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What Does Solidarity Sound Like? Musicians Continue to Catalyze Global Unity

Live music concerts have often played a central role in protests, bringing people together and driving change. Recently, several bands decided to leave the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, making a strong point about music's power in advocating for beliefs. The bands left because they didn't want to be part of a festival sponsored by the military during the Israel-Gaza conflict. The boycotting of SXSW is not an isolated event. Let's not forget the plethora of big stars who stood for peace before them, such as musical activism by the likes of Madonna at Eurovision. The reaction to their decisions sparked a big conversation about how much influence artists have when it comes to major cultural events.

To me, this moment also shows how artists use their music to speak out and make a difference, not just to entertain but to engage and provoke thought among their audience. The issue at SXSW, a big event for music, film, and tech, started when artists including Kneecap, Lambrini Girls, Sprints, Gavin James, Soda Blonde, Okay Shalom, and Squirrel Flower openly rejected the festival. The musicians didn't want to support something related to conflict and injustice. Their bold choice highlights how art and politics often mix, challenging the usual ways of doing business in the music industry.

It's a big moment, showing that musicians care about where their support comes from and that they're willing to stand by their values, even if it means missing out on big opportunities.

These artists had similar yet very particular reasons for leaving, ranging from supporting Palestine to sticking to their moral beliefs against military support. These decisions put a spotlight on the tough choices artists face, showing the lengths they'll go to stand by their values. Bands and artists started stepping back, making big statements about why they couldn't be part of it all. Here are some of those:

  • Kneecap: This hip-hop group from Belfast expressed their support for Palestine during their performance. They voiced their concerns about the festival's associations, particularly noting the prominent sponsorship presence of the US Army on the SXSW website.

  • Lambrini Girls: Hailing from Brighton, this duo prioritized ethical considerations in their professional decisions. Their decision to not participate in SXSW was influenced by the festival's associations with the US Army and entities involved in military activities, aligning with their commitment to ethical integrity.

  • Sprints: Over from Ireland, Sprints made it clear they were bowing out. For them, having the US Army as a sponsor and the involvement of defense contractors was a deal-breaker.

  • Squirrel Flower: She decided to step away in protest, too, though she plans to keep making her voice heard at unofficial events.

With the rise of the internet and social media, the role of music in activism has grown exponentially. Artists can now share their songs and messages of protest around the world with a simple upload, uniting people for a cause. While our new digital age has made it easier for musicians to reach and inspire a global community, it's important to know the background of music activism and how it has fueled social movements.


A Crash Course on Music and Activism -

It must be said that music activists are always on a tough journey to make the world a better place, but they often run into big roadblocks like censorship and backlash. In today’s world, where music is everywhere online, censorship can still pop up from government rules, companies, or even artists themselves who might be scared of getting into trouble. Music activists face significant challenges in their pursuit of social change, including censorship and backlash. Sometimes, the music industry pushes back on songs that don’t fit the typical mold because of pressure from big companies or advertisers.

Let's take a look at some unforgettable moments when musicians didn't just play their instruments, but contributed to changing the world despite the odds.

The Vietnam War Era: The 1960s and 1970s were a time of upheaval and protest against the Vietnam War. Icons like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Joan Baez refused to sit back and ignore the ongoing conflicts. They strummed their guitars and penned lyrics that echoed the cries for peace and an end to the war. Their songs became anthems for a generation demanding change, proving music could be a force as powerful as any army.

The Fight Against Apartheid: Fast forward to the battle against apartheid in South Africa. Musicians like Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon used their voices and platforms to stand against segregation and racial injustice. The song “Sun City” by Artists United Against Apartheid wasn't just a track—it was a battle cry against oppression, showing the world that artists could unite for a cause greater than themselves.

Live Aid: A Concert for Famine Relief: In 1985, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure did something extraordinary. They organized Live Aid, a concert that wasn't just about great music—it was a global call to action against famine in Ethiopia. Moreover, the event demonstrated how musicians can make a real difference in people's hearts and wallets by raising funds and awareness on a scale never seen before.

The Tibetan Freedom Concerts: In the late 1990s, the Beastie Boys took a stand for Tibetan independence with a series of concerts. These events were more than just gigs; they were a platform to shine a light on the struggle for freedom in Tibet, rallying support and educating fans around the world about a fight for sovereignty far from their own homes.

Voices Against the Iraq War: And then there were bands like Green Day and System of a Down, who, in the face of the Iraq War, didn't just play music; they played a part in the protest. Through their songs and public statements, they questioned and criticized the war, using their spotlight to challenge policies and encourage their fans to think critically about the world around them.

Today, the bands’ withdrawals from the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival over its military sponsorships and the Israel-Gaza conflict could have a ripple effect on future music festivals and sponsorships.


So Now What?

The bands leaving SXSW could change how artists, festivals, and sponsors work together in the future. It's a call for everyone to think more about who they partner with and to choose sponsors that match their ethical and humanitarian values. Despite hurdles, they keep going, using digital spaces and coming together to make their voices heard. Their determination demonstrates the unstoppable spirit of music as a tool for activism, and we now have more means to support their position.

In the digital age, supporting artists through streaming platforms goes beyond just listening. When we purchase music directly from an artist’s website or platforms like Bandcamp, it's a direct investment in their craft, offering them a larger slice of the pie. Choosing streaming services that prioritize artist royalties, such as Tidal, which facilitates direct-to-artist payments, further ensures that more of our subscription fees end up in the right hands. Curating playlists and sharing artists' work play a significant role in enhancing their visibility.

Fan support in this way embodies a more intentional and supportive way of engaging with music, where every play, purchase, and action has the potential to make a tangible difference in an artist's career. These are ways that not only introduce their music to a wider audience but also contribute to increased streaming revenue.


The SXSW saga reminds us of the major role music plays in fighting for a better world. It's a powerful way for artists to express disagreement, bring people together, and imagine a fairer world. As we move forward, we're encouraged to listen to these messages, think deeply, and take action towards a more united and just global community. Music activism shows us that art can truly change the course of history, one song at a time.

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