Music and Humanitarianism: The Power of Music in Politics


The other day in my humanitarianism class we were assigned a reading dealing with celebrity intervention in human rights issues. The article focused mainly around Bono and his activism in the RED charity, which donates to AIDS victims in Africa, and the Band Aid concert of 1985 in which a variety of musicians participated in a concert whose proceeds went to supporting victims of the famine in Ethiopia. For this piece, I originally thought I would venture in to the moral implications of celebrity endorsements, but with that seeming a tad bit of a heavy topic, I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight the immense number of music and human rights issues ranging from artists who dedicate their lives to a cause, to those who devote a song or two, and even to the international artists who have been imprisoned for what they have to say. Hopefully we will each have a newfound appreciation for what music can accomplish and perhaps ponder for a moment or two the implications of these actions in a global context. Bono (RED)Let’s start with the most recognizable face: Bono of U2. Inspired by The Secret Policeman’s Ball (which will be touched on next) Bono decided it was time to pursue his next venture of saving lives. His first step was to sing on the Band Aid single Do They Know It’s Christmas?/Feed the World. From there, he began as an activist for relief in Africa, focusing especially on the AIDS pandemic. We can all recall those famed (RED) t-shirts that were the hot accessory to have -- you can thank Bono for making them especially cool. According to their website,, a total of $200 million has been raised to fight AIDS. In 2002 he continued his quest by establishing DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) an organization which encourages Americans to contact their senators, legislators and others to voice their opinions on HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa. The list seems to go on and on with all the good-doings of Bono, including the endless list of dignitaries, politicians and others which he has met with to voice his opinion. But don’t worry, he hasn’t become entirely political.  Bono’s been known to dedicate his performance of Walk On (check out a fan video here) to Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi (a role model of mine who is more than deserving of a Google search for those who are curious). He has also collaborated with Alicia Keys for Don’t Give Up Africa! whose proceeds go to the Keep a Child Alive foundation. While he may not be in the center of the spotlight for the time being, I have good faith in Bono to keep on what he seems to do best, help others and raise awareness.

Policemans BallAs promised, here is a brief history of The Secret Policeman’s Ball. The project originally begun during the mid 70’s, mainly as a comedy gala to raise funds for Amnesty International through their live performances and tapes. It eventually evolved to include musicians and performers along with their comedic foundations. In 2012, the ball was held at Radio City Music Hall to commemorate Amnesty International’s fiftieth anniversary.  It included quite an array of comedians from Kristin Wiig and Russell Brand to Sarah Silverman and Ben Stiller, while also featuring celebrities like Jon Stewart, Paul Rudd and even Liam Neeson.  In addition, performances by Mumford & Sons, Reggie Watts and Coldplay clearly showed this to be an all-around event. Unfortunately this year’s ball just passed in the UK but keep an eye out for promising sketches and even more promising performances, all for an excellent cause.

Pussy_Riot_by_Igor_MukhinThis sounds all fine and dandy -- good people supporting a good cause. But what you may or may not be aware of is the latest hot button issue for Amnesty International: the imprisonment of Pussy Riot.  No, that’s not an autocorrect, Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk-rock band who are famed for wearing their neon colored balaclavas, using only nicknames, and having “guerrilla performances” in unusual, high profile places which are then edited into their music videos. Their songs deal with a range of social topics including feminism, LGBT rights and most controversially, opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a man they see as a dictator.

This is exactly where the trouble begins. On February 21, 2012, five members of the 11 all-female collaboration staged one of their performances on the alter of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Stopped by security guards for singing a song of protest, two of the women, being found guilty of “hooliganism” are now serving sentences in “notoriously brutal penal colonies” according to Amnesty’s website.  Amnesty claims these women as prisoners of conscious, “a person imprisoned for holding political or religious views not tolerated by the government of the state in which they live”, and are demanding their freedom.

Learn more and take action here by signing your name on Amnesty International’s petition to free Pussy Riot:  And check out the video made from the incident that sparked a revolution:


I applaud you and thank you Reader for skimming and/or reading through my rant and summation but to top it all off and to appease those who, much like myself, skip straight to the end here’s a collection of some songs, in no particular order,  dedicated to human rights issues that hopefully spark a bit of justice in all of us.

Music videos with a Message”- A collection of videos compiled by Amnesty International

Living Darfur- Mattafix


War- Bob Marley


Give Peace a Chance- John Lennon


Do They Know it’s Christmas/Feed the World -Band Aid


Toast to Freedom- Various Artists