Do you ever listen to a song and find yourself moved so deeply you are almost in tears? Have you ever been to a live performance that turned your worst day into your best? Have you ever heard a song that inspired you? Music has the power to move us and to change us. Yet today’s music mostly does not seem to have the same earth-moving, society-shaping effects as that of the past.
Much rarer are the antiwar sentiments of composers like Bob Dylan of the USA. The anti-apartheid and government-challenging lyrics of musicians like South Africa’s Miriam Makeba and Nigeria’s Fela Kuti have largely been exchanged for party-hard, live-the-rich-life lyrics.
With today’s technology, music has become even more of a part of our life experiences: we listen to it on our drive to work, when we go to parties, while we study, when we exercise, and in so many other settings. Yet we see fewer and fewer people taking to the streets with picket signs because of its messages. There are, however, still musicians who hope that their words will inspire change.
Known throughout the world, Youssou N’Dour is a musical peacemaker in his native Senegal and lends his words and music to critical campaigns, such as malaria prevention programmes. Oliver Mtukudzi’s music has created awareness and dialogue around HIV and AIDS in his home country Zimbabwe. In Benin, UNICEF goodwill ambassador Angélique Kidjo keeps a strong note of social concern in her lyrics—singing about hunger, homelessness, AIDS and injustice. And some up-and-coming musicians are also lending their voices to protests against crime, human rights violations, xenophobia and much more.
Music with a message
The combination of the right lyrics, rhythm and instruments can build a group identity, stir strong emotions, engage audiences and amass people to take action. This makes music the perfect partner for social change. In Africa a variety of NGOs, bands and activists are trying to make a difference through music.
The Sigauque Project is a band based in Maputo, Mozambique, whose music is all about raising issues and trying to bring about change. Its musical influences include Senegalese mbalak, Nigerian Afro-beat and Mozambican marrabenta. A unique pan-Africanism stems from the band’s use of music originally recorded across Africa, which it performs in its own unique style. The band’s two singers, with full horn section, throbbing bass and rhythmic percussion, create sound, including jazz that keeps audiences grooving all night, while the messages come through loud and clear.
“Now, you see musicians singing about girls, money and fast cars. Not long ago Africa was full of music that made a statement—about government, corruption, things that matter,” says Sigauque Project leader and trumpet player Daniel Walter. “Our music talks about HIV, women’s rights, recovering from a disaster, xenophobia and much more. It’s not just great music, we’re saying something.”
Music for social change
Most of the music performed by the Sigauque Project was produced by Community Media for Development (CMFD) Productions, which records music and radio projects for social change. The project Musicians Against Xenophobia brought together musicians from Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe to produce four songs about discrimination.
South Africa’s large migrant population faces discrimination and harassment. “Many people do not know these things are happening,” says Machotte, a Mozambican saxophone player. “Through this music, maybe we can make people know and think about this, and people will change.”
Noting the power of music to reach youth especially, CMFD Productions and the Sigauque Project also recently produced two songs about HIV awareness. One combines the band’s hard-hitting jazz sounds with a local rapper’s lyrics about being faithful, while the other uses the popular passada rhythms that Mozambicans love to dance to.
The CMFD also produced other songs for radio programmes. The most recent, “Hungry City,” accompanies a documentary and radio drama series about the state of food security in Southern African cities. Another song talks
about floods in Mozambique and accompanies a radio series about the country’s recovery from the floods that hit it in early 2013.
Music as a platform
Music is an important part of popular culture, it entertains us, and so it is a great platform for discussions on social issues. Concerts are particularly effective because artists have the opportunity to address large crowds. For social messages to take root, they must be accepted by large numbers of people, and individuals are more likely to accept these messages if their peers do.
When music is played over the radio, people hear and sing along to the songs, repeating the messages so that they and others really hear them. This gives people an opportunity to understand what messages the music holds and then to speak about them.
Music is a means by which people can convey important messages and ideals to others in the hope that they will truly listen and, as a result, come together and bring about social, political and economic change.
When asked about the possible future uses of music, Daniel Walter has big hopes. “In many African countries today there exists democracy in name only criticising the government can lead to a loss of opportunities. I see an important role for music in the coming years using a lot of popular messaging.”
So the next time you wish to make change, why not make a song about it?
As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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