Music and Politics: Why is Music Important

music and politics, power dynamics

Power and Music Politics

Music and politics have always been a part of world culture. Art and music have represented not creative freedom, but also independence. Some societies that have subjugated people also completely eliminated independent thought and artistic expression.

For example the Khazar empire of 700 - 1000 A.D. hung people that were so called "quickwitted" and those that were creatives within the dominant society.

“When they observe a man who excels through quickwittedness and knowledge, they say for this it is more befitting to serve our Lord. They seize him, put a rope round his neck and hang him on a tree where he is left until he rots away…

“It was based on the simple, sober reasoning of the average citizens who wanted to lead what they considered a normal life and to avoid any risk or adventure into which the 'genius' might lead them.” ~ Arthur Koestler, The Thirteenth Tribe


Music is easy to define; it is each person's unique sound delivered through an instrument. That instrument can be a piano, trumpet, saxophone, guitar, drums or any of the artist choosing. It can be a voice, beat box...

Ask someone what is politics and often it is hard for people to define.

Politics comes from the word policy. Policy is the method of creative legislative authority, which gives the entity power. This gives the power to discipline, which is a mechanism of power to regulate behavior. Because your employer or government has the ability to discipline, you in turn moderate your behavior to fit the ideology of the dominant power.

Power Dynamics

Power is always present in any relationship. The paren-child relationship is a power relationship. Employee and employer is another. All people have a level of power dynamic within their relationship. Power in itself is not bad, but rather what each entity chooses to do with that power. Power is present in all human relationships.

Power Relations

Male privilege often provides men more opportunity to political, social and business benefits. This increased status, income and position provides more rulership over others. This privilege often re-establishes the power imbalance within our society between men and women. Furthermore it changes the culture with society on racial and social levels. If there is a lack of power representation of certain races, society will bend towards power and at times subjugate those that are not part of the ruling party. This reinforces beliefs about superiority! But there is always a way. There is always a way!

We should not be blamed for our privileges we have due to our biological sex or race. Often there is nothing we can do as individuals to eliminate that privilege. Aside from changing one's sex or race through sex change, skin bleaching and complete assimilation. But again that reinforces the power relationship between those that lack power seeking to re-identify themselves to that of the dominant power structure. What we can do instead, we can take stock of our privileges and take responsibility for how we use them by attempting to offset the imbalance of power they reinforce.

"Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship." ~ George Orwell

The relationship with music and politics, specifically political or protest ideology in song, has been seen in many cultures. Everything we interact with influences our thoughts. Thoughts influence decisions, decisions influence actions, actions result in behavior, which ultimately creates habits. 

 Musical expression is one of the most powerful influences on the mind. Often it is not clear what happens after listening to metal rock, gangsta rap, relaxation music or political music. But what is clear is it is influencing the minds of people. To what degree is hard to identify, but it is creating a change within our culture.

Why is Music Important?

Music has the power to do what political legislation never could. Politics controls behavior and music changes hearts. ~ Rafa Selase


Is political music anti-establishment?

This is a question that continues to come up in my "barbershop discussions." Political music can be "anti" songs, but in reality political music is usually attached to some type of political agenda, historical event or group advocating for a cause. In my opinion, political music is not anti-establishment at all. It usually is a petition for America to live up to the ideals upon which it was founded.

Political songs or protest music can also be national anthems or patriotic songs.

"Political songs" is an ambiguous label that is often defined by who the critic is. For example, my song "Unhome" was connecting the current times of today with Jim Crow and lynching. The words, "swinging from southern trees, now face down" connects lynching with that of over-policing and mass incarceration. That in itself could be labeled "political" or it could just be a reference provided in historical context.

Is that political?

Is it bringing awareness to something not known?

Is it just creative expression?

Is it advocacy?

Music as a tool for advocacy might include an appeal to vote democrat or republican. That is most definitely political music. Political music is not a respecter of genres. Artists and musicians in all genres have been labeled political music.


For example American Folk artist Bob Dylan performed "Blowing in the Wind."

Blues great John Lee Hooker sang "I Don't Wanna Go To Vietnam," on his 1969 album, "Simply the Truth."

Hip Hip great KRS-one wrote and performed "Sound of da Police," and Grandmaster flash released "The Message."

"Bob Marley performed the 'One Love Peace' concert in Jamaica with the two different warring political sides. There's always been that in black music and culture in general. It's no surprise because black music is such a reflection of what's going on in black life. It's not unusual for hip-hop." ~ Mos Def

Popular Music Political Music

Popular music found throughout the world contains political messages such as those concerning social issues, racism and gender identity. For example, Brazilian samba-reggae group Olodum is popular for their songs about social equality. And of course music played a huge role during the end of apartheid in South Africa. Artist Vuyisile Mini's song, titled “Ndodemnyama we Verwoerd” (“Watch Out, Verwoerd,” sung to the prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd), became one of the most popular songs in South Africa. Back here in the states, Macklemore rose to prominence after releasing his song "SAME LOVE" about LBGTQ rights, featuring Mary Lambert.

On the other side of the coin, American Country music has always had songs about patriotism and keeping the "American way."

Lee Greenwood's song "God Bless the USA" could be categorized as protest and political music. Lee Greenwood is a self described patriot. His song could be considered a protest against those that want to tear down past and present American ideals, political and economic infrastructure. During a 2018 performance at a Nascar race he highlighted the words "And I'll gladly stand up."  Possibly in opposition to those that have kneeled in response to over policing, brutality and mass incarceration of latinos and blacks. 

It is very clear deciding if music is political or protest is based on who the listener is...

Music and politics go hand and hand. Music has always spoke directly to the social climate while also inspiring people to question, stand up and fight for those issues concerning the health of society.


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