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MUSICAL DIPLOMACY: WHEN MUSICAL NOTES BECOME TOOLS OF POWER

Updated: Jul 1, 2023


Music is universal. Who hasn't seen themselves dancing to catchy music, moved by lyrics or singing a song? If the activities described here seem frivolous, music is by no means so: it has the power to transcend linguistic, cultural and political boundaries. In addition to its unifying power, it is a geopolitical weapon.


Music is a soft power tool used by states to promote their influence abroad. Through festivals, international tours or the worldwide distribution of their artists, countries can improve their image and influence other nations' perceptions of them.

The United States has often used popular music and hip-hop as a means of disseminating its culture and promoting its values. Originating in the inner cities of the United States, hip hop has transcended borders to become a global phenomenon. American artists such as Tupac Shakur, Jay-Z, Eminem and Kanye West have enjoyed international success and helped popularise hip hop around the world. The spread of this genre has enabled the United States to promote its culture and influence younger generations across the globe.


Music is a tool of political propaganda. The composition of patriotic songs and the use of anthems and rallying songs prove its ability to influence the masses and strengthen national identity. The famous song Bella Ciao, with its catchy, heady rhythm, actually celebrates the commitment to the anti-fascist struggle waged by Italian partisans, resistance fighters and rebels during the Second World War as part of the Italian Civil War. Censorship thus became a common practice for governments wishing to control ideas and discourse considered subversive.

During the Cold War, music was one of the resources used by the two great powers to exert cultural attraction. On the one hand, the United States set up its Jazz Ambassadors programme. Louis Armstrong made several tours abroad from 1956 onwards. These concerts were intended to show the image of a liberal society that recognised equal rights. On the other hand, the Soviet Union broadcast its own music and ballets in a spirit of realism. The Russian Bolshoi were profoundly influenced by politics in Russia. They were seen as tools for propaganda and the representation of communist ideology.


However, music can be used as a means of dialogue and rapprochement between cultures and nations. Musical exchanges, collaborations between artists from different countries and international festivals can foster mutual understanding, cooperation and respect. In some cases, music has played a role in post-conflict reconciliation by providing a space for communities to meet and share.

After the Rwandan genocide in 1994, music was used as a means of healing and reconciliation. Groups of musicians from different ethnic backgrounds were formed to promote dialogue and mutual understanding. The "Rwanda: Voices of Reconciliation" brought together Hutu and Tutsi singers to create music together and raise awareness of reconciliation.


In short, music has been (and still is) used to promote a specific culture, exerting a cultural influence on other countries by popularising specific musical genres, artists or ways of life. More than just notes, music is a formidable weapon.

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