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The 20th century has been characterized by not only huge advances by the human civilization but also periods of turbulent wars and conflicts between various parties. These conflicts include: civil wars, civil rights and freedom movements and their occurrence is not limited to specific geographical locations.
While these conflicts were primarily characterized by war, bloodshed and huge losses in human life, music also played a role in the conflicts. Music is hugely regarded as the universal language that traverses over cultural boundaries and nations thus unifying the human race.
Music is believed to have the ability to evoke sentiments ranging from happy sensual emotions to sad and enraged feelings. As an art, music has evolved together with man from a humble mostly percussion beginning to complicated symphonies that engage many instruments.
In conflicts, music has served as a tool both for spreading messages as well as encouraging people to keep up the struggle. This paper shall set out to articulate the role of music in specific civil wars and freedom Movements of Europe and America. The paper shall focus on music styles, instruments and the artists of the particular political period. The impacts of music, whether negative or positive, in the political period shall then be highlighted.
Music in Wars and Freedom Movements
- The Italian Resistant Movement
One of the resistance movements in which music played a huge role was the anti-fascist resistance movement in Italy. The Italian Resistant Movement was formed following the ascendancy into power by the Fascist ruler Mussolini.
This movement sang the song Bella Ciao during the Second World War as they revolted against the Fascist ruler Mussolini. The Bella Ciao is defined by Bessel and Schumann (2003) as “new lyrics on an old folk tune” and it is the song about a male partisan who waves goodbye to his lover as he joins the Resistance to fight for socialism and freedom. Bella Ciao was originally a traditional song from the repertoire of the paddy-field workers of Lombardy.
It was adopted and adapted by anti-fascist partisans and it became the popular anthem of Italians resisting the German take-over of their country. The author of the Bella Ciao is unknown but the song was written to inspire the left-wing anti-fascist fighters.
Cheles and Sponza (2001) assert that for the partisans, the reworked fork ballad (Bella Ciao) served to unify peasants, artisans, urban and rural people under the banner of a shared ideology. The lyrics to the Bella Ciao include lines like “if I die fighting as a partisan, you must come and bury me” (Bessel & Schumann, 2003).
Another line reads “Bury me there, up in the mountains, shade my grave with a lovely flower, so all the people who pass that way Will say ‘Oh see that lovely flower! Ah that’s the flower of the partisan fighter’” (Bessel & Schumann, 2003). This points to the fact that the partisans were aware of the reality of death in their struggle.
The song inspired the anti-fascist fighters that their deaths would not be in vain as they would be remembered as the fighter’s who “died for freedom’s sake”. The song served as a great motivator for the anti-fascist fighters who were mostly outlawed by Mussolini’s regime.
- Giovinezza By the Fascist Movement
In Mussolini’s Italy, the anti-fascist movement was not the only party to employ the use of music as the fascist movement also made use of music to further their agenda. A particularly powerful song by the Fascists was “Giovinezza” which was composed in 1909 by Giuseppe Blanc.
Giovinezza (which translates to Youth) was a hymn that was originally chanted in the First World War by Italian troops. The version of Giovinezza that was used by Mussolini’s regime was composed by Salvator Gotta and its lyrics were abridged to play on fascist themes. Giovinezza became the official song of the fascist movement during Mussolini’s regime and it went on to gain the position of new national anthem (Falasca-Zamponi, 2000).
The aim of Giovinezza was to reinforce the position of Mussolini as the leader of the Fascist Movement and of Italy. Indeed, it placed Mussolini as the central hero with the refrain of the song acclaiming Mussolini with the fascist hurrah “Eia, Eia, Alala”. Giovinezza included lyrics such as “Swear fealty to Mussolini” highlighting the indoctrinating nature of the song.
Youth spiritually infused fascism and gave Mussolini who was the self proclaimed representative of youth the right to lead Italy. For the Italian Fascist regime, youth was central and of essential concern and Fascism was portrayed as a movement of the young and daring. Koon (1985) articulates that according to the Fascist regime, Italy would under fascism fulfill its “glorious destiny as a youthful and virile nation struggling against the decadent and fossilized remnants of the old Europe for its rightful heritage” (p.16).
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The choice of “Giovinezza” as the Fascist anthem clearly points to the fat that youth was a key myth of the movement. The song includes words exhorting youth such as “youth, youth, spring of beauty, in the hardship of life, your song rings and goes”. As a political tool, Giovinezza helped to advance the myth of the leader as infallible father figure and encouraged the formation of youth groups. Following the defeat of Mussolini, Giovinezza was banned in Italy. To the present time, “Giovinezza” remains banned in Italy and a person stands risk of imprisonment for merely singing the song.
- France Socialist – “Internationale”
The Internationale is hugely credited to be the main socialist anthem. The “Internationale” was written by the French Poet Eugene Pottier in 1971. The piece was set to music by Pierre de Geyter, a Lille textile worker and it was first sung in Lille in 1888. The lyrics of the song portray the state and the law as the enemy of the worker.
While the song was mostly used by Socialist workers, it was also taken up by the military. In particular, the song was used in the First World War by soldiers expressing despair and disillusionment. Sweeney (2001b) reveals that mutinous troops sang the “Internationale” and waved red flags to express bitterness and help instigate further dissent.
Portis (2004) notes that the success of the Internationale is due to its stirring lyrics and the equally uplifting music written by Pierre Degeyter. The Internationale was favored by the socialists since it appealed to the concrete concerns of the poor and powerless who were exploited by the tyrants.
The song contains words such as “Arise ye prisoners of starvation! Arise ye Wretched of the earth! For justice thunders condemnation, A better World’s in birth” (Portis, 2004, p.32). Portis (2004) hails the Internationale as the most important vehicle for the spread of local socialist messages.
The Internationale inspired a religious-like fervor unlike any simple song of political protest and it captured the social imagination of generations. The Internationale is one of the very few militant songs sang by working people and socialists in France that continues to be used to the present day. Portis (2004) states that to many French people, the song evokes memories of the heroic days of labor struggle.
- Hasta Siempre Che Quevera
In the course of the 20th century, South America was home to a number of revolutions which resulted in governments being overthrown. Castro’s regime came to be as a result of the 1959 revolution which resulted in Fidel Castrol becoming leader of Communist Cuba.
Following this revolutionist victory, songwriters began to write specifically in praise of the revolution and its heroes. One of the most notable songwriters was Carlos Puebla who was well known for writing simple but melodic songs that exhorted the deeds and personalities of the new Castro regime.”Hasta Siempre, Commandante” was a rapturous ode to Che Guevara and it was written by Carlos Puebla on the departure of the Argentinean guerrilla-doctor to Bolivia for revolutionary struggle (Sweeney, 2001).
The title of the song is from Che Guevara’s popular saying “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” which translates to “Until Victory Always”. The song is about the legacy of Che Guevara and his iconic role in the Cuban revolution. The song was styled after the trovadores favored by old-fashioned traveling minstrels who plied their musical trade across Cuba in the early part of the 20th century.
The main instruments used by the Trovadores were acoustic guitars and the bass guitar. Carlos Puebla’s ode to Che Guevara gave the genre a political and grittier edge. According to Sweeney (2001), the song was written in memory of Che Guevara and for the struggle that immortalized him.
The song pays tribute to Che Guevara with the lyrics including words like “We learned to love you, from history’s heights, where the sun of your bravery, laid siege to death” (Sweeney, 2001). To the present time, Hasta Siempre stirs up the revolutionary spirit that Che Guevara represented. As a matter of fact, the song was used as a backdrop to a film about Pinochet’s coup in Chile (Sweeney, 2001).
This paper set out to discuss music that was used in various civil wars and freedom movements in the 20th century. Specific songs that were used in the Italian Resistant Movement, the Italian Fascist Movement, the French Socialist and the Cuban revolution have been documented.
From the analysis presented in this paper, it is clear that music was used as a tool to inspire as well as to make the audience favorably disposed to certain views or even spread propaganda. The Italian Resistant Movement used the song Bella Ciao in their fight against fascism while the Fascist Movement used Giovinezza to indoctrinate the masses to the Fascist ideals.
The “Internationale” was used as a vehicle to spread the socialist message in French as well as by workers protesting against the government and their employers. The Hasta Siempre praised the iconic communist revolutionary Che Guevara. While the music in all this instances differed significantly in style and lyrics, the music served as a powerful tool for advancing certain ideals. It can therefore be authoritatively stated that music is a powerful tool that can help to change the course of social and political affairs of a nation.
Bessel, R. & Schumann, D. (2003). Life after death: approaches to a cultural and social history of Europe during the 1940s and 1950s. Cambridge University Press.
Cheles, L. & Sponza, L. (2001). The art of persuasion: political communication in Italy from 1945 to the 1900s. Manchester University Press
Falasca-Zamponi, S. (2000). Fascist spectacle: the aesthetics of power in Mussolini’s Italy. University of California Press.
Koon, T. H. (1985). Believe, obey, fight: political socialization of youth in fascist Italy, 1922-1943. UNC Press Books.
Portis, L. (2004). French Frenzies: A Social History of Pop Music in France. Virtualbookworm Publishing.
Sweeney, P. (2001). The rough guide to Cuban music. Rough Guides.
Sweeney, R. M. (2001b). Singing our way to victory: French cultural politics and music during the Great War. Wesleyan University Press.