07 September 2009

talkin' 'bout a revolution

Music is an integral element of revolution. Many songs are born out of times where there has been a struggle for political justice and social liberation. From Vande Mataram in India to Le Marseillaise in France to We Shall Overcome in America, songs of freedom hold a special place because they signify something worth fighting for. The 1960s were a turbulent time in recent history and probably marks the entry of environmentalism in the main-stream. It has now been 40 years since the Woodstock music festival which saw some of the best musicians of that time perform for a crowd nearly half a million strong, and many of the ideas, philosophies, and dreams that grew from those fields in Bethel, New York are still paving the way today. More than just a concert, the event became a stand against war, a peaceful revolution, and a cultural forum for ideas and positive global change--including the environmental movement.

That was a time filled with turmoil but yet drenched in optimism and faith that change will come. I'm innately too much of a realist to ever be a flower child for much too long, but the music of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young etc rate much higher on my playlist than Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones ever will.

Apart from the music with social messages that came out from the sixties, there were also several other environmental warnings that triggered the movement. Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring which was published in 1962 which highlighted the hazardous effects of pesticide use served as the tipping point. Out of the same era also came James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis and Paul Ehrlich's book The Population Bomb. Other famous names of that era are E.O Wilson, Lester Brown, David Suzuki, Ralph Nader - all environmental pioneers, blowing the clarion for this fragile earth long before Al Gore, Raj Pachauri or any one else.

Scientific evidence of climate change was already being found back then which spurred on the social activism that coincided with the Vietnam War and exploded into the hippie-movement and culminated in Woodstock. The voices of Woodstock were strong, clear, optimistic, perhaps even idealistic but they believed with many of them still active in the environmental movement today. Does music have the power to change? Do we need another Woodstock to shake things up? Do we even believe so purely anymore? Does art for revolution's sake even exist?

Whether music is a tool of activism or a precursor to action is a question to be answered. Whether or not any form of music can change the world is perhaps out there for debate. What is certain though is that music has always inspired the people who actually do change the world.

Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom
'Cause all I ever have: redemption songs
- Bob Marley


Alex Aylett said...

Nice post. I riffed on a similar theme here http://openalex.blogspot.com/2009/10/soundtrack-for-green-revolution.html.

Since then I've been trying to put together a Climate Change revolution playlist. Any suggestions?

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

Hello alex, apologies that it has taken so long to get back to you. On my playlist, Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi and What a wonderful world - Louis Armstrong would figure. What about you?

Alex Aylett said...

Hey Akhila,
good to hear from you. I've re-posted your songs and replied here: http://tinyurl.com/yhmtqev