“Music is the universal language of mankind,” one poet said.
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent,” said another.
“Music,” said Jimi Hendrix,“doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”
What is it about human interaction that makes music such a profundity, such an integral part of it, such a popular avenue for communication and understanding? Why is it that people frequently choose music as a means of sincere expression–and what is that place inside music where all people seem to meet and agree?
Is it viable to say that peace can be found in music?
On Feb. 16, 2014, African singers Youssou N’Dour and Idylle Mamba released a new musical collaboration that calls for religious reconciliation between the Muslims and Christians of today’s torn Central African Republic. Sectarian violence in the CAR has taken the lives of thousands of Africans and displaced 1 million people in little over a year, all because of political strife and its heavily religious overtones.
N’Dour, who is a Muslim, requested his fellow musician and adherent Catholic, Mamba, to team up with him in singing the song “One Africa” to innovatively show Central Africans that a Christian and a Muslim can civilly interact. The duet intended to convey to the people that they can in fact get along, that they can even make music together.
N’Dour said in an interview with French magazine Le Parisien, “I am mortified by what is happening in Central African Republic.” He said to Radio France Internationale, “The difference in religion is not an obstacle, but rather enriching.”
This conflict in the CAR began in December 2012 when Muslim Seleka rebels went on governmental strike. Within three months their uprising ousted the then-president Francois Bozize, a Christian. Since then, all over the country, Christians and Muslims have been at violent odds with one another, escalating to Christian vigilante assemblies and Seleka fighters hurling stones, burning tires, destroying flags, and ultimately mutilating each other to the death of thousands.
Mamba, who has been singing for over ten years, has always used her music to address social themes such as injustice, war, segregation, and racism. She sings for the empowerment of women, and also to positively display the culture and traditions of the CAR.
Mamba’s vision coupled with N’Dour’s sentiment and their shared fame took on this four-minute thought-provoking, peacemaking melody and produced a corresponding YouTube video posted by Bangui Wood TV, which features footage of a priest and an imam in a handshake, Muslims and Christians in prayer, and starving children, destitute villages, and refugee camps, as if to awaken the people of the CAR to the real issues to which they should be giving their time and attention—real problems that can be solved only when all their people move as a single entity with one mind and one heart determined to create a better future for their shared country.
Is it viable then to say that music is surprisingly the presence at the forefront of peace advocacy and creating unity?
In a series of studies recently done by psychology and neuroscience researchers at the University of Colorado and the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, results seemed to prove the theory that music, whose existence dates back as far as 7000 B.C., was created as a means to bring humans together in one tightly-knit community. Researchers attribute these results to the fact that music has the ability to “influence the mood and behavior of many people at once, helping to mold individual beings into a coordinated group.”
In a seven-study series involving 879 unique individuals and one playlist of music, those respondents who said they were the most emotionally impacted by the music said they had always felt a “higher need to belong,” and that conclusively, the music they heard gave them that sense of belonging.
What then can one conclude from these things? Perhaps this is not a groundbreaking scientific discovery or a contender for the Top 100 hits in today’s world of music; perhaps this is not the mechanism that will singlehandedly end all religious animosity across the map of the world, but through this one act, a mind with hope can see N’Dour and Mamba’s musical partnership as a small but significant start to the establishment of peace and understanding here on our shared earth.