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During an election season, anywhere in the world, candidates need an image: to be likeable, and reliable; a platform: explicating stances on issues; a base: of people who donate, vote, support, and work for the candidate; and to add to this list of musts (at least in most parts of the world)—music.
Music is as personal to the candidate as a base, with as much mass outreach potential as an image. It instantly builds a sonic brand; announces and identifies the candidate. It can be as controversial as the platform, with the power to damage an image. This was evidenced by the Trump campaign, when R.E.M. (for “The End of the World”), Adele (for “Skyfall” and “Rolling in the Deep”), and Aerosmith (for “Dream On”) were among those that cease-desisted their songs from being played at Trump rallies.
Before she stepped on stage to give her presumptive-candidate speech on Super Tuesday II (June 7), Hillary Clinton had Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” broadcasting her message. She apparently spent a few thousand dollars for a Portland music agency to come up with an official playlist. Lyrics play as much of a role in the selection as the mood. Also implicit in the selection is that the musician supports the candidate; broadening the base and/or appeal.
Neil Young and Art Garfunkel had no problems, for example, with Bernie Sanders playing the respective “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “America.” Their fan bases comprise the young at heart, idealists, and romantics, the kind of people Sanders is credited to have attracted the attention of.
Ushering in Politics
Music has made ballot boxes sing the world over. India heard music of the original kind in recent elections. Assam ushered in BJP to the tune of Zubeen Garg’s song saying that “Assam’s joy is everybody’s joy,” the last two words being a play on the candidate’s name, Sarvananda.
Tamil Nadu had an election anthem that urged citizens to vote, “Our freedom fighters fought for our right to vote. Let’s vote, it’s our duty.” A trendy Tamil pop song by Put Chutney and Culture Machine urged the electorate to vote NOTA (None of the Above) if they’re disillusioned by mainstream candidates/parties. Trinamool Congress had Anupam Roy composing for Mamta Bannerjee in Bengali, “It’s been five years of great change in West Bengal; Mother, Earth, and Man have flourished.”
2015 had Bihar listening to “Phir Se Nitishe” (Nitish, Again) sung by popular Bollywood singer Neeti Mohan and “Iss baar BJP, ek baar BJP” sung by Bhojpuri well known singer Manoj Tiwari. 2013 had Prime Minister Narendra Modi featured in a song that said NaMo is the Maha Nayak (greatest protagonist), while the Congress was humming along to “Sab Ki Yahi Pukar, Congress iss baar” (Everybody’s calling for Congress).
But the most revolutionary election song in South Asia has got to be the 1988 PPP’s (Pakistan People’s Party) “Dila Teer Bija … Jiye, Jiye Bhutto Benazir.” It was iconic because it unleashed melody publicly on the Pakistani masses after Islamization had virtually wiped out social music from making a public appearance; it was the promise of democracy after a long time; it heralded the return of hope to a region with the face of a popular icon; it got the masses in and around Pakistan to its feet. The music was catchy; still is.
“Let’s ask Ram about it!” is the start of a flirty Q&A sponsored by Nepal’s Election Commission and Democracy and Election Watch, which regularly employs Lok Dohori (Street/People Musical Performance) to coax the uninitiated population into the voting process. This video has four men and four women dressed in folkwear and featuring voter registration how-to. As is characteristic of most folk tunes, the rhythm has your head nodding in no time.
The most “rocking” note was in Indonesia. Current Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) 2014 election can be partially attributed to his musical campaign, a precursor of which was the success of his 2012 Governorship campaign music video. Jokowi’s volunteers had created a parody of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” that lamented Jakarta’s state of bureaucracy, the reason to elect him, of course. The Youtube video shows a twenty-something getting out of bed in a panic because he has to update his ID card. The panic grows as he is held up by traffic and then long queues at a government office; at long last, an official comes out to announce it’ll take years. Conclusion: Jokowi is the need of the hour!
Inside, Indonesia has reported that even musicians Sting and Jason Mraz and rock group Arkarna encouraged Indonesian voters to support democracy and get behind Jokowi in 2014.
Jokowi’s rival Prabowo Subianto tried to make music campaigning history by featuring a popular rock icon called Ahmad Dhani. However, it spectacularly back-fired, as it had Nazi-looking imagery and tones, completely annihilating the spirit of the song it was based on—Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” It was no competition for Jokowi’s captivating music-video and a sold-out open-air concert attended by tens of thousands, featuring a rapper called Kill the DJ and a crowd shouting and holding up two-fingered salutes—Salam Dua Jari.
#2 was Jokowi’s number on the ballot and it made music for him.
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.