Thursday, August 7, 2008

Defining and Describing protest music

As I mentioned recently I have been researching literature about protest music and how it can best be described and defined.

Predominantly political music can be identified by its lyrics and/or its use.

Lyrics which speak of events, moments in history and concepts and which more often than not educate, empower and encourage people to take some kind of action, are more readily identifiable as political music. Using this analysis, basic categories include:

  1. Music that has either a direct or indirect intention of protesting or complaining against exploitation or oppression
  2. Music that concerns aspirations for a better life or a more just society
  3. Topical music, including satire of politicians, landlords and capitalists
  4. Music concerning political philosophical themes and ethical ideals
  5. Songs used for political campaigns for either parties or movements
  6. Music which commemorates past and present popular struggles
  7. Tributes to heroes and martyrs in the popular cause
  8. Music which expresses international solidarity of the working class
  9. Music which comments on industrial conditions and the role of trade unions
  10. Music that protests against racial and sexual stereotyping
  11. Songs which appeal for environmental sustainability and the adoption of renewable sources.

Another way of categorising political music is to look at its use or effect rather than its intention. This includes a sociological – anthropological analysis of the context in which the music is received, and includes:

  1. Music that describes social issues and produces emotional responses
  2. Music which solicits or arouses support for a movement
  3. Music that reinforces the value structure of a group of individuals
  4. Music that creates social cohesion, solidarity and morale
  5. Music that recruits new members
  6. Music that provokes action and solutions to social problems
  7. Music that consoles and counteracts despair when social change that is hoped for is not forthcoming.

While these categories typically overlap, my task at the moment is to find examples of each of these and to describe the context in which they have been created and used. Protest music takes two forms - the anthem which serves a holistic motivating purpose and the narrative which tells a story.

Further reading
Ed. James Lull, ‘Popular Music As Communication’ (1987) 39-41

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