The power of music as a catalyst for change

By Louisa Bartoszek,

“We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

There is no denying the impressive emphatic battle cries of 16-year old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, during her UN speech about climate change last month will be remembered as one of the most powerful speeches in modern history.

Yet, when DJ Fatboy Slim, taking inspiration from fellow electronic musician David Scott, otherwise known as The Kiffness, sampled Thunberg’s speech during his DJ set in Gateshead on October 4, with his legendary synth club classic Right Here, Right Now, I couldn’t help thinking her speech had been elevated to an even higher level. Making her powerful words more memorable, more mainstream, more, dare I say it, momentous.

I have long been fascinated by the power of music and its ability to influence human emotion and behaviour. Particularly its extraordinary ability to galvanise a malaise, fatigued or frustrated society into action.

Music and social change have always been intimately related.

From Billie Holiday’s 1939 hit Strange Fruit, possibly the earliest modern protest song which ushered in genuine change and the beginning of the civil rights movement in the United States, to John Lennon’s Imagine, arguably one of the most celebrated and seminal pieces of music of all time as a symbol of the pursuit of world peace.

Protest songs have a long and rich pedigree influencing everything from race to sexuality to class politics.

Few songs evoke their era like the Specials’ melancholic and eerie track Ghost Town; a depiction of social breakdown that provided the soundtrack to an explosion of civil unrest in the UK. As the single climbed the charts in June 1981, Britain’s streets ignited into a blaze of riots and by July 10, Ghost Town was number one.

More recently and slightly more humorously, I was one of the millions of people in the UK who downloaded Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name in 2009 to propel the rebellious rock song to the top of the charts following a Facebook campaign by a part-time Essex DJ who thought it would be an amusing way to stop an X Factor winner from having a Christmas number one for a fifth consecutive year.  The nation chuckled. Simon Cowell probably did not.

Great songs about big issues focus minds, capture the zeitgeist and can change lives. Pure, triumphant sounding, unadulterated anthems which are rebellious, provocative and challenge the establishment.

Perhaps this is what the politically weary nations of the world need right now to revitalise society and voter apathy? Whether it be the opposition parties in the UK or the Democrats in the US, when general or presidential elections take place and the PR teams are planning their party election campaigns, perhaps what needs to be tabled at the creative brainstorming is the need for an absolutely banging anthem?

Actually, no. Forget I said that. No-one wants to see a rapping politician. Unless you are Barack Obama – the epitome of political cool. Or John Barnes, not a politician but a legendary footballer and nothing can beat his cameo rap in New Order’s World in Motion. A classic from my childhood and an iconic piece of football (soccer for the Americans reading this) history.

Back to Greta Thunberg, on the rare chance you see this, Fatboy Slim, aka Mr Norman Cook, is performing in Sweden from November 22-24. Get yourself a ticket and get yourself on stage. Now that would be quite the epic PR moment!

Louisa Bartoszek is Group Head of Communications, 20|30 Group and editorial board member of Influence magazine.

Photo by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash

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