Because music has a strong and manifold effect on human beings, it is no wonder that it has been used as a means for reinforcing a wide variety of ideas and policies throughout the ages. For better and for worse, music can be a significant social force, directly and indirectly. Sometimes the power of music and the images associated with it is used in a context that substantially changes the original message of the music, or the message originally associated with it.
Creators and performers can state their opinions and address social injustices through works of music. They also have a higher than average potential for actually influencing society at large – social attitudes, structures and anomalies – through their other actions. In difficult times, musicians are not only expected but even demanded to speak their minds, in music or otherwise. After all, a message carries much better if communicated by a prominent and admired artist.
A recent example of such trends in Finland is the social media campaign #VuosiHiljaisuutta [year of silence]. The campaign was organised in March for the anniversary of the banning of all events with more than 500 people in Finland, and the point of the campaign was to demand far-reaching solutions for safeguarding the future of the music sector.
FMQ Special Feature 1/2021 discusses the multiple relations between music, politics and social activism.
Three contemporary composers – Antti Auvinen, Heinz-Juhani Hofmann and Matilda Seppälä – share their thoughts on the links between music and social activism. An interview with musician Ramy Essam also discusses music as a tool of societal change. Essam was banned from performing in his native Egypt in 2013, and in 2014 he arrived in Helsinki for a safe residency. “People in the Nordic countries have a really big space in freedom of expression that they don’t use enough,” says Essam.
Sini Mononen illustrates the role of music in today’s political campaigns. In addition to using existing and known pieces of music, political parties are increasingly commissioning new music consistent with their profile for their audiovisual campaigns in social media.
Our theme package also takes a critical look at how the history of music is written and at the political dimensions and problematics of certain conceptions of music. These themes are discussed in an article by Tove Djubsjöbacka and a column by Antti-Ville Kärjä. “As the saying goes, history is written by the victors, and the victors have invariably been affluent white men,” writes Kärjä. Read also Kaarina Kilpiö's Patriotic soundtracks and Miska Rantanen's The singing revolution from FMQ's archives.
The question of how much or how little of an impact music can or should have on injustices in society is an opinion divider. Nevertheless, it is important for us to be aware of the potential of music as a force for change and of the political dimensions and power structures in the debate around music. The music media, which in itself wields significant power, occupies a prominent role in that debate.
In fact we must ask ourselves critically and repeatedly whose music we are talking about and to whom we give voice. It is also hugely important to consider how we talk about things. FMQ believes in the power of societal dialogue and seeks to give space to as wide a variety of voices and views as possible. Varied opinions can live and thrive in coexistence, as long as we remember that listening is an essential part of dialogue.
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo: "A human flood" demonstration in Helsinki (2019). Photo: Mikael Ahlfors.