It’s Earth Day Eve, Canada is in the midst of yet another federal election campaign and I’m thinking about the role of songwriters in a democracy.
Last fall, I had the good fortune to hear Canadian singer-songwriter, Jon Brooks, perform at a music industry conference. At one point during his set, he said* that while he didn’t feel it was his job to tell people how they should vote, he did feel that it was part of his job to tell people to vote. To me, that felt like a rare oasis of meaningfulness in the midst of a desert of three days of music people talking “business” (which apparently has something to do with making money – I’m not sure, I kept tuning out during those parts).
I’m also thinking of something Michael Franti said* at a concert several years ago in Toronto. He told a compelling story about a fan who asked him not to go perform at a prison because the people there (in particular, a man who had harmed a member of the fan’s family) did not deserve to hear such wonderful music. Michael Franti said he thought long and hard about that request and came up with this response: I don’t play my music to reward or punish anyone, I do it in the hope that they might feel something.
I believe that this is the role of songwriters in a democracy – to write songs and perform them with the intention of engaging people’s hearts and minds: to present different points of view, to stir up questions and emotions like hope, outrage, curiosity, longing, pain and joy. I believe that the more we feel and the more we think about the issues facing us, the more likely we are to take action: at the polls, in our communities, in our hearts and in our daily lives.
So, for what it’s worth, I urge you to vote – every chance you get. And if you’re a songwriter, (or a photographer, an artist, a poet, a novelist, a blogger, a dancer, an actor, a playwright, a designer, a comedian), I urge you to use your creative gifts and put them out into the world in the hope that someone who experiences your work will feel something.
Inspiration is contagious. I caught it from Jon Brooks and Michael Franti**. I hope you’ll catch it from me. And I’d love to know how many people you inspire.
Here’s a song from me about voting and hope:
P.S. The title of this post is also the title of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy song, Music and Politics.
*I’m paraphrasing here. I hope I have accurately captured the meaning of what Jon Brooks and Michael Franti said; the main point, though, is that this is what I understood from what each of them said and it was deeply meaningful to me.
**And a whole bunch of other people who unfortunately don’t fit into this brief blog post. I’ll find opportunities to write about more of the people who inspire me – all in good time.