The T:AP (TRANSCEND: Art and Peace) Music Project is a group of musicians devoted to the promotion of peace through music. What is special about our group is that we base our work on a clear definition of peace, namely that proposed by TRANSCEND founder and director Johan Galtung: “the capacity to transform conflicts with nonviolence, creativity and empathy.” Squarely looking at the reality of conflicts in our daily lives and throughout the world, we try to use music to enhance those qualities that enable people to transform conflicts in the best way possible. Our project is an attempt to answer this question: How can music promote conflict transformation by enhancing nonviolence, creativity and empathy?
The members of the T:AP Music Project featured in this article agree that the TRANSCEND method has given them a greater sense of purpose, making “peace” a more concrete goal. The mission statement of the T:AP Network also contributes to our sense of unity: “To T:AP into the human potential for peace by supporting creativity and the arts.”
Each of us finds renewed inspiration in numerous collaborative endeavors which have developed as a result of our involvement with the T:AP Music Project network. To illustrate some more how the T:AP project works, I will now introduce some of its members.
Maria Elena Lopez Vinader
Maria Elena Lopez Vinader is the international director of Music Therapists for Peace, and she has a radio program entitled “Imagine, Peace Is Possible” in Argentina. Invited guests express their concerns about the world, and music that validates diversity is played. Various members of the T:AP Music Project team have called in to the show, expressing their opposition to violence or, in the case of Mohammad Iqbal Behleem from Pakistan, explaining Islamic culture and its own tradition of nonviolence. Mohammad and Maria Elena have also collaborated to write a song entitled “War Is a Crime Against Humanity.”
Maria Elena plays the piano and uses sound in music therapy. She describes how being a music therapist for peace means finding ways to help people on a larger scale to be “in tune” for peace, and to become “actors” effecting social change through music.
She comments, “When we do music therapy, we are practicing consciously or unconsciously the TRANSCEND method for conflict transformation. Very simply, this is because empathy is one of the ‘techniques’ or premises of our work. We also call it a mirror, or reflection, to acknowledge and accept musically the other person’s feelings and emotions. Then we enter into a musical dialogue which is always creative and of course ‘nonviolent,’ transforming aggression into accepted musical behavior. This gives an opportunity for healing to occur and for peace to be felt.”
Mohammad Iqbal Behleem
Mohammad Iqbal Behleem is a professional musician who creates music for Pakistani television and other companies in Pakistan. He has organized Muppet Theater performances in 50 schools around the city of Karachi, Pakistan. Mohammad designed an original story and characters, created a soundtrack with songs for peace, and made the muppets himself. The main theme was the importance of helping others, and the response from children was very positive. He has also created a nursery rhyme album with children aged 5 to 10, with the theme of peace and love.
He says, “As I share my music and my songs naturally with people from all over the world, from time to time a wonderful collaboration comes to bloom. Recently, through T:AP, I met Sumeet Grover, a poet and guitar player from India, and the two of us are working on reconciliation between our two countries through music.”
Rais Boneza is an artist and poet from Congo who is now a student in Norway, where he is also the director of the T:AP Refugees Project. Rais believes artists should be more concerned and involved in promoting peace, not only as artists but also as citizens. The T:AP Refugees Project for art, creativity and cultural exchange offers a space where refugees and immigrants from different horizons meet together to express themselves and promote peace, and find renewed strength to adapt to their new environment. It is also an arena where people who have experienced traumatizing events (i.e. refugees, internally displaced people, orphans) can boost their esteem and self-confidence and develop a common vision for a positive transformation of their society.
“As I am involved in African contemporary dance, I decided to expand the power of sounds by mixing different types of music, to create a kind of dialogue between cultures. With Mohammad Iqbal Behleem, I am now working on an interactive project with the aim of creating music for peace. We believe that with the tom-tom, kora and likembe vibrating together with the mihbaj, buzuq and the rababah, we should even be able to stop and oppose machine guns and other deadly weapons in the world!”
Calling for Change
Rik Palieri is from the U.S. He is a professional folk singer and banjo player who continues the tradition of activism established by Pete Seeger. His emphasis is on encouraging people to get along, and he has consistently used his music directly to call for social change, whether marching in picket lines or antinuclear demonstrations, playing in support of unions or environmentalism, singing against the Vietnam War, the first Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan or the present situation in Iraq. He has also performed his songs in 1,000 schools in the U.S.
Rik describes how his fellow musician Pete Seeger wrote on his banjo head “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender.” He adds, “This process can even be done on a bus: I was just getting back from touring Alaska, and was ready to fly home when our plane was cancelled. All the passengers had to take a bus to Seattle and everyone was in a real bad mood, especially the bus driver. The bus drove off and I started plucking away at my banjo, and in a few minutes, I noticed everyone was humming along, and before long the whole bus burst out in song, even the driver!”
The opportunities for synergy created by our links through T:AP are many. We also aim to make contributions to research into the links between music and peace, as yet a largely unexplored field in academic terms. Maria Elena, Rais and I plan to present papers on this topic at the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) conference in Hungary in July this year.
The TRANSCEND: Art and Peace Network was established in January 2000. I never imagined that four years later this idea would have grown into a group of more than 80 dedicated people from all continents. Amongst the different projects sponsored by our network, the T:AP Music Project is where people from diverse backgrounds can freely express their passion for music and their concerns about the world. It is truly magical to see the interaction between the members, such as those presented in this article.
Dr. Olivier Urbain, from Belgium, is a peace researcher, an amateur blues pianist and the founder of the T:AP Network. He is the editor of the book Music and Conflict Transformation, published in 2008.