Written by Janielle Beh
The mission of Music Makers of Peace is to awaken creativity among young people and amplify unheard voices that resonate soundwaves of peace in current and post-conflict zones. We see music-making as a way of peace-making. In recent months we have discovered the virtual platform as a dynamic means to engage and connect young people across cultures. Through our online Songwrite for Peace two-part workshop for participants in the Peacemaker360 network, we created a unique space for sharing and creating song lyrics. The sessions had young people calling in from countries as far apart as Nigeria and India.
Before each workshop, participants were given a preparatory package via email to engage in creative activities beforehand. They came ready to share a song that has inspired them, a song that has gotten stuck in their head, a sound that they captured or recorded during the week, and a melody that they made up based on a lyric prompt that was given. For most, this was their first time delving into the art of songwriting. While it may have felt a daunting task to many at first, these simple activities helped them to take the first steps in realizing the creative potential within each of them. This is the foundational goal or purpose of Songwrite for Peace. Before we even begin to write a song that spreads a message of peace or addresses an important social issue that will impact others in our world, we must first discover our own expressive voice and be convinced of the power of music’s effect on our own lives.
In our first workshop session on 16 October, we explored the topic of Creative Identity and the participants were inspired to think about their own musical or creative journey in life. As a music educator based in Kabul, Afghanistan, I spoke about my own musical journey as a musician and a teacher. I shared about the healing power of music for social change, especially for young women, in a country torn apart by decades of war.
We engaged in songwriting activities that encouraged each person to come up with their own lyrics spontaneously. The first activity invited them to look out their window and paint a lyric picture or poem of their surroundings. This enabled every person to feel the ease of writing lyrics, and to capture something significant in an entirely ordinary moment. The session helped each person see that their lyrics can be turned into an opportunity for telling their story or another person’s story. It could be inspired by a true story, or the creation of a fictional one.
One of the songwriting prompts during this session was a slide of words all jumbled up: Love, Justice, Violence, Ceasefire, Family, Hope, Dreams, Heartbeat, and other strongly thematic words. The participants were invited to choose two words that stood out to them. Then they were asked: “If you were to carry the message of these two words in a song, what story would you tell through your song lyrics?” At this moment, it is always a delight and surprise to see how participants of different ages and cultures open up to talk about the inspiration and challenges that they face in their contexts. Peaceful dialogue in this forum doesn’t happen by a fixed agenda or a debate, it happens organically as people feel moved to share from personal experience, and the safe space of music and song creates that sense of freedom.
Ruhamah Ifere – a law undergrad from the National Open University in Lagos and co-founder of Youth Evolve – spoke about the current situation of injustice in her country as the #EndSARS protests were ongoing. After the sessions, she said, “Music is therapeutic and helps to reassure me in the midst of the unrest in my country. I got inspired by the spontaneity of writing and how ones environment contributes to the effect of the poem.”
Moses Obolade – a Nigerian activist and peace poet who is graduate researcher at the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies (University of Ibadan) – said after the workshop, “Music has been my safe haven. When I was stressed about how my friends were killed these past weeks, writing poems and music have been a way I pour out my worries. Songs and poems have been the channel for me to ‘SOROSOKE’ (Yoruba for ‘Speak Up’).”
This is what Songwrite for Peace is about. It hopes to create a safe space for everyone to bring their story through song, empowering them to express their heartaches and dreams, as well as send a message of peace about a particular issue that they see happening in their worlds. In our second workshop session on 30th of October, we covered the importance of Creative Process and how it is a balance between creative inspiration or ‘flow’, and discipline or practice. It is the delicate balance between the exhilaration of recording a new idea and the commitment to refining it. All in all, participants were encouraged to not give in to fear or discouragement when they are embarking on the journey of turning raw lyrical or musical material into a song. It could be a piece of work with power to touch the world around us.
There is so much more to be discovered in this process. But I see these introductory sessions as a catalyst for others to find their own voice and experience personal healing through song. Who knows what a group of emerging songwriters with a peacemaker’s heart could come up with together? We could write a collective song for peace and perform it in a virtual concert. We could turn our peace dialogue into a spoken word verses that are passed on from one person to the other as in a conversation, while someone who plays an instrument can improvise a melodic riff underneath to emulate the mood of the words. Once pandemic-related restrictions on local schools and community-based organizations are lifted, we could transport our virtual Songwrite for Peace workshop on the ground, whereby our initial online participants can be mentored to tailor the workshop for delivery in their unique contexts. The possibilities are endless as we continue to spur on our creative spirit for peace and justice wherever we are.
Music Makers for Peace