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Striking at the chords of inequality: Music’s role in narrowing the growing divide

(This is a snippet from Chapter 1 of my book — Press Play)

I travel between the Bay Area and Lagos, and I see this grow- ing disparity between the two regions. The Bay Area is the home to the most innovative companies that have changed the way we interact with the world. The influx of capital that flooded the region in search of the chariot of unicorns — bil- lion-dollar companies — that investors can ride on toward a profitable exit has brought about companies we all know, use, and sometimes love, likeGoogle, Facebook, and Airbnb.

Just like in the Bay Area, all you have to do is drive around Lagos to see the disparity in wealth amongst its citizens. Unlike the properly paved and networked road in California, the ever-appearing potholes on the streets of Lagos have been collaborating with its vehicles for decades now.

Despite Nigeria’s resource richness, the giant of a nation has one of the largest numbers of people living below the poverty line.

Between the two cities, the contrast and disparity in wealth is clear. Within each city, the similarities of the divide are glaring. And unfortunately, the divide is growing.

The growing divide…

The major social movements around the world that date back to recorded history all stem from an “oppressed” group rising against its “oppressor,” from the biblical exodus to documented revolutions in Europe to the social movements of the sixties and seventies around the world.

These movements can be traced back to the roots of a growing dissatisfaction with the inequality or the disproportional aggregation of wealth and resources with the minority “ruling class.”

Over centuries, musicians have used their voices to illuminate these issues. They have communicated, through words and feelings, the sentiments of those who strive for equality and dignity.

The “Concerto of Inequality”

So how bad is it? What is the disparity in wealth? Who is to blame?

Let’s assume the world was a concert of 100 people to understand the wealth of the concert through the eyes of the concert organizer.

The VIP section of the concert has ten people. Those ten people own 84 percent of the wealth in that concert. The Very Very Important People (VVIP) section will be one table, and it will have a single person at it.

You see, the music doesn’t start until the VVIP shows up because he or she owns 45 percent of the wealth in the concert. While, 64 out of the “regular general admissions folks” have contributed only 2 percent of the wealth of the musical orchestration.

Just like the concert, the growing disparity is illustrated in real life, as the top 1 percent has captured twice as much growth as the bottom 50 percent globally in the last forty years.

How do you define rich?

So back to our initial question.

It was posed by Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was quick to admit that the question brings “considerate and inconclu- sive debates.” But he devised a more structured and limited version of the question, for which there is a definitive answer.

I’ll spare you the details about percentage of national income and per capita income adjusted for cost of living or pur- chasing power. The brief analysis showed that, measured on material living standards, a poor person in a rich country is more than twice as well off as a rich person in a poor country.

At the end of the day, it boils down to what each individual values and how each person defines “being rich”. From a one-dimensional lens, the easiest thing to focus on is the economic value of “rich and poor”.

The point of this comparison is to put a spotlight on the inequality across countries relative to inequality within countries. From the industrial revolution to globalization to the information age, the ebb and flow of global and domestic inequality is the cause of a lot of the social issues we have in our capitalism-driven world.

Dissatisfaction with inequality and oppression… This has led to the greatest human social movements.

During times of great inequality, when people started demanding equality and change, music played a very important role. For instance, in the sixties and seventies, the soundtrack to these movements was pushed by the musical advocates who used music to reflect the realities and plight of the working class.

These sounds resonated with people around the world going through similar struggles in their countries. Peter Tosh’s wailing for equal rights and justice in Jamaica reverberated from Croatia to South Africa, where music listeners were demanding the same from their govern- ments and institutions.

Music is a powerful communication tool. Why?

Throughout these collective movements, music played a very important role. Music became the voice of the unheard.

It provided solidarity for people around the world to connect with similar issues, to vent frustration, and make demands for liberation from an oppressive system.

Musicians use their music as a way to vent their pains and speak up.

Efforts have been made to silence any glimpse of rebellion. Music has given the voice to propagate their pains and dissatisfaction through feelings and narratives.

Music can translate stories through effective communication that can only happen in a medley of emotions, rhythms, and words that only music can provide.

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Grab a copy of my book — Press Play: Music As a Catalyst For Change

Who is Nifemi?

Hey I’m Nifemi of NapoRepublic

I help busy people fit in a creative practice to bring to bring order to their reality and help them live a more meaningful life through writing and reflection.

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