Many musicians upheld the flag of social causes to alleviate suffering from war, civil rights, environmental abuse and homophobia. They have proved that music can be used as power change agent and as a medium for raising awareness on social issues. Choosing five out of the most iconic musicians is a task not many would be happy to do – but this is a personal favourites list.
1. John Lennon
Lennon is perhaps the most popular poster boy who promoted social change in general and world peace in particular, throughout his very musical career. This became even more pronounced during his solo years after the Beatles disbanded.
While ‘Imagine’ is my most favourite from his repertoire, ‘Give Peace A Chance’ is also noteworthy. This song that was written with the specific objective of ‘taking over from We Shall Overcome’ as an anthem of peace became the musical manifestation of the protests against the Vietnam War.
2. Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s influence as a musical icon has transcended the times when he began to make an impact with his songs. He was one of the lead performers at Concert for Bangladesh – organised by George Harrison in 1971 – the first big rock concert organised by a musician to aid a cause. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ his classic has been used as a protest anthem ever since its release in 1962. It was considered a civil rights anthem and became an anthem during the Vietnam anti-war movement and during Iraq anti-war protests in recent times. From the 1960s – when he was involved in the civil rights’ movement and participated in several protest rallies – to now – lovers of his music are drawn to his poetic lyrics. ‘The Times, They are a Changing’ is one song that comes to mind to illustrate the perfect amalgamation of poetry and music – the Bob Dylan way.
3. Joan Baez
I first heard Joan Baez’s version of ‘Blowin In The Wind’ and it was through her that I discovered Bob Dylan as a teenager. Her performance of “We Shall Overcome”, the civil rights anthem, made her own it. In 1989, after the Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing, Baez wrote and released the song “China” to condemn the Chinese government for its violent and bloody crackdown on thousands of student protesters who called for the establishment of democratic republicanism. Her life-long commitment to political and social activism in the fields of nonviolence, civil rights, human rights and the environment, coupled with her distinctive vocal style and political activism had a profound impact on popular music.
4. Roger Waters
In an interview, Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, had said, “The Wall is still relevant today: The loss of a father is the central prop on which ‘The Wall’ stands. As the years go by, children lose their fathers again and again, for nothing. You see it now with all these fathers, good men and true, who lost their lives and limbs in Iraq for no reason at all. I’ve done Bring The Boys Back Home in my encore on recent tours. It feels more relevant and poignant to be singing that song now than it did in 1979.” (Source: Wikipedia) Much of Roger Waters music is based on an anti-war message to the world which was driven by being haunted by the death of a father he never met in World War II. While he never fully came to terms with the tragedy, he channelized it in his music and outspoken lyrics. Want an example? Listen to “The Tide Is Turning..”
5. Sir Bob Geldof
The lead singer of a punk band, The Boomtown Rats, Sir Bob Geldof was knighted in 1986 and has also been nominated for two Nobel Peace Prizes. His anti-poverty efforts in Africa with the organisations Band Aid and Live Aid which have raised millions of dollars to lessen suffering.
He has engineered some of the biggest rock concerts the world has ever seen since 1984 to raise awareness and funds for famine relief. “Do they Know it’s Christmas?” is my personal favourite.
I would love to know which other musicians do you think I should have included as well…
Text by Aarti Kapur Singh