Heather Hay— International Liberation Reference Person for Musicians Liberation


As musicians we are singers, drummers, rappers, composers, lyricists, instrumentalists, conductors, and teachers. We are the creators of music. We are parents singing lullabies to our children, people playing games together, folks making music around a campfire or in the shower.

We are listeners and appreciators of music. We are working musicians who have decided to make music our job or vocation.

We are people who care about environmental degradation, climate change, war, and ending all oppressions. We are activists using the power of music to bring communities together to inspire them and combat discouragement.

All of us can reclaim ourselves as musicians. We can reclaim making music as part of our creative humanness and use music to meet the challenges facing humanity.


Music is tremendously powerful. It draws people together and creates connections across languages and divisions. It encourages discharge. It inspires hope and revolution. It can motivate people to think in a new way and have a more open mind and heart—things that are especially needed at this time.

Beauty and its creation are important reminders of benign reality. When musicians bring beauty into an increasingly “mechanized” world, it is revolutionary. Music can illuminate oppression and contradict internalized oppression. It can play an important role in the liberation of any constituency. It is a profound expression of our humanity.


It is a challenge for us as musicians to remember our significance. We can easily forget that music has a significant role to play in the world and in our lives.

Musicians are oppressed as working-class people. We do physical labor, work long hours, and are paid a small portion of the profits we produce.

The music industry operates within capitalism and reflects classism. Back-up singers in a rock band don’t make as much money as a lead singer or star. Members of an orchestra struggle with income insecurity while the top soloists and conductors are paid at a much higher rate. Most of the money flows to the top, leaving the majority of working musicians fighting over the limited funding that remains. Because our jobs and funding are insecure, we may compete with each other and have difficulty working together for our liberation.

Music is often treated as cheap, disposable, and unimportant. It is made into a commodity manufactured by experts for profit instead of being seen as an essential part of every human’s life. As musicians we internalize this.

We working musicians are pulled to collude with capitalism by using music to distract, entertain, or numb people or to further our own fame, profit, or upward mobility. Since the rise of recorded music and the erosion of Indigenous cultural practices and languages due to colonization, music has shifted from being the centre of communal life to functioning primarily as entertainment. We need to challenge any ways we collude with the capitalist system and instead use music to fuel the upward trend. Harvey Jackins talks about the difference between the upward and the downward trend in music in his pamphlet (and chapter in The Benign RealityThe Good and the Great in Art.

Certain kinds of music are associated with middle- and owning-class society. Others are associated with being working class and are regarded as having less artistic value. As musicians we sometimes judge each other based on the kind of music we produce. We internalize the misperception that the “real” musicians are the ones on the stage, the more visible performers. In reality, using music to organize and empower people, in education, in working with people with special needs is no less significant than the work of performing musicians.

A common misconception is that some people have “special” musical gifts or “talent” while “ordinary” people do not. In fact, all people are inherently musical. Anyone can discharge the distress recordings that limit his or her ability to make music. People who choose to develop their musical skills put in many hours of work; persistence and dedication are far more important than “talent.” Since every human being has musical abilities, anyone can identify as a musician.


Music is a powerful way to bring people together and hold up a vision of liberation. We need to put music at the centre of all liberation struggles. Some RC leaders make music a significant part of their liberation workshops.

Taking away an oppressed people’s voice, including their music, is a tool of genocide and colonization. Reclaiming or retaining one’s own language and music is a way to fight back. Plus we need all of our languages and music as expressions of who we are as humans.

Those of us in oppressor roles need to discharge any pull to have our cultures’ music dominate. We need to understand the connection between cultural appropriation and racism.

Young people are great models of being alive, loud, and powerful. They think and act creatively every day and experiment with all kinds of things, including singing and dancing. This is how they “work” and connect with themselves and others. We get to do this as adults as well.

When we make music with others, we practice the skills we value so highly in RC. We pay close attention, listen carefully, connect joyfully and deeply, and use our imaginations to understand other people, cultures, and historical periods. We work hard to create a beautiful expression of benign reality and what it is like to be a human being. When we practice our craft with awareness of how powerful it can be, we can help people reclaim their voices, creativity, and connections with each other.


Climate change and environmental degradation require immediate and effective action. Music can get across a message in a powerful and effective way. Confronting something as big as environmental degradation means getting people discharging. Music can break through numbness, unlock feelings, and lead to re-evaluation and action.

Music can bring people together with a strong, uniting message against oppression and war. We are seeing the power of music in the Black Lives Matter movement. Israelis and Palestinians have created musical projects together to affirm each other’s culture and bridge divisions. Some country musicians in the United States are promoting diversity and compassion with music that appeals to white working-class audiences. There are many examples of Indigenous groups using drumming, dancing, and singing to honor and protect people, water, and the land.

We can use the teamwork we master as musicians to solve complex social problems. We know how to be powerful and loud when needed and to be softer in order to let someone else step forward. We can use this skill to create diverse communities in which everyone thrives.

In many ways, small and large, people figure out how to effect change with music. Villages can be organized around a central drum. Communities can be joined together in song. Crowds can be rallied and motivated by music. The non-violent protesters were singing as they crossed the bridge in Selma (Alabama, USA) with Martin Luther King Jr.

The following is from a blog by Barrett Martin, published in the Huffington Post, called “Music and the Politics of Resistance”:

“Powerful songs have always been the engine behind the greatest social movements—it is the marching soundtrack that unites the people and gives them focus and resolve . . . . In 1970s Nigeria, Fela Kuti invented Afro Beat music as a way to protest the oil company regime of Nigeria. . . . In South Africa, the indigenous Mbatanga music helped bring about the end of apartheid . . . . In Chile, Victor Jara wrote songs about his country’s struggles, sparking the Nueva Canción (New Songs) movement that caused South Americans to rise up against their military dictatorships and replace them with democracies. In Brazil, the Tropicalia movement was created by songwriters like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Rita Lee as a form of protest against the Brazilian military junta . . . . In Australia and New Zealand, popular songs written by indigenous and non-indigenous songwriters sparked an indigenous land reclamation movement.”


I will continue to encourage everyone to reclaim their connection to music and creativity, to the music of their culture, and to their own powerful personal voice. Reclaiming these parts of our humanness is a contradiction to our earliest defeats and the ways we‘ve been silenced and made to feel powerless. I will especially be supporting working-class musicians and musicians of the global majority and other groups underrepresented in the RC Communities.

I will encourage us as musicians to use our skills and knowledge to take leadership in all liberation movements, to be catalysts for and instigators of fundamental societal change. This is a time for us to act with confidence, power, courage, integrity, and visibility.

Those of us who are working musicians need to discharge and think about making a living while creating music that contributes to the upward trend, that communicates an RC perspective on humanity and reality.

Part of the RC artists’ commitment states that we will “never again invalidate any artist, including myself.” I will encourage us to appreciate and celebrate each musical moment we create, no matter how small, and to welcome our “mistakes” as part of our learning process. Appreciating other musicians in precise, insightful ways can be a powerful tool for building trust and connection as we work together on musicians’ liberation.

I will encourage each of us to use music to inspire hope and connection, maintain access to discharge, affirm cultural diversity, and direct attention off of distress and onto benign reality.

Heather Hay

International Liberation Reference Person for Musicians

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

(Present Time 188, July 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00