20 February 2011

Sunday Music: Political Pop

Music has long served a journalistic tradition. The epic poems of the ancient Greeks, the chanting of Zoroaster priests, the songs of medieval bards and minstrels or Mexican corridistas have served as a travelling news service singing of battles, heroes, political movements. One would think that in the times of newswires and the Internet, music may still serve as a community-building tool, but would have lost most of its information distribution role.

Mark Pedelty from the University of Minnesota in an ethnographic research project is investigating the roles of political pop and protest songs. He comes to the surprising conclusion that “music performs an informational role as well as a strong community-building function. Although music no longer plays a central role in news delivery, it is nevertheless an important source of information, particularly for young activists.” His study is rich in details, a good read for those interested.

It is in fact fascinating how political pop has played and still plays a role in current events. From “We shall overcome”, to “General” or the “Sounds of Revolution” in communist East-Central Europe, here is the latest example from Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor or El Général, whose protest song “Rayes Lebled” (a jeux de mot from Head of State) has become the song of the revolution in Tunisia and further.

Tomorrow (21/02) EU foreign ministers will meet in the General Affairs Council formation presided by the HU Presidency, then in the afternoon in the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) formation presided by the High Representative. However already tonight ministers will discuss over dinner Egypt and political developments in the region. We send this song to all those preparing for tonight’s dinner. As Hip Hop Diplomacy puts it “I encourage you all to read the words of Hamada Ben Amor, aka. El General, and take a moment to meditate on the power of Hip Hop music to articulate frustration and incite young people to action” The question on everyone’s mind tonight, is where will this all lead to: “Tehran 1979 or Berlin 1989?


  1. El Général said in an interview that he was deeply inspired by Tupac Shakur. 2pac as a son of a Black Panther (Afeni Shakur) was also a revolutionary at the first half of the 90s till he got shot at the age of 25.
    I think nowadays there are no true "classical" poets who can lead revolutions like back in the 19th century, but I agree with you that music can play an important role in political life. Not just in case of revolutions, think about the famous "Gloomy Sunday" which (rumour says) was banned because of suicides.

  2. I have to contradict with you, Kéry, but there are still musicians who want to be poet-revolutioners, but in Europe they dont
    represent the mainstream politics anymore. In Hungary there is for example the rock group Kárpáthia, who made a systematic political program as their primary profil, they used to make protest-concerts in Trianon near Paris with the intervention of Nicolas Sárközy as patron, and they made official hymns for the political group Jobbik. But the only music, what had real revolutinary "interferences" in Hungary was the so-called Gyurcsány-rap (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IS6rwF0ebPA&feature=related) at the time of the 2006 street fights.