When we hear songs we like or ones with upbeat and catchy music, we usually nod our heads, tap our feet, sing, or even dance along. Music has integrated into everyone’s lives and serves as a beacon of hope and joy. It can also be crafted to capture frustration and trepidation, articulate issues, empower positive change while cultivating unity and justice. Music is like breathing, yet it can be a double-edged sword, piercing delight and smiles while sowing seeds of propaganda, indoctrination, incitement, and hatred.
We will examine a few countries that have used music as a medium to spread political messages and to stir violence, hatred, and enmity. While listening to their music, it is crucial to pay attention to its message and how dangerous it can be.
Source: UNITED TO END GENOCIDE
In 1994, violence sparked and the campaign of slaughtering began in Rwanda. In 100 days, about 800,000 were systematically killed by the Hutu majority, most of whom were minority Tutsi and moderate Hutu. At that time, the question about who attacked the president, a Hutu, remained unanswered. A French judge blamed a leader of a Tutsi rebel group—Paul Kagame— and his close associates for attacking the president. However, Mr. Kagame denied, stating that Hutu extremists planned this to find an excuse to exterminate Tutsi.
The divide between the Hutu and Tutsi was a result of economic power. The Hutus were farmers while the Tutsis were the nobles, owning cattle. Before the genocide happened, Germany and Belgium colonized Rwanda in 1884 and 1997 respectively, both supporting the Tutsi monarchy and perpetrating pro-Tutsi policy, which has contributed to the class division among those two ethnicities.
During World War II, the United Nations took over and urged Belgium to give independence and majority rule to Rwanda. When Belgium relinquished its control and power, the Hutu finally received emancipation, equality, and democracy, leaving the Tutsi in fear of retaliation.
Simon Bikindi—War Criminal
Music was one of the most powerful tools that were used to foster the genocide ideology of killing the Tutsi. Simon Bikindi was a prominent figure, using music to incite violence and hatred between the Tutsi and the Hutu.
“His songs called upon people to go and kill. Songs give morale and that’s what he did exactly,” says Dieudonne Munyeshoza, a musician who is the driving force of using music to promote reconciliation.“
After the genocide, Bikindi was arrested in the Netherlands and brought to an international criminal court, where he was accused of using artistic creativity to incite genocide. He was sentenced to 17 years. ”Bene Sebahinzi” (”Sons of the Father of the Farmers”) and ”Nanga Abahutu” were the two songs mentioned in his accusation of causing genocide.
Let’s listen to one of his songs that were mentioned in this indictment. While listening to “Nanga Abahutu,” what do you think is the message of the song? You may not be able to understand the language, but from the melody and vibe of the song, do you think it is sending a positive or negative message?
Bikindi never mentioned Tutsi in this song, and “Nanga Abahutu” (“I hate Hutus”) was written in 1992 to attack those Hutu “who breaks rank with other Hutus” and joins the Tutsi rebellion. This song explained the type of Hutus that he despised.
“I hate these Hutus, these de-Hutuized Hutus, who have renounced their identity, dear comrades.
I hate these Hutus, these Hutus who march blindly, like imbeciles.
This species of naïve Hutus who join a war without knowing its cause.
I hate these Hutus who can be brought to kill and who, I swear to you, kill Hutus, dear comrades.
And if I hate them, so much the better.”
From these lyrics, it is easy to see the virulence that Bikindi had toward those Hutus. However, during an interview in a Dutch jail, Bikindi said, ”The peasants were blind. They were killing each other, and the politicians were giving them 10 francs to go kill someone. When I sang ‘Nanga Abahutu’ and the rest, I was saying ‘Stop!’ I was asking everybody to stop the chaos, stop the killing.”
China’s One Belt, One Road Initiatives
With its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, China has become the backbone of the world, investing trillions of dollars in 65-115 countries. Those countries accounted for more than 30% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 62% of the world population, and 75% of known energy reserves. Strengthening trade, infrastructure, and investment are part of China’s intention to reroute global trade—all roads lead to China—and become the next superpower. So what is an effective way to spread awareness and greatness of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative? Music is.
Listening and watching the music video, we can see and hear the advantages of the Belt and Road initiative mentioned throughout the song with footages of economic development, infrastructure, and manufacturing. Shipping containers, smiling and dancing children, and machines were included in the music video to illustrate how beneficial the initiative is to other nations. The lyrics never once mentioned the adverse effect of the initiative like the debt trap, which is when countries cannot repay to China. For instance, the song includes “when Belt and road reach Puttalam coal-fired power plant, Sri Lankans no longer worry about high electricity bills” rather than highlights how Sri Lanka leased a port to China for 99 years because they couldn’t make repayment.
And with its persuasive lyrics, we can see how the listeners might highly appreciate this initiative. Another song has also composed and filmed, praising the positive economic impact of the Belt and Road by featuring children from all around the world.
There is no denying that North Korean children are being taught to worship their country ruler, Kim Jong-un. And music is a powerful medium to achieve that goal. Watching the video below, we can see the effectiveness of indoctrinating children and using them as propaganda. Their mind is like a blank piece of paper that can be painted and shaped by their society and politics.
Modern Musical Group
From “Our Comrade Kim Jong Un” to “We Know Only You,” songs are usually composed to build Kim’s “personality cult” and reinforce the idea that he is the best leader for bringing hope and unity to the country. North Korean modern music groups are the propaganda machine, playing a vital role in Kim Jong Un’s regime. These groups aim to bring North Korea to the international stage, and just like Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said, they try to send a message to other nations as well as to their homeland that North Korea is a modern, prosperous, and harmonious country.
From Rwanda to China to North Korea, music has played a major role in politics and society. And of course, many other countries have also used music with ulterior motives: exploiting people, igniting hatred, and stirring violence. This makes it more crucial to understand the underlying message of the music. So when you listen to a song next time, pay attention to the lyrics as well as the music video because you might hear the alerting sound of danger.
Written by: Makara Poy