Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

You are here

Designing Music-Based Conflict Transformation

The purpose of this post is to explain some objectives and goals that peacebuilding practitioners should integrate into the design of music-based conflict transformation projects, which are derived from cases in Europe, South America, and Africa.

Music and Empathy

When many people hear “armed conflict” and “music” in the same sentence, it is commonly thought that the two reinforce each other. Historical events through the 20th century and beyond exemplify this correlation, that music has been often used to foment violent opposition against a government or militarize a nationalist movement. The lesson here isn’t that music is reserved for designs of incitation and militarization, but that it is an immensely powerful tool for engaging the human spirit. In fact, it is because of these intense reactions from marginalized individuals in fragile environments around the world that peacebuilding practitioners should closely examine music as a tool for peace.

 

Music Therapy vs. Identity Transformation through Music

A more basic way to implement this in a fragile post-conflict environment is through music therapy. Musicians Without Borders’ (MwB) project “From Woman to Woman”, enacted in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2009, is an inspiringly moving story where a group of women who had been disconsolate experienced a dramatic emotional upheaval upon performing the svedalinke, a local musical lament, and were entirely rid of this grief.[1] A similar project conducted by MwB in 2004 in Rwanda aims to rehabilitate children experiencing trauma. Although these programs don’t quite transform violent attitudes into constructive ones, they eliminate grief and trauma that could otherwise metamorphose into armed violence.[2]

While these therapeutic activities have their advantages, for conflict prevention we should appeal to a wider demographic in which we aim for the following objectives:

-The communal audience will perceive the opposing group as a non-threat. Communal audience can be understood as inhabitants who didn’t attend the event but are exposed to the changed perceptions of someone who did. 

-The musical initiative will be replicated by other community-led ensembles.

These two objectives both contribute to one goal:

-The inhabitants of the given community or region will coexist in peaceful harmony despite opposing backgrounds.

No formal document could be found outlining these desired results, and project implementers rarely distinguish the shorter term objectives and longer term goals. Instead, recorded impacts of six projects were examined and dissected for actionable objectives.

The Juggernaut Transformation in Kindia, Guinea

Perhaps the clearest and most radical transformation to date is that of the Guinean former violent gang Bouyan Bouyan Style, who wielded a dominating influence over their community, who are now well-respected peacemaking disc jockeys and music producers with their own radio station KaniaZik FM.[3] Having exchanged their firearms for literal instruments of change, they are even more potent in effecting change, without compromising their tenacity. The members of Bouyan Bouyan Style simply wanted a voice, and the only way they knew how to achieve this was through violence; the advent of music empowered them to be more influential and respected in Kindia as peacemaking leaders instead of violent gang members who motivate violent youth in other communities to become musical leaders like themselves.[4]

Northern Ireland, Brazil & Sierra Leone: Standard Successes

Of course, not all beneficiaries are exactly ‘boiling’ with animosity but rather have more latent sentiments, which need to be addressed as well. This type of transformation only requires that individuals who were previously resented by a large part of their community are instead regarded as musicians.

Researchers refer to this desideratum as “street-level visibility” or the “ripple effect” of communal musicians, where the aforementioned identity transformation is accompanied in a reduction of prejudices against them, in the eyes of the audience.[5][6] A discernible change in the communal audience is thus more important than that in the performative audience, the former being composed of citizens who haven’t yet been directly exposed to the transformed artists and instead rely on apocryphal heresay to characterize them.

For instance, in Northern Ireland, citizens exposed to Ulster-Scots in musical events and workshops returned to the communal audience where they conveyed their newly positive perception of this resented group. In Brazil, the hybrid musical form maracatu de baque virado is used by community-organized beat bands in Recife and Olinda because it synthesizes both African and local musical elements and thus offers musical common ground for oppositional youth.[7]

It’s one thing to have one’s perception of an opposing group transformed; it’s another thing entirely to incur this perception change and then directly participate in music ensembles to change those of the remaining communal audience. Peacelinks in Sierra Leone is such a group of ensembles that goes mobile through the national countryside to alter the fear the inhabitants there have of war-affected children by incorporating former child soldiers and normal youth alike in their musical shows.[8] The organization emphasizes that non-former combatants participate in the ensembles so they can take their stories home and inform their communities of how similar these ex-soldiers really are.[9]

Sudan and Bosnia-Herzegovina: Detecting Long-Term Successes and Failures

The findings from the Wau Nour community, 2-3 miles from Kassala, Sudan, color a remarkable success story where a disparate community of dislocated individuals from 29 different tribes, some oppositional organically metamorphosed into a coherent community of Wau Nour inhabitants by 2003.[10]

Now how did they accomplish this by themselves? They convened most Fridays out in a field just outside the settlement and played music together.[11] The empathy created from participants sharing their music opened up avenues for dialogue between inhabitants over the subsequent week[12] In a sense, these musical encounters served as both a reprieve from the dense daily interactions and an ongoing generator for empathy to nourish the dialogue throughout the week.[13] Progress towards the realization of goals like peaceful coexistence and identification with the community of Wau Nour first and foremost even with over 29 tribes represented was therefore very incremental: “In this way, positive changes did not require a single huge and painful readjustment, but could be done in small doses over time.”[14]

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, on the other hand, the Most Dusa choir met criticism even among its members after its conception in following the Balkan conflict. The Most Dusa choir aimed to resurrect a shared history of peaceful yet separate societal coexistence between different religious groups before the conflict.[15] Criticism of Most Dusa illustrates the potential musical activities possess to delegitimize music as a means for conflict transformation in a certain context, if they attempt to directly actualize goals before achieving the objectives that prefigure them.

The Method May Be in the Music

An arising final lesson in accomplishing the objectives of replicability and identity transformation is the need to remain sensitive to the music itself. This topic requires leagues of interdisciplinary examination, but certain precepts can be gleaned from the aforementioned cases. 

First is the performative audience’s access to the transformed identities of musicians within the musical fabric. In the case of Most Dusa, the formal choral apparatus isn’t conducive to dialogue between the performative audience and the singers, compared to smaller-scale shows like those of Peacelinks in Sierra Leone which incorporate channels of communication into their performative experience, and to a greater extent full blown musical immersion, like the field encounters in Wau Nour or the street festivals in Recife and Olvida.[16][17][18][19]

The second precept lies in the musical dynamics of the genre(s): styles like hip-hop repurpose the vigor of violent youth as in Guinea and Uganda as well as captures poets, break dancers, and musical technicians; while hybrid ensembles can be invaluable if each song synthesizes stylistic elements from opposing identities as in maracatu, yet can rigidify identities against one another and deter replication if each identity is represented by a different set of songs as in Most Dusa’s repertoire.[20][21][22][23]




[1] Softić, Badema. "The Music of Srebrenica after the War. Attitudes and Practice among Surviving Bosniacs, Music Therapy, and Music Works in the Name of Srebrenica." Narodna umjetnost-Hrvatski časopis za etnologiju i folkloristiku 1 (2011): 173-174

[2] Ibid

[3] Médam, Benjamin. “From Violent Youth Gangs to Disk-Jockeying Role Models”. The Common Ground Blog, July 2013

[4] Ibid

[5] Vanspauwen, Bart. "Visualization of subliminal strategies in world music: An ethnomusicological analysis of socio-cultural transformations through maracatu and mangue beat in the city of Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil." Image & Narrative 10 (2005).

[6] Lance, Kathryn. "Breakin' Beats and Building Peace: Exploring the Effects of Music and Dance in Peacebuilding." (2012): 119

[7] Vanspauwen, Bart. "Visualization of subliminal strategies in world music: An ethnomusicological analysis of socio-cultural transformations through maracatu and mangue beat in the city of Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil." Image & Narrative 10 (2005).

[8] Kanyako, Vandy. “Using Creative Arts to Deglamorize War: Peacelinks in Sierra Leone”. Arts and Peace

[9] Ibid

[10] Bergh, Arild. “Emotions in Motion: Transforming Conflict and Music.” Music and the Mind: Essays in Honour of John Sloboda (2011): 368-373

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Robertson, Craig. "Music and conflict transformation in Bosnia: constructing and reconstructing the normal." Music and Arts in Action 2.2 (2010): 38-55.

[16] Ibid

[17] Kanyako, Vandy. “Using Creative Arts to Deglamorize War: Peacelinks in Sierra Leone”. Arts and Peace

[18] Bergh, Arild. “Emotions in Motion: Transforming Conflict and Music.” Music and the Mind: Essays in Honour of John Sloboda (2011): 368-373

[19] Vanspauwen, Bart. "Visualization of subliminal strategies in world music: An ethnomusicological analysis of socio-cultural transformations through maracatu and mangue beat in the city of Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil." Image & Narrative 10 (2005).

[20] Ibid

[21] Médam, Benjamin. “From Violent Youth Gangs to Disk-Jockeying Role Models”. The Common Ground Blog, July 2013

[22] Lance, Kathryn. "Breakin' Beats and Building Peace: Exploring the Effects of Music and Dance in Peacebuilding." (2012)

[23] Robertson, Craig. "Music and conflict transformation in Bosnia: constructing and reconstructing the normal." Music and Arts in Action 2.2 (2010): 43

I think that music therapy has the potential to be an extremely effective element of peace building efforts.  Music therapy is successfully utilizes in a variety of contexts.  For example, music therapy is utilized in children’s hospitals to “encourage the self-expression of thoughts and feelings related with illness/hospitalization, help children process and work through traumatic experiences associated with hospitalization, facilitate positive self-esteem and positive body image, provide a sense of community within the hospital environment, encourage the development of healthy strategies for coping”.

[1]

 

Some of the most distinguished musicians of our time have publically pledged their support and belief in the power of music therapy.  For example, Yo Yo Ma, praised a music therapy program for veterans during his keynote speech at the Americans for the Arts 26th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy.  MA remarked that “as music therapists know, by combining two things many don’t usually associate, music and health care – Arthur [the head of a music therapy program for veterans] has discovered a new path to healing for these veterans….For me, the work Arthur Bloom is doing, responding artistically to this pressing need, is one of the great examples of Citizen Musicianship, musicians engaged at the intersection of art and need. Citizen Musicians strive to transcend technique, demonstrate empathy with every listener and take action to serve others through music”

[2]

.

As the article suggests utilizing music therapy on a larger scale for peace building requires a vast amount of multidisciplinary research. I believe that the most effective model for providing music therapy is dependent on the individual’s circumstance and goals of the program.  How do you think music therapy would be most effectively implemented in a particular conflict? Do you think that music therapy is worth investing in or do you think other programs offer more promise?

 




[1]

"Creative Arts Therapies at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia." Goals and Benefits of Art and Music Therapy. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 2013. Web. Oct. 2013. <http://www.chop.edu/service/child-life-education-and-creative-arts-thera....

[2]

MA, Yo Yo. "BERKSHIRE ON STAGE." BERKSHIRE ON STAGE. N.p., n.d. Web. Oct. 2013. <http://berkshireonstage.com/2013/04/12/yo-yo-ma-talks-about-the-place-wh....