Sonic Weapons is a blog about the repression of music that bothers authorities, challenges the status quo and struggles against power in all its forms. Written by Thierry Côté, a PhD candidate at York University, Toronto, Canada and research associate at the York Centre for International and Security Studies.
R.E.M.’s longbox, printed with a petition in support of the Motor Voter Bill, became a piece of political machinery. When Out of Time hit the record stores on March 12th, 1991, the petitions started rolling in. After 3 weeks, they had received 10,000 petitions, 100 per senator, and they just kept coming in in droves.
I’m not sure I completely agree with the premise of this story—to quote the author, that “R.E.M.’s Out of Time is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Because of its packaging”—but I was not aware of the role that the inclusion on the cd longbox of a Rock the Vote petition in favour of the Motor Voter bill (which would have allowed U.S. citizens to register to vote while signing up for or renewing a driver’s license) may have eventually played in its passage as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
You can check out the full story (and listen to a podcast that discusses in further details both the creation of Rock the Vote and the longbox) here.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC-EP), which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its struggle against the Colombian government this year, has just released a rap song calling for peace in Colombia. The song, which features Dutch FARC member and negotiator (as well as alleged terrorist, according to the U.S. government) Tanja Nijmeijer (who is referred to as “the Dutchwoman” in the video) and Cuban group Cuentas Claras, is at once a rallying cry for peace (“In the name of the exploited/of barefoot and malnourished children/of bad-paid [sic] and poorly educated women and men/of threatened peasants/we have come to talk about peace without any fear”), a strident attack on “…that circus that you call government…” (“to keep on killing/that is what pleases you/To dialogue with the people/of course you don’t like that”) and a call to arms (“Like Don Quijote without fear of being defeated/The people should unite/the truth should be discovered”). While the song is in Spanish, it is also clearly addressed to a global audience, ending with a message in several languages (“Support the peace process in Colombia”).
To try to raise awareness or call to action are common uses of political music, and the song seems to have been effective in reaching an important audience in a short period of time (a version of the video with English subtitles that was posted on 13 May has been viewed nearly 40,000 times as of 16 May, while the original Spanish version that was posted a day earlier has been viewed over 21,000 times). It remains to be seen whether it will have an effect on the ongoing peace process.
Since its release, the anthem [Ali Barakat’s “Seal Your Victory in Yabroud”] has, perhaps predictably, become yet another flash point in the Syrian civil war. Those backing the government of President Bashar al-Assad have spread it on social media. Rebels and their supporters have recorded their own musical rejoinders and accused Mr. Barakat of sectarian incitement.
In the early days of the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising, I often posted about musicians who entered the fray by recording songs in support of or opposition to those who demanded Bashar al-Assad’s departure. While a new New York Times piece suggests that South Lebanese singer Ali Barakat’s pro-Hezbollah, pro-Assad “Seal Your Victory in Yabroud" ("The soldiers are coming/they will give you dark days/O Hezbollah, God be with you/seal your victory in Yabroud") has opened what it describes as a "new musical front in the bloody civil war", it is not quite true that this is a new phenomenon. After all, this blog documented severalanti-Assadsongs, and pro-Assad musicians have been producing songs for some time.
Nevertheless, this article does a good job of documenting the impact of Barakat’s song both on his own personal life (“The insults and threats flow to the singer…around the clock” and “make his cellphone perpetually ring and buzz”) and in inciting reactions (“Those backing the government of President Bashar al-Assad have spread it on social media. Rebels and their supporters have recorded their own musical rejoinders…”). BuzzFeed’s Mike Giglio also wrote about Barakat in December, noting that the singer “hoped his songs would help to prepare Hezbollah and its supporters for the continuing battle” (Barakat believed that he had helped to inspire Hezbollah fighters triumph in the battle over the Syrian town of Qusayr) as well as to memorialize the fighters killed in Syria (“We don’t cry when our martyrs come home. We make a nice song”, said Barakat).
You can the New York Times article here, but I would suggest reading the BuzzFeed piece first for more background details about Ali Barakat.