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Rebel Music: The artists that became activists


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Music is one of the greatest weapons of expression we have - for feelings, emotions and, of course, demands.

Music has been woven into our social fabric since it was created, as a reflection of the times and also as action against, a vehicle for non-violent change.

New MTV show Rebel Music shows the power of music, in protests and social transformation, in our modern world. While music is an escape in much of the West for artists in Iran, Turkey or Afghanistan it is so much more, as a tool for their activism and connecting their messages of revolution with a wider audience.

According to Masters of Persia, an Iranian heavy metal band forced to flee their homeland because of their music, "Metal lets you express the anger that is a part of society".

It is this ‘expression’ of anger that leads to political elites suppressing the music we take for granted here.

Iran is definitely one of the most dangerous countries to be a metal artist since it is forbidden by the regime. MerajMOP, the lead singer of Masters of Persia, was flogged 130 times after being arrested while recording as he was accused of being a satanic worshipper.

They finally decided to leave the country and continue spreading their peaceful message from exile, hoping to go back any time soon and be free to express their thoughts through their music.  

It is not much easier for Soosan Fairoz, as the first and only female rapper in Afghanistan. There is no doubt she is one of the bravest women in the country.

She discovered rap music at the age of nine when she was told that people in the USA achieved freedom through it. She never stopped rapping for the freedom of women regardless of death threats the constant threat of reprisals.

In Afghanistan not only is music (not just rap) considered satanic and anti-religious it is considered by many people (including the Taliban regime) immoral for women to make music at all.

Soosan Fairoz is a vocal feminist voice in a nation where simply being female is a often a threat to your life.

She taught a lesson to the whole world through her contribution to TEDex talks in L.A. where her friend begged her to stay. She, instead, refused to do so and returned to her country believing that there is a lot to fight for still in Afghanistan.   

Music itself will not be the performer of the change, although it might inspire the listeners to take some action.

This is why the role of music in protests is so important. Awareness rising is the main aim for artists who aim to give voice to those sectors of society who are powerless.

The only way their struggle is out of the shadows is through the music, and the way for their voice to be heard is through the messages of songs that spread among the public.

This is what Franz Waln, Inez Jasper and many other Native American musicians aim through their lyrics.

The social unrest of indigenous people in North America is an open secret.

These communities are often excluded from the decision-making processes and feel like their demands are never heard.

An example of this is the construction of the XL Pipeline across their reserves, which implies the destruction of their homes and ancient lands.

In order to mobilise the communities, young artists like Franz or Inez decided to channel their anger and demands through their music skills and brought their people together for the protection of their land.  

The power of the collective action is acknowledged by these musicians. In Inez Jasper's words: "I know that I am one person and I can't change the world, but hopefully I can use my part as an artist to influence my audience and maybe together we can make some change".  

Music, hence, is used as a powerful tool for mobilising the people for a cause.

It is a weapon for fighting without violence, employing the power of words and unity against the power of bullets and violence.

Music has been a promoter of change since ancient times, as a weapon stronger than fear and threats.

And those musicians who speak out in order to give voice to the powerless are the real fighters and heroes of humanity. 

Find more of the Rebel Music series on Youtube here

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