Kayden Ward

Contributing Writer

 Music is an inherently political medium. For every song about nothing, there is one that speaks of resistance and acts as a call to action. Throughout history and across cultures, music has been used to spread messages and tell stories. It has been proven time and time again that music has the power to shape and change culture.

Within the last century alone, several of these types of songs have been introduced. The song “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday is a fantastic example of this. While the anti-lynching song did not immediately cause laws to pass, it made the general non-Black public more aware of the atrocities faced by Black people in America. According to the article “Music and Social movements” by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “the impact of the song did play a part in efforts at changing social policy: some of the people who endorsed passage of federal anti-lynching laws sent recordings of “Strange Fruit” to members of Congress, presumably because they felt hearing it would produce an awakening of the legislators’ moral outrage.” “Strange Fruit” is still listened to today as an example of a song that created social change.

While most songs do not immediately call for legal change, songs of protest are essential for shifting cultural awareness and educating the general public on issues the artist feels are important. Dorian Lynskey in the book “33 Revolutions Per Minute” explains that “ The point of protest music is not to shift the world on its axis but to change opinions and perspectives, to say something about the times in which you live, and, sometimes, to find that what you’ve said speaks to another moment in history.” 

During the Vietnam War, many artists made songs publicly condemning the United States’ actions in the country. Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance is still talked about today due to his rendition of the national anthem. His manipulation of the guitar to make shrill elongated notes interrupted by the sounds of bombs showed the violence the American government and its military perpetuated against the people of Vietnam during the war. 

Protest songs are not unique to the United States. India has a long history of using music to express dissatisfaction with the current political landscape. The national anthem of India, titled “Jana Gana Mana,” was adapted from a poem to celebrate plurality in India. Oxford Languages defines pluralism as “a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.” The poem, and by extension the song, was a celebration of the diversity of people and thought in India after colonization. 

Taru Dalmia, the lead singer of the band Ska Vengers stated that “Music is a quintessential part of all many fundamental aspects of human life, and protest is no different. You will find that most protest movements and revolutionary movements have songs and their importance should not be underestimated. Music can effectively communicate feelings and forge a sense of unity, it can also galvanize people into action.” 

As long as there is injustice, there will be protest music. Many other genres such as rap, punk and folk have a history of being used to create social change. Songs like “Fuck Tha Police” by N.W.A and “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols has given a voice to the voiceless through the power of music. Music has and will continue to disrupt social norms and create change within our society.

Written by

Zach Perrier

Zach Perrier is a Viewpoints Editor for the Wooster Voice. He is from Mentor, Ohio and currently is a junior History major.