Sunday, September 23, 2012

Music and Politics

Do not let the title of this post fool you. I have no intention of dissecting the current political race in our country. I have learned that such discussions polarize people and lead to an overall bad experience.

On September 23, 1997, U2 performed a concert in war-torn Sarajevo. I recently read an article that talks about the 15-year anniversary of that event which occurs today. I think we all are aware of, or have seen, U2’s (particularly Bono’s) humanitarian aid over the years. This has not prevented some snide criticisms in the past. Despite these misgivings, I personally applaud the group for what they have done to encourage people with music. 

In connection with this moving event in 1997, Bono made a statement that struck me as worth contemplating.

"If there's any message, it's a simple one, a banal one...It's that music is beyond politics." - Bono
Music is beyond politics?
That certainly makes for a powerful statement, but is Bono right?
We have the tendency to call the music the universal language. We fail to realize that not all music is universal. A Haydn symphony does not speak to Amazonian natives in the same way it does to us. Every culture has it’s own unique musical flavor and tradition that has been developed and practiced by its peoples for ages. In this sense we might say that the idea of music is universal.
The concert given by U2 was not meant to introduce their music to a new audience. The people knew who they were and knew their music. In that concert, U2 attempted to return normalcy to the lives of the devastated Bosnians. They demonstrated the ability to lift people’s spirits with music, but did they transcend politics?
Can music transcend politics?
In dealing with politics we hardly think of unity, harmony, or solidarity. All of these are crucial in the pursuit of musical excellence. Politics in today’s world puts a nasty taste in our mouths and does little to put us at ease. 
I find it hard to substantiate Bono’s claim. In the circumstances surrounding his visit to Bosnia, he was not on a political mission. He was there to encourage the impoverished people through music. However, the concert was attended by people of all backgrounds, including many involved in both sides of the conflict. My issue is the ephemeral aspect of the peace provided. Yes, music can bring hurt and warring peoples together, but does it really solve anything? Once the music is done, what has changed to really heal the political scars? 
Not to instigate, but think of our own country. Yes, a Democrat and a Republican may agree on their love of the music of Bach, but the two still disagree when the Bach cantata is over on the hot-button issues.
I certainly believe in the power of music to unify, but it appears that the delicate peace is often short-lived. In 1997, the conflict in Bosnia was not yet finished, and tensions exist even today. My fear is that music only provides a temporary distraction from the actual problem occurring in politics, the problem of actually accomplishing some semblance of unity. If music is really beyond politics, it is only a temporary elevation. Until a sure political footing is reached, even music will suffer. 

No comments: