Fighting for freedom ? through music.
Major stars have shown that even mainstream pop music can
be profoundly political. Pain is a very powerful tool to
awaken us, to move towards action. Beyoncé uses her fame to draw
attention to social issues. I like the things that get you off
your ass and get you involved. Throughout history, songs have
been a vehicle for social change — inspiring rebels, pioneering thinkers and
those fighting for a brighter future. Music has always been a huge part of
the struggle and cry for freedom. Music can be moving,
emboldening and comforting. You’re trying to empower people.
You’re trying to say to people yeah, we’re gonna do this.
Change is gonna come. We all need freedom and peace in our lives.
And music that expresses that will always touch our hearts.
Always. What IS the sound of freedom? Why
is ”Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” a freedom song? And how has music
contributed to female empowerment? I do think that music can carry
messages to people and be a really strong source of power for
people and it always has been. So I do believe in
the power of song. Music also mobilizes people.
It can help people to survive. Music is protest,
liberation, hope. A song can become the statement
of thousands of people. The Marseillaise is associated with
liberty, equality and fraternity. But it was originally a war song. What
is it that still fascinates people about this
piece of music? The French national anthem is such
an extraordinary composition ? it gives me
goose bumps. The Marseillaise represents the values
of the Enlightenment, which have been honored and revered for more than 200
years. In an age of global terrorism, the song is more relevant than ever.
Following the murderous attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it
helped to bring unity and reassurance to France. It was sung in a public defense
and affirmation of the values of freedom. It’s an incredibly moving experience
to see how music and songs can really sweep a crowd away and create
a sense of community. Joining forces to support a cause.
It’s a wonderful feeling. With music and the power that it has, you
can hear something, you can identify with it, and make that your own and you
make that into your song and your fight. Music has also played a role in the ongoing
protests by the ”Yellow Vests” in France. Songs of freedom have been used throughout
history for a wide range of causes — a tradition that
lives on today. This kind of resistance is a typically
French trait: taking to the streets to say “enough is enough”. It’s no coincidence
that the Marseillaise was born here. In 1789, the French people freed
themselves from the monarchy with the storming of the Bastille — an event
that laid the foundations for our understanding of modern democracy in
the western world. As the nobility elsewhere in Europe tried to challenge
the revolution, army officer and poet Rouget de Lisle wrote the patriotic song
”La Marseillaise”. It was a call to arms for the people of France. Soon,
the troops of the revolution were marching to the rhythm
of the Marseillaise. That is war music in its root. That
does something with you. Yeah, it gets you going, you know.
It’s different to hearing Abba’s “Dancing Queen”
where you wanna dance. It has a tempo of 120 beats per
minute, similar to the speed of someone marching or to a
fast human heartbeat. So the Marseillaise has an organic rhythm and
that’s why it has a positive feel to it. I think we all have the desire to feel
that we are part of something big, something important that something is
good and the measure of all things. So sometimes a good song with you
know trumpets and timpanis and the whole: we are good, we’re
big, we’re great can have a very strong influence
on masses of people. Everyone knows the song. And most
people sing it without realizing that some of the lyrics are kind
of embarrassing today. The Marseillaise is hardly a peaceful song.
The lyrics are bloody and violent, and so the context in which the song
is used today can seem contradictory. It’s strange for a country that isn’t
actually at war to get to its feet and sing about taking up arms. And we’re not
even talking about metaphorical arms here. Is it still ok to sing this song today?
Can the Marseillaise be part of
contemporary society? I think certain songs deserve an upgrade.
If you are not in a situation of war, in a situation of moral or
political freedom that is needed, maybe certain lyrics should
have been adapted or renewed. In 1979, French singer-songwriter Serge
Gainsbourg recorded a reggae cover. In his version, ”To arms, citizens!” becomes a
slightly less reverent ”To arms, et cetera” A very famous moment in
french music culture. For right wing groups in
particular, Gainsbourg’s version was an affront
and a provocation. He gave the song a whole
new tone, another energy. The patriotic and historical nature
of national anthems means they’ve often been used as political tools in
the debate over national identity, especially during times of crisis. In
the late 1960s, American society was divided by the conflict in Vietnam. Many
saw it as a pointless and unjust war. The Woodstock festival in 1969 was a
mass celebration of love and protest. Jimi Hendrix stood before the crowds
to perform the national anthem of his homeland. His performance transformed
the song into a political protest. Jimi Hendrix, Star
Spangled Banner, damn. It was an incredibly powerful
expression of rage. Suddenly he used his guitar to create the
sound of falling bombs. Jimi Hendrix’ guitar version of the
National Anthem was probably one of the most powerful non-verbal
messages that were ever set in music. He as an American was kind
of saying: I am not with this war. And this is how I hear
the National Anthem. To this day, there is an ongoing debate
about which ideals and values are associated with the Star Spangled Banner.
In 2016 American footballer Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for
the US national anthem — in an act meant as a protest against racism
and police violence in his country. When somebody disrespects
our flag, I’d say: Get that son of a bitch off the field.
Right now. Out. He is fired. Trump’s threats became something of
a reality for Kaepernick, who was effectively shut out of the sport by the
National Football League. His symbolic kneel divided society, and he
became an icon of protest. – He is fired.
– Frustratingly music doesn’t have agency. It doesn’t actually have the power
to actually change things like a key unlocks a door. But, what it
does do, it has the ability to make you feel as if
you are not alone. Whether pop culture is good or bad
always has a lot to do with the concept of freedom. Does this
Youtuber, rapper, singer, DJ stimulate my mind or not? If I just
blindly follow them, that’s bad pop culture. But if they have
something that unsettles or bothers me, and gets me thinking, so I
have to use my brain and I develop intellectually — then
that’s good pop culture. The fight for freedom can
also come in satirical form. Controversial figures such as Trump,
Putin and Erdogan ? and decisions like Brexit ? are all-too inviting
targets for pop culture. I think songs that make a satire
out of people are very powerful. Satire is still a powerful way of
attacking the most powerful people in the country. It’s often overlooked
but I think it still works. Mockery and ridicule in music are
not a 21st century phenomenon. ”La Cucaracha” originates from a
cute Spanish nursery rhyme, but then became a Mexican revolutionary song. La
Cucaracha is not only a cockroach but also a colloquial term for a bandit, who is
the butt of the joke in the original song. Music has also played a big
role in the struggle of women for self-determination
and equal rights. In 1983, Cyndi Lauper portrayed
feminism as a carefree dance towards empowerment. “Girls just wanna have fun”
was the breakout hit for the singer. The zany music video fuelled the
hype ? it was among the first to place the spotlight
firmly on women. How can you play it to
people as a political song? Female listeners in
particular were quick to interpret the song as a
message of liberation. It comes off as a pop song but also
it’s a liberation of women allowing themselves to be more than what
everyone else wants them to be. Women were given the chance to live their
own lives and realise their true selves. Girls just wanna have fun is like
hey guess what, we are humans, too. It’s a song that doesn’t prescribe
what feminism is. It allows you to connect your experience rather
than a song that is prescriptive. You hear that song now and you
think, oh that’s a great song, but I think that when it came out, just early
80s, just someone to say: Girls just wanna have fun, we just wanna party and
have sex, at that time people were: Wow, that’s very
controversial. Seventy years earlier, the fight for
female empowerment was more about marching than dancing. The song
”March of the Women” from 1910 was written by British suffragette Ethel
Smyth. The activists used radical methods to fight for women’s right to vote.
And in 1918, women in Britain finally gained the right to vote.
One year later, parliament welcomed its first female
member of parliament. A lot of the rights that we take for
granted is something that people fought for. And people died for. You
know, the radical ideas of today will hopefully be
tomorrow’s world. Here she is, the queen of the
rhythm and blues: Aretha Franklin. Back in the 60s, African American
singer Aretha Franklin used the power of soul music to
fight for emancipation. Respect, Aretha Franklin.
Come on. I used to bump Aretha Franklin in my
car when I was in college and roll down the windows and sing that: RESPECT.
Just like really feeling my liberating self
as a young woman. In 1967, many women were housewives
? seen as an extension of their husbands, without their
own needs and dreams. Aretha Franklin’s Respect is such an
important song because it shows us: What’s important to me is to be seen
for who I am and not for a second- class being. Not someone or
something you can just use and abuse and misuse and play around with.
You have to respect me. I heard there was another version.
By Otis Redding, right? The song was written by Otis Redding.
But the message he was conveying — two years before Franklin’s hit
version — was entirely different. It was the other way round: he
comes home and says, “I worked all day. Show me some respect and
bring me my slippers and dinner.” This change of perspective
touched on some poignant issues. Back then in the early 60s, songs
were full of: “You’re my baby. My baby here. My girl.” It was
all about men owning women. “Respect” became an anthem of the
women’s liberation movement, especially among African American women.
Aretha Franklin wasn’t an activist as such, but she
knew how to use her platform. Well then it was kind of as you say
a women’s anthem. A battle cry, a mantra. But everyone wants respect.
Everyone needs respect. From the young to the very old. And in the middle,
male, female. We all want respect. The 1960s saw more and more women
putting themselves and the empowerment of women at the center of
their art. Another prime example was 17-year old Lesley Gore
with “You don’t own me”. ? and British style icon Dusty Springfield
proclaiming “I wanna be a free girl”. Helen Reddy’s “I am woman” also became
a key song of the feminist movement. West German singer Nico, with her
dark and non-conformist demeanour, established a new
image of women. In “9 to 5”, Dolly Parton sung about
unequal treatment in the workplace. Suzie Quatro was the first female bass
player to become a major rock star. In the early 70s, Patti Smith conquered
yet another male bastion: Punk. She crushed and cast aside
practically every stereotype about how women should
look and behave. Patty Smith empowered all the
female and male punkrockers. She broke those taboos of the
girl having to have make up. I mean this girl
looked like a guy. The rock sort of guitar player or the
rock god it’s been a role reserved for men for a very long time. And I think
it’s fantastic that women are just pushing us aside and taking that role
and being like you know: This is who we are now. Like your old bullshit
has to go and I think it’s great. In doing so, she became
a huge influence and inspiration for generations
of female musicians. Since the 90s, women have been
increasingly claiming center-stage in the upper echelons of pop. Today,
they are the superstars, fighting for equal rights
in their own unique way. Artists like Beyoncé have this attitude
of “Hey, dude, sit down and listen.” So powerful.
It’s cool. Strong women generate a sort of excitement.
And I think to see stuff like that is very empowering. They
have so many followers. And they have so many people that actually
listen to what they have to say, I think it does matter. I would
like to see more of that. These songs are expressing the idea of
freedom from any kind of restraints and feeling liberated and I guess are
expressing some kind of primal energy. Sookee doesn’t mince her words.
Female empowerment is becoming the new norm. But it’s not without
its risks, says the rapper. Feminism is in serious danger of
being co-opted by capitalism. If it becomes a consumer good, then
it’s not much use to us. If you can go to the pharmacy and buy the
“feminist eye shadow” range, something’s gone wrong. What we need are
things like fighting for abortion rights. The current political situation isn’t
always aligned with pop music trends. We will make America
great again. Sexist comments by Donald Trump have
also helped to fuel female protest. He dismissed as irrelevant
an infamous recording of him making vulgar
comments about women. Inappropriate words, 12 years ago. Locker
room talk whatever you wanna call it. Trump plays down his misogynistic
statements and the countless accusations of harassment.
Musician MILCK is among the many American women who say
he’s not their president. The language of Trump’s election
campaign was very misogynist. You know, talking about (expletive)
grabbing and all that I felt was very disrespectful. So I felt like I needed
to take a stand and say something. MILCK’s song Quiet gives women a voice.
She performed it shortly before president Trump was sworn into office. A
video of the flash mob went viral, and the song was sung by thousands of
girls and women across the globe. It is this underground movement type
of song. Because I don’t think the institutions were able to digest
such a message. Without the internet people wouldn’t have heard Quiet and
they wouldn’t have been able to share the song in a 2 week span
from the US to Ghana ? I am not gonna change the mind or open
a heart through my words, I’m gonna change
it through music. The internet and social media are
also changing the opportunities that music offers in the
struggle for freedom. But mass protest movements predate
the online era, of course ? Some songs have changed the course of
history; others only later became part of the soundtrack of revolutionary change.
In 1989, the citizens of communist East Germany finally
gained their freedom. Applications for private trips abroad
may be submitted without preconditions, reasons for travel or family ties.
Permits will be issued at short notice. When the people came over to the West
in their Trabants it felt like we were suddenly discovering a foreign country.
And its people were now our friends. Crazy time, you look back and think
wow, how could that happen without any kind of violence. A peaceful revolution
is possible. And it came from the people. ”Wind of Change” by West
German rock band The Scorpions became the anthem to the
fall of the Berlin Wall. I almost think it’s
cool these days. It’s hard to whistle
into a mic. At the right time, in the right place,
a song like that can be liberating. It was a huge hit, it was everywhere.
When I think about it now, it is a fantastic song for a
German band to write. I can almost see Klaus Meine walking
through Gorki Park and just reflecting and thinking like something
is in the air. I hear this wind which is bringing about a change and then 3 or 4
months later the wall in Berlin fell. ”Wind of Change” had nothing to do
with the Wall as such, and had been written some time before the historic
event. In the summer of ‘89, the Scorpions traveled to Russia to play
at the ”Moscow Music Peace Festival”, alongside acts like Bon Jovi and Ozzy
Osbourne. It was the Soviet Union’s first rock festival with
bands from the West. The Olympic Flame was
burning for rock ‘n’ roll. Change was indeed
in the air. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one at
the Moscow Music Peace Festival who sensed that the world was changing
before our eyes. While we were playing, the Red Army soldiers
working as security at the front all took off their jackets and threw
their caps in the air. They turned toward us on the stage and
became part of the audience. You could just see it and a lot of
young people in Moscow told us too: the Cold War would
be over soon. THAT feeling inspired
“Wind of Change”. Although Wind of Change was not
released as a single until January ’91, the song is now inextricably linked with
the fall of the wall over a year earlier. The single arrived as the event was
already receding into the history books. It was featured in documentaries about
the fall of the Wall, although it didn’t even come out until around a
year after that. The thing is: the Scorpions are an international band
but they come from Germany. So to fans in the US, the song had
an authenticity about it. Sometimes certain songs, they
have their own dynamics because something happens in history that is
not in your hands and all of a sudden, that song becomes the hymn of
a certain historic moment. People choose their own freedom songs.
It’s a process that’s very difficult to influence, so it’s often surprising
even for the musicians themselves. The song wouldn’t have come to
symbolize the fall of the Wall if we’d just taken advantage of the images
on TV and said: “Cool marketing idea: the Wall fell two years ago.
Now we’ll release an anthem to celebrate it.” No one would
have been that shameless. After the fall of the Wall, the techno
scene in reunified Berlin began to boom, and for many it became the
soundtrack to a new life of freedom. I experienced reunification through
East German “ears” and I could feel the energy. There was something
very naive about it. Because East Germans were sort of in the dark.
They stumbled into the dazzling world of the West a bit like kids.
Suddenly so much was possible: they could listen to any music,
be loud and do what they liked. Suddenly they could get drugs. All
the things that the East German regime warned would happen, did happen
— it was a sudden promise of salvation. The Love Parade in Berlin became one of
the biggest music festivals of the 90s, attracting crowds of
over one million people. Freedom songs are songs of
celebration, too. Celebrating our successes. Celebrating who we are.
Celebrating our culture. That is also a part of
that freedom song family. That notion that you also deserve the
positive things in life was perhaps best summed up by the American
radical Emma Goldman when she was criticized for dancing at a party
event. Told that she wasn’t serious enough about her politics,
she said: If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part
of your revolution. Dancing was a statement and an act of
liberation. The Love Parade was seen by many as much more than an
expression of hedonism. I think the Love Parade was the most
political development in the history of music in Germany. It played a huge role
in the reinvention of the country. The world outside got to see Germany
in a different light. Because we always believed in the
liberating force of music. Music obviously has several different
functions. One is to entertain, one is to inform. One is to inspire. And
another is to question. And obviously the entertainment part, we got that
covered. But you can’t spend your life on the dance floor. You do
have to engage with reality. In America today, one rapper in particular
is holding a mirror up to society. Childish Gambino. You know: “This
is America”. I mean, damn, that’s probably the most radical thing I’ve
heard in the 21st century. Period. Childish Gambino paints a dark picture
of hate and extreme violence in America. We’re talking about a whole different
level of expression. It works on obviously multiple levels. You watch
his performance which is all about this crazy entertainment which kind of
alludes to the fact that we are all distracted and want to be entertained.
But if you forget about the foreground and look what’s going on in the
background. Oh my god, it is Armageddon. In just two days, the video for “This
is America” amassed 30 million views. The rapper referenced racist
attacks and the reality of life for people of color
in the United States. His song triggered a
huge public discussion. You gonna have to go
out and face reality. Whenever people are suffering,
pop music becomes more political because it often expresses
what they’re going through. The fight against the oppression of the
black population is deeply engraved in American music. In the first half of the
20th century, the Ku Klux Klan terrorized the southern states of the US. Racially
motivated violence was endemic. Lynchings of African Americans were
part of everyday life. One young woman lamented this state of affairs with
a deeply moving piece of music. Back in the day when my great, great,
great, great, grandparents were being lynched from trees and Billy
Holiday was touring around the south she would unfortunately see what she
described as strange fruit. Which were black people, hanging by
their necks, dead in trees. At the end of the 30s, the song ”Strange
Fruit” by jazz singer Billie Holiday was the first to openly deplore
the lynch laws of America. Her impassioned protest
sparked violent reactions. Billie Holiday first made the song
known in the clubs of New York. Then she wanted to record it for her
label Columbia Records. But her producer John Hammond said it was
too much and they couldn’t do it. Then she went to another label,
to Commodore Music, where her old friend Milton Glazer said,
“Okay, let’s record this.” Billie Holiday experienced racism
first hand on a daily basis. Strange Fruit was a song of a deep pain.
And Billie Holiday being able to carry that song, that pain and that
story in the way that she did, there is no one else who could
have done that. Her memoirs give you a glimpse
into her turbulent life ? drugs, prostitution, and all kinds of
humiliating experiences, because she went through everything you can
imagine. Kierkegaard once wrote: the mouth of an artist is molded in
such a way that when they let out a cry of pain, it sounds like beautiful
music. That’s Billie Holiday. The thing about music is, it really
hits you in a very profound, deep way. It gets into your bloodstream straight
away. In a way that maybe other art forms can’t. And its ability to
communicate means that I do think that it can carry messages to people and be
a really strong source of power for people. By the early 1960s the civil
rights movement had emerged to fight discrimination
against African Americans. I have a dream that one day
this nation will rise up and live out the true
meaning of its creed. Also at the historic “March on Washington”
in 1963, Joan Baez performed a song that united people in their protest. ”We
Shall Overcome” was originally a gospel song. It combined a simple melody
with an appeal for a peaceful future. The music from the struggle doesn’t
always have to be hard or sad or angry. It can sometimes be enlifting.
You’re trying to empower people, you’re trying to say to people. Yeah, we’re
going to do this. Change is gonna come. It’s about the spirit of unification.
It’s about that we. To acknowledge that we are not alone. In our pain, in
our anger and in our resistance. But the spirit of We Shall Overcome
quickly became a distant memory. The 1960s continued to see racially
motivated murders, and brutal police force. In the song Mississippi Goddam,
Nina Simone was explicit in her condemnation of this reality.
Other musicians also stood up for the African American
struggle for freedom. – So you sing from anger?
– No, I sing from intelligence. I sing from letting them know
that I know who they are. And what they have done to
my people around the world. That’s not anger. Anger has its place.
Anger has fire and fire moves things. Nina Simone became an
activist through her music. Nina’s voice was a liberated voice.
Her dynamics were incredible, you know, very very brave.
Very, very radical. If you think of the songs from the
civil rights movement in the 1960s. Those songs chose those artists. Those
issues pressed on those artists to such an extent that they were forced
to articulate their feelings about politics rather than just writing
songs about relationships. In the 21st century, controversy
continues to rage over police violence and
racism in the U.S. New protests broke out across the
country following a series of police killings of innocent young
African American men. One of the beautiful things about
pain is that it awakens us. Pain is a very powerful tool to awaken
us, to move towards action. The “Black Lives Matter”
movement was born. A range of music stars have also
addressed the issue in their material. Janelle Monae came out with the
song “What the hell you talmbout”. As musicians in the
mainstream to speak against police violence is a very
radical thing to do. It was heavy. We use sound as our weapon.
To remain silent is the enemy. The song lists the names of those who have
been killed — a litany of police violence. For me the challenge has always been:
How do you take all these ideas that you have and how do you put
them in another room. And how do you talk to people about political ideas.
Maybe they’re not used to it. Or they maybe don’t agree with you. How do you go
on stage and communicate that with people. Even mainstream pop can be political.
As illustrated by superstar Beyoncé. Beyoncé isn’t really a civil rights
activist. Or a protest singer. Beyoncé is an
entertainer. But the codes she uses convey a
message that goes beyond that. The imagery of her videos speaks
primarily to the African American community, and is subtle enough not to
put off less politically-minded fans. Beyoncé also makes statements with the
outfits she chooses. Her dancers’ costumes are a reference to the Black
Panther movement of the 60s and 70s. If you think of Beyoncé at the Superbowl.
Using that opportunity, being at the absolute focus of the American
culture at that moment half time at the Superbowl and she makes a
statement about Black Lives Matter. They are not dangerous enough for me.
I am old school. Although I said I like the poetry. I also like the
action as well. I like the things that get you off your ass
and get you involved. Protests on the street turned this song
into an anthem: Kendrick Lamar’s Alright. If you’re looking for someone who
communicates with words, who depicts the complexity of life for African Americans
in the US, then that’s Kendrick Lamar. He observes things, and in a really
interesting way. He won the Pulitzer Prize, which to a certain extent
says: the white establishment has recognized
him as a poet. The “Black Lives Matter” movement
demonstrates the enormous spectrum of music that plays its part in today’s
struggles for freedom. In the end, the question remains: What can the songs
of Childish Gambino, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar really achieve?
Can music change the world? In the times of social crisis
the truth is revolutionary. We can’t count on pop musicians to
save the world for us, because it won’t happen. But we can use pop
music to help save the world. I am here because of music. I have
friends that are lawyers and human rights activists because of music. I
do think that music in itself changes things. It changes people’s
trajectory in life. Music has always accompanied great
historical changes. Sometimes, it can even change the course of history.
Because music is a mobilizing force. More than that: It can articulate our
aspirations and be the soundtrack to our individual freedom. Music has always gone
hand in hand with hope, justice and peace.