscience, common sense, logic, intelligence, emotion, human anatomy, etc. It is with these commonalities human should forever manage diversity as as an enriching factor, not a destroying one.

History has proven that diversity has not always been the cause of problems; it has also given the world amazing human inventions that elevates our civilizations over millennia. So why keep insisting that diversity is the root of problems while we know that it can be the answer to the problems? [Desk]

How religion motivates people to give and serve

David King, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Saturday, August 19 is World Humanitarian Day – a time to remember the tremendous humanitarian need around the world.

The stark reality is that the world is facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945: Mass starvations are threatening millions of people in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, while an unmatched refugee crisis continues in Syria.

World Humanitarian Day is also a time to remember the sacrifice of those who risk their lives to serve. What often gets ignored, however, is the role that faith plays in people’s desire to give and serve. This is where I focus my research.

Philanthropy and religion

Let’s first look at available data to understand how much giving is tied to one’s faith.

According to Giving USA, the leading annual report of philanthropy in America, religious contributions (narrowly defined as giving to houses of worship, denominations, missionary societies and religious media) made up 32 percent of all giving in America in 2016.

Another study found that 73 percent of all American giving went to a house of worship or a religiously identified organization.

Many of these organizations make up the world’s largest NGOs. For example, three of the top 10 biggest charities by total revenue last year (Catholic Charities, Salvation Army and National Christian Foundation) are explicitly religious. Religious agencies make up 13 of the top 50 charities in the U.S.

It is true that factors such as wealth, income, education and marital status are all predictors of giving. But religious belief and practice are one of the best predictors.

Overall, religious Americans volunteer more, give more, and give more often not only to religious but secular causes as well. Among Americans who give to any cause, 55 percent claim religious values as an important motivator for giving.

What religions tell us

These values of giving are deeply rooted in the texts, traditions and practices of many faiths. Take, for example, the messages within the three Abrahamic faiths.

In Judaism, the Hebrew Scriptures refer to “tzedakah,” literally meaning justice. Tzedakah is considered a commandment and a moral obligation that all Jews should follow. The commitment to justice places a priority on their giving to help the poor. Beyond giving just time and money, rabbis even spoke of “gemilut chasadim,” literally meaning loving-kindness, or focusing on right relationship with one another as the prerogative of religious giving.

Even more broadly, an ancient Jewish phrase, “tikkun olam,” meaning to repair or heal the world, has been adopted by many religious and secular causes. Barack Obama, when he was president, would often refer to the phrase. So did past President Bill Clinton and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. President George W. Bush hinted at a vision of tikkun olam in his second inaugural address.

Similarly, the Christian tradition has considered giving a key religious practice. Many Christians still look to the Hebrew Bible and the tithe (giving one-tenth of an individual’s income) as God’s commandment.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of giving not only a tithe but challenged followers to give far beyond it. For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions. Pursuing those values, a long monastic tradition has seen men and women taking vows of poverty to give themselves to the work of their faith. Today, while the tithe might not be practiced by a majority of Christians, most understand the practice of giving as a central part of their faith.

For Muslims, giving is one of the five pillars of Islam. “Zakat” (meaning to grow in purity) is an annual payment of 2.5 percent of one’s assets, considered by many as the minimum obligation of their religious giving. A majority of Muslims worldwide make their annual zakat payments as a central faith practice.

Above and beyond the required zakat, many Muslims make additional gifts (referred to broadly as “sadaqa”). Interestingly, the word shares the same root as the Jewish “tzedakah,” meaning justice. Muslim giving also focuses primarily on the poor.

Of course, charitable giving is not just for the rich. For those with no money to give, the Prophet Muhammad considered even the simple act of smiling to be charity, a gift to another.

Building a community

An aid worker in Addis Ababa. Bread for the World, CC BY-NC-ND

 

Religious traditions are clear that the value of giving does not simply rest with those receiving the gift. Givers themselves benefit. As sociologist Christian Smith makes clear, there is a paradox to generosity – in giving we receive and in grasping we lose.

At the same time, the goal of religious giving is not just about what it brings to individuals. Rather, it is more a focus on human interaction and a vision of community.

Perhaps most famously, the 12th-century Rabbi Maimonides outlined eight levels of giving – the lowest being giving grudgingly and the highest to sustain, but also to empower a person to no longer need charity.

Maimonides made clear it is not so much the amount of giving but how one gives that is important in establishing a relationship between the giver and the recipient. Giving should avoid humiliation, superiority and dependence.

With the majority of global citizens belonging to a religious tradition, it should be no surprise that religion often becomes the greatest asset in humanitarian work. Whether fighting AIDS, malaria or poverty, the development community has realized that the success of local programs so often turns on the support of the local faith community. The engagement of the local imam or priest is essential.

Just a few years ago, the humanitarian industry was convinced of the truth of this view when they found that a majority of the health care workers left on the ground in the midst of the Ebola crises were missionaries. Faith was the chief motivator for those both funding and serving in some of the most difficult parts of the world.

The positive side to faith

It is true that too often, faith also appears to serve as the motivation for exclusion, bigotry and hate: Brutal terrorism by the Islamic State, attacks on religious minorities in Myanmar, the defacing of mosques, synagogues and churches across the United States and even the recent clashes in Charlottesville, illustrate how religions can also be used to promote violence.

When it comes to humanitarian aid, there are certainly criticisms of religious aid agencies whose work does not follow minimum humanitarian standards – for example, the prohibition against discriminating or proselytizing before giving aid.

But returning to the centrality of religious giving, evil in the name of religion does not have the last word.

A priest and a nun work together to send aid supplies. Direct Relief, CC BY-NC-ND

 

Take the case of the United Nations staffer Michael Sharp, who gave his life working for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo this past March. Sharp had worked earlier with the Mennonite Central Committee, a humanitarian organization set up for alternative military service by the Mennonites, a historic peace church. Sharp’s faith guided his call to peacemaking.

There are many such examples around the world where people of faith were moved to shared solidarity. It was their faith work that inspired Jordanian Muslim youth to protect local Coptic Christians at this year’s Easter services after repeated attacks on the Christian minority by Islamic terrorists. It was the same with Muslims in the Philippines this past June who hid fellow Christians in their homes to protect them from Islamic State fighters.

The ConversationIn working through the mandate of our various religious traditions towards the healing of the world, we often come to understand that we have more in common than we had initially realized. And perhaps, we might want to remember this, as we commemorate World Humanitarian Day.

David King, Assistant Professor of Philanthropic Studies, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.