Welcome to The Mantle’s third virtual roundtable, and the second in our series on the roles of individuals in times of conflict. In our previous discussion, "Pens and Swords," three talented writers addressed their roles in the face of violence. In "Future Weapons," we pose the same question to four musicians from around the world whose music cuts across not only genres, but also transcends boundaries and cultures.
The musician plays a unique role in times of conflict, a role that is not always obvious. The approaches musicians take in the face of conflict are unique to the person and to the situation, as Omékongo Dibinga (USA/Democratic Republic of Congo), Obaash (Tehran, Iran), Sheba (USA/Ethiopia), and Aaron Shneyer (Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine) attest. As we shall see, conflict is not always marked by bullets and bombs. Structural violence caused by unseen forces and tension amongst people forced to live through difficult circumstances represent conflict of another kind. But this conflict hardly escapes the mind of the musician.
The backgrounds and experiences of Omékongo, Obaash, Sheba, and Aaron may differ, but they all share the conviction that a musician cannot stand idly by in the face of injustice. They must do what musicians do best: with their beats and lyrics they move the masses on the dance floor, lift spirits, and hopefully move them to become better actors in society.
To follow the roundtable that asks, “What is the role of the musician in a conflict zone?” see my introductory remarks below. Then click on each of the participants to read their essays and responses. At the bottom of this page you can view my concluding remarks. Letters regarding this roundtable are welcome and can be sent to letters [at] mantlethought.org (subject: Letter%20re%3A%20Future%20Weapons) (letters(at)mantlethought.org).
As an added bonus, MP3s of music by all of our participants (and special guest Bob Marley) can be heard here.
- Shaun Randol, Editor in Chief. October, 26, 2010
illustrations by Sarah D. Schulman
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The American rapper Bomani “D’Mite” Armah once said that “music is the language of spirits.” In a conflict zone, however, music can literally be the language of life and death. Conflict can take many forms. Many in the realm of social justice are most likely to think of conflict zones as war zones such as those in Sudan, Burma, or the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.). The truth of the matter is that the term “conflict” applies to many aspects of society.
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Throughout history we have seen that some of the greatest works of art were created under pressure. Take, for example, rock and roll music during the 1960s and 1970s while the United States was at war with Vietnam, or great literature produced during World War II. Some of this artwork was more effective in fighting a cause than social and human rights activists were. Why?
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Life is a dangerous proposition. At any moment in time, any number of unfortunate things can cut us down and end us in an instant. This unpleasant reality is something we human beings would like to distract ourselves from. That is perfectly reasonable (who wants to think about that?). But the uncertainty of our lives is a truth. Ultimately, there is not one aspect of our lives that we can be certain of; this is the conflict that lies at the essence of humanity. It is why we bother fighting for our food.
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On September 21, 2008, Heartbeat Jerusalem,* a community of Israeli and Palestinian musicians using music to build understanding and create change, held its first concert ever. For nine months our first group of 12 Israeli and Palestinian musicians, ages 13-18, defied the status quo of separation, hatred, and fear. We met once a week for eight months to study and create music together. Over 300 Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals attended their debut concert at the stunning YMCA-Three Arches Concert Hall in Jerusalem.