It is difficult, if not impossible, to name a society without any music heritage. It is argued that music is unusual among all human activities for both its abiquity and its antiquity. There is very little theory and academic exploration about the relationship between music and politics, but it is believed that music is widely applicable to political process. Music, one of the most fundamental elements of every culture, has the ability to represent a nation´s cultural values and political ideologies. Music´s diplomatic potential is illustrated its ability to reach beyond the common medium of political meetings and forums, in which certain outcomes are expected. But is music a feasible candidate for creating common ground upon which to build more positive relations?
During the Cold War, Western countries increasingly turned towards popular music in their public diplomacy. At the beginning, the use of music was limited to genders such as jazz and gospel, the second half of the twentieth century brought more genders to diplomatic context, such as country, bluegrass, rock, reggae and hip-hop. It is believed that as an instrument of public diplomacy, popular music plays a complex role in contested terrain. Music diplomacy has not only impacted the ways in which audiences perceive foreign cultures, but is has also helped to shape the cultural horizons of politicians, diplomats, cultural managers, and musicians involved in diplomatic programs. In this way, music diplomacy has had highly significant cultural and aesthetic effects (Technische Universität Dortmund, 2015).
In the half of the twentieth century, when the Cold War was at its peak, America deployed Dizzy Gillespie, a famed jazz musician, and a jazz band to change the world´s view of American culture through rhythm and syncopation. It was very successful, however, cultural diplomacy died down after the Cold War ended. But the events of 9/11 convinced the U.S. to send out America´s musician to win hearts and minds with melody once again.
Rhythm Road, a programme run by the state department and a non-profit organization Jazz at Lincoln Centre, has made informal diplomats from both musicians and audiences. Since 2005, musicians have travelled to more than 96 countries and places, where some people have never seen an American. It is argued that jazz is well-suited to diplomacy. It is collaborative, allowing individuals to harmonise, as well as play solo – much like a democracy. Jazz is also a reminder of music´s power. It helped break down racial barriers, as enthusiasts of all colours gathered to listen to jazz when segregation was still the law of the land (The Economist, 2009).
It is argued that music diplomacy can facilitate intercultural communication, and therefore ultimately forestall miscommunication and misunderstanding. Intercultural communication is viewed as a mean of bringing people together, and as a power to assist international organizations in the exercise of their services to the world community. It is believed that this type of communication should be used in foreign politics as a way to encourage people to discover one another through personal interactions. Learning about music different from our own can open our eyes on diverse culture and values (Einbinder, 2013).
An example of one of the leading music diplomacy initiative in the world is the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, created by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said in mid 1990s. Daniel Barenboim is the internationally acclaimed pianist and conductor of Jewish descent, who believes that music should be valued as a useful tool to learn about our society. He sees music as a possible platform for people from different backgrounds to meet and engage in a cross-cultural dialogue. Edward Said is a Palestinian literary critics and philosopher. Their friendship gave birth to an idea of combating intolerance and prejudices through art. In their case, sharing a passion for music became a common ground for building interaction between the Israeli conductor and the Palestinian philosopher (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra).
Today, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is one of the only instances where Palestinian and Israeli youth are able to meet, debate and share their experiences. The project allows for intercultural dialogue and the sharing of knowledge between people from different countries that would, under normal circumstances, never have the chance to meet. The assumption underlying this project is that the orchestra could be a place where an alternative way of making peace can take place. The project is also supposed to suggest that bridges can be build that encourage people to get closer, showing that it is possible for people from different backgrounds to co-exist peacefully (Ibid).
The orchestra, as well as jazz bands proved that music diplomacy is a useful way to break down barriers that used to be considered insurmountable. It is suggested that governments should acknowledge the potential of music diplomacy for improving intercultural communication and understanding. A better knowledge of the other´s culture, beliefs and interests is the first step towards the improvement of international relations. Moreover, it is believed that the more we develop music diplomacy, the more we will be able to shape the international arena in a more cooperative and harmonious system (Einbinder, 2013).
- Einbinder M., 2013, Cultural Diplomacy: Harmonizing International relations through Music, Gallatin School of Individualized Studies, NY
- The Economist, 2009, Musical diplomacy: Perfect pitch, The Economist, NY , http://www.economist.com/node/13496428, accessed May 2015
- The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, http://www.west-eastern-divan.org/, accessed May 2015
- Technische Universität Dortmund, 2015, Popular Music and Public Diplomacy, http://www.nas.uni-bonn.de/news-ordner/conference-popular-music-and-public-diplomacy, accessed May 2015