Music activism as a form of social resistance

A screenshot of Shouts – Music from the rooftops’ homepage logo. Used with permission.

Music is one of the few mediums that can often transcend taboo, language differences and societal stratification.

Global Voices interviewed Halldor Kristínarson, founder of the activism and music journalism project Shouts – Music from the Rooftops! about his work, the role of music in making meaningful change, and starting conversations.

At Shouts, Halldor routinely covers issues such as Indigenous music preservation, sexism in the music industry, and civil disobedience through song.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Find the full interview below.

Photo of Halldor Kristínarson. Used with permission.

Global Voices (GV): Can you explain what Shouts is?

Halldor Kristínarson (HK): Shouts – Music from the Rooftops! is an activism and music journalism project. I find artists from around the world, frequently underrepresented ones, and use the Shouts platform to shed light on their art and activism. What these artists have in common is that they consciously use their voice and their talent to create a positive change. They raise awareness about different issues with their music, and my part in that world of activism is providing a platform and helping their message travel further. Often, the issues that the artists sing about are very close to them.

There are a lot of Indigenous artists, women artists, artists who have faced racial discrimination — the list goes on. There are only two types of creatures in this world who don‘t create songs on their own to let the world know of the injustice they face, namely animals and mother nature. As animals and nature don't speak in human language, luckily, some of these artists take it upon themselves to defend them from the injustice they face in words people can understand 

GV: What inspired you to create an activism-centered music blog?  

HK: Since I can remember I have had an interest in helping those without a voice, most frequently animals. I also became aware of some of the struggles people could have when, at a young age, I started assisting people with disabilities. But it wasn't after I became fully submerged in a nature preservation project that I truly started to realise the spectrum and depth of discrimination. Afterwards, as I worked with asylum seekers, refugees and animal rescue, I started understanding another level of discrimination against women, which also helped me rethink how I see the world and what I wanted to do in it. On the other hand, was my own love and need for singing and music.

Originally, I am an audio engineer and since a young age I write songs to cope (although ironically, I mostly only share that music with dogs). So, when I had to decide my subject for my Masters in journalism and mass communication thesis, I thought of mixing my passions, and what came out of that was Shouts.

Photo of Halldor Kristínarson. Used with permission.

GV: Depending on the context, this form of activism can be quite dangerous for some artists. What do you think keeps them going in your experience?

HK: I think that when you have found a passion for activism, it’s extremely hard to restrain yourself from acting. If there is someone suffering in front of me, I can’t pretend everything is ok, and I need others to know it so they can choose to help. And some very brave musicians and other artists are willing to do whatever it takes to try to help create change, no matter the consequences. 

Also, when I have interviewed artists who live in places that are inhospitable to creative people or to people who speak openly against the powers in charge, what I‘ve found is that they don‘t see any other way. 

Their artform is a part of their being — it seems unnatural for them to use their voice in another way. Creative people are, more often than not, in my experince, deeply connected to the place inside all of us where empathy lives. Their love for their families, friends, fellow people, animals and nature is so strong that they are never deterred from voicing their opinions, even if it means putting their lives in danger.

As Indian rapper Madara told me when I asked him about the backlash and death threats he received for his art: “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives”.

GV: Why is music an effective form of protest? 

Music is a powerful yet peaceful way to get a message to the listener. It’s a strong but non-invasive way of communicating with the world. Musicians create something beautiful and then leave it to the listener to take something from that, when and how they are able to. Without a direct confrontation, no one has to get defensive.

My partner in life, Lilián, once told me that it makes sense to protest through song. She said, “Not everyone is willing to listen to a speech at a party because parties are supposed to be fun, but everyone‘s up for hearing a song. It’s a conversation in disguise, a confrontation within ourselves in silence. Also, there is nothing like singing a song altogether and feeling the rumbling vibrations of your voices in your body, giving your emotions of hope or despair a physical form through that connection with others”.

GV: Are there any musicians or songs that have particularly inspired you personally? 

HK: Anytime I speak with artists that tell me about the way they are being oppressed, arrested, jailed, or physically and emotionally abused, all because of their art, and then they tell me about their upcoming projects, as if none of those attacks seem like they will deter them from creating their art – that inspires me. It’s the same for other types of activists. I’ve met a lot of people around the world who rescue animals. What they all have in common is that you’d have to literally trap them in a dark cell or take their life in order for them to stop their rescue work. They inspire me. 

From all the interviews I’ve done or through the music journalism work for the Shouts project, there are some songs that have moved me more than others. I made a little playlist [shared below] with some of those songs. Alternatively, I make yearly protest music playlists for Shouts. 

Anything else you'd like to add about Shouts or your work?

Everything, everywhere, is either created or destroyed by all of us together. Borders are a political concept made up by some humans, and it changes all the time. It doesn’t really mean anything. Animals grieve, have languages, and love being alive. The planet will outlive us. There is nothing to fear but fear itself. Stray dogs are not dangerous, and neither are people who dress differently or believe in a god that isn‘t the same as yours. Every woman should have complete autonomy over their own body. I have lived in 10 countries and travelled to many more, and everywhere I’ve gone, I noticed that we are all essentially the same. There are minor differences in music, food and colours. And that just makes it all more amazing.

This one-man project of mine is a big one and extremely time-consuming. I love it and believe in it. If you, too, see value in the Shouts project, I welcome all hands on deck, whether that is writing articles, reviews or opinion pieces or in the form of small monthly support. In that way, the project can stay afloat, and I can continue to shed light on creative people’s voices around the world. Check out the project’s Patreon page if you want to support it!

Finally, I could quote many artists and their lyrics, but I’ll pick the words of one of my favourite bands, Fero Lux. 

What a shame

When all you need to get by

Is just a little bit of faith

And not to open your eyes

If you‘re not trembling

You‘ve given up

You accept the way things are

The hand that everyone was dealt

We all drown together

Or not at all

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