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Perhaps love songs are the answer

Perhaps they can be a platform for us to initiate positive change in society

DR WONG SOAK KOON/ALIRAN

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By Nahrizul Adib Kadri

I came to know about Elvis Presley through someone else’s song (or what they call a ‘cover’ version nowadays).

It was the reggae version of Presley’s 1961 hit Can’t Help Falling In Love by UB40 released in 1993 that got me reading about and gave me a deeper appreciation of, the “King of Rock and Roll”.

Elvis Aaron Presley, born on 8 January 1935 in Mississippi, rose to fame in the mid-1950s with his distinctive voice, energetic stage presence and pioneering fusion of country, rhythm and blues, and gospel music.

Leonard Bernstein, the legendary composer and conductor of the New York Philharmonic, even described him as “the greatest cultural force in the 20th Century”; referring to his immeasurable impact in the entertainment industry and beyond.

But what I am more interested in are his songs and their effect on addressing social issues. Apart from revolving around themes of love, romance and relationships (the likes of Love Me Tender and Heartbreak Hotel), his songs also explore other subjects, such as social issues, faith and identity (In the Ghetto and If I Can Dream, to name a couple).

Elvis’ distinctive style, which frequently incorporated African American musical elements, was said to have played a significant role in breaking down racial barriers in the industry.

Along with his known insistence of refusing to play at segregated venues, Elvis has been seen by many as a true civil rights activist. Although he never made his stance on the movement known publicly, his actions and impact on the racial dynamics of the US certainly cannot be taken lightly.

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In the same era, albeit born earlier and shot to stardom later, Nesta Robert Marley (or Bob Marley to most of us) was also known widely for his songs that revolve around the themes of love, social justice, spirituality and empowerment. Songs like One Love, Is This Love, and Could You Be Loved are among his famous tracks that express messages of love and unity. These songs advocate for universal love and emphasise the importance of treating others with kindness and respect, regardless of differences.

Interestingly, Marley’s music often addresses the struggles and challenges faced by marginalised communities. His commitment to social justice and equality is deeply intertwined with his message of love, as he truly believed love could be a catalyst for positive change in the world.

Through his powerful lyrics and emotive performances, Marley masterfully brought our attention to poverty, injustice and oppression, indirectly encouraging us to reflect on the world and consider our role in creating positive change.

Marley’s music has inspired generations of activists to stand up against oppression and work towards a more just and equitable society. His songs became anthems for movements fighting against apartheid in South Africa, for civil rights in the US and for indigenous rights in Latin America.

The Black Eyed Peas, founded in Los Angeles by two school friends (one of them was half Filipino), are also globally known and frequently address social issues in their songs.

The hip hop band shot to global fame with their 2003 hit Where is the Love?, which looks at violence, inequality and the need for compassion and understanding in society.

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The band have also collaborated with organisations like the Red Cross on initiatives aimed at addressing social issues, such as education, environmental sustainability and youth empowerment. Through their music and activism, they have sought to promote unity, resilience and social responsibility.

By no means are these three the only ones to tackle social issues in their songs and works. The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman, John Legend and The Fugees are often cited for their strong messages of identity, unity and the need to work together in their respective songs too.

Perhaps love songs or music can be a platform for us to initiate positive change in society, particularly among the impressionable younger generation. By fostering a sense of optimism and belief in their ability to make a difference, we can empower young people to become agents of change in their own lives and in the world around them.

In conjunction with Valentine’s Day today, perhaps we can prioritise love in all our interactions, institutions and policies so that we can create a world where each one of us has the opportunity to contribute to the common good.

Assoc Prof Nahrizul Adib Kadri is the former director of the corporate communications centre at the University of Malaya

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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