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Music & cultural diplomacy

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Music is a powerful medium through which individuals, communities, and nations can express themselves. It is like a universal language anyone can understand. Whilst the role of music as a force for social cohesion can be seen to have emerged together with the earliest musical forms, the use of music to promote political, diplomatic, or societal objectives can be seen to have come to prominence during the Cold War.

During this period American Jazz ambassadors, supported by the US State Department, played in a series of jazz concerts across the world, which were seen to reflect the US values of freedom and personal expression. More recently, philanthropic institutions such as the “West-Eastern Divan Orchestra” have emerged with the goal of strengthening bi-lateral relations between specific communities by providing a neutral common ground. Music has also been used, by both individuals and groups, to promote political or ideological messages.

Protest songs, in which the song lyrics may criticize a government’s domestic policy, represent a clear example of this. At times, the messages conveyed by musicians are also reflections of general developments across society as a whole. When this is the case, songs can capture the entire mood of a nation and bring together people from diverse backgrounds. The Scorpion’s song “Winds of Change” captured the hope felt by Germans, living in both the East and West, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. In South Africa, civil rights activist Miriam Makeba used her music to campaign across the world against the apartheid regime.

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”   – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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The London Art as Cultural Diplomacy ConferenceAugust 21st, 2013

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