Social Justice in Music: How can music raise awareness towards social change?

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The IB freshmen are taking a journey through the different eras of Western music. In their previous units, students examined the cultural and societal norms in understanding music of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras. Through this exploration, students developed an understanding of the conditions in which music was written. While delving into popular music of the 20th century, students discovered a lot of music written in response to social and political events. Eventually these songs will be labeled protest songs from artists like Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Sam Cooke. The analysis of these songs sparked fruitful discussions of the artist’s intent and role within society—is it the artist’s job to respond to current events? What role does the artist have in shaping minds and thoughts within our society?

This topic has challenged students to embody the “reflective” IB learner profile characteristic. Students have analyzed and reflected on an array of political and social issues that are prevalent in our society. They were asked to research and justify how songs respond to a political or social issue. This led to students communicating and expressing social issues that are important and meaningful to them.

“The social issues that are important to me are discrimination and racism,” said freshman Jasmine Baker.  “I believe we should bring awareness to them because they’re still a big issue to most people.”  

Another student reflected on his personal experiences in relation to a pressing social issue. “Health care is important to me because my dad struggles with his health and doctors and hospitals always give him a hard time,” said freshman Robert Torres.  “There are others like my dad and they shouldn’t be treated poorly. Without health care we’re just limiting people as well as ourselves.”

At Roberto Clemente Community Academy, we are fortunate enough to have a full music studio with sound and recording equipment. The next phase of this project is for students to communicate their thoughts and feelings towards these issues and record their own original song. We have just begun this process, and there are overly ambitious students who have already started composing thoughtful songs in response to a political or social issue. Through this project, students will bring awareness to some of society’s most pressing issues. All of the original songs will be compiled onto a CD to showcase at the Spring Concert. We hope to see you there!