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30 mars 2008

I predict a riot

When the musician Björk cried out "Tibet, Tibet" during her concert in Shanghai on March 2, it was always going to be controversial. However, few people probably expected that within two weeks the Himalayan country would see spontaneous demonstrations for independence - that for the first time in decades Tibetans would take to the streets, demanding their freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama.

So am I alone in thinking that Björk may have sparked the riots in Tibet? Is it possible that the diminutive Icelandic pop-star was the catalyst for the protests which engulfed the country, spreading to China itself? Did she really penetrate the great firewall of China to rock the world, or with the Beijing Olympics around the corner is it all just coincidental?

Björk, who once brutally attacked a journalist in Thailand, said in an interview with the NME, shortly after the insurrection against Chinese rule took hold in Tibet, "the issue is: how are they going to deal with western moral issues like freedom of speech? Songs like Declare Independence for me are about humanity. I stand by what I said."

Björk is not the first artist to speak out about human rights. Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez all supported the civil rights movement in the 1960's. Peter Gabriel, Eddy Grant and others were vocal when it came to South Africa in the 1980s. And let us not forget John Lennon, who imagined a better world and became a symbol for the peace movement, when he sang Give Peace and Chance.

Then there was Paul Simon who defied the cultural boycott against South Africa to record his acclaimed album Graceland, and who once said in an interview that he thought he had contributed to the downfall of apartheid.

In his song about the late Steve Biko, leader of South Africa's Black Consciousness movement, who was brutally murdered by the Apartheid state, Peter Gabriel wrote prophetically, "You can blow out a candle, but you can't blow out a fire. Once the flames begin to catch the wind will blow it higher." But did his music actually fan the flames of revolution? Do artists really ever hold that much sway?

Jeremy Kuper March 29, 2008

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