Music beyond entertainment: In times of collective trauma

If we look back at our lives, we can all remember a time of personal conflict. Maybe we changed schools when we were young and lost a friend. Or, we had our heart broken. Perhaps we have lost a dear family member. No matter the conflict, most probably we all have a particular song that brings up the emotions linked with that conflict. Or, we have a song that has positively contributed to our coping with that personal trauma.

What about collective traumas?

What even is collective trauma? Just like we go through personal traumas. We, as a society, can experience traumas collectively, as a result of all of us going through a conflict that affects us as a group of individuals.

I happen to be addressing my fellow Lebanese. So there’s no need to give an example of what a collective trauma is. How has the last three years been?

A representation of a side of Lebanese life as portrayed in the media during the last 3 years. Source: Reuters. Photographer: Marwan Tahtah

Every one of us is unique, and handles the collective trauma, no matter how general that trauma is, from a very personal perspective.

What does music even have to do with this collective trauma?

Just like we use music to cope with our personal conflicts and traumas, we do so for our collective ones as well.

We can all remember times when we turned on the TV, and all we heard was misery business. In news, in talk shows, and even in songs during the last three years.

Although listening to sad music about a sad event can be beneficial, acknowledging and validating our pain and helping put us on the road of recovery, listening to too many sad songs can beat the purpose and cause us to further increase our emotional pain.

The music’s catchy and repetitive beat can influence our throughts, affecting the way we see the world around us. If we constantly hear depressing songs, it’s not surprising if we have a gloomy view of the world around us.

So at one point, we must decide to move forward.

To quote one independent Lebanese rock band: “sing to me about eggplants… anything but the reason why you are sad”.

Sing to me about eggplants, anything but the reason you are sad. a line of Mashrou’ Leila’s song: Rakset Leila (2009)

So is the solution, to burry our feelings all together? And just exist by sedating ourselves with any stimuli that keeps us going? Is the goal to just run away from the pain? Run away from the negativity?

Well, that constant running away from something leads to a dead end. Humans need something or someone to follow. So at one point reverting to eggplants will not do anymore.

Follow the light

Music, offers the possibility to transmit messages that drive us forward, and that contribute to the development of positive emotions in us.

Just like listening to depressing songs makes us sad, in theory, the contrary is true.

Here’s a perspective of not just running away, but of aiming at something positive through music:

So if I am sad and listen to positive music, my problems go away? And if I am happy and listen to sad songs, my life becomes miserable?

The answer is not that simple.

No matter if a piece of music is made with the best possible intentions by its content creators (example: to uplift the audience and make them imagine a better life for themselves and their loved ones), it can affect us negatively if we use it wrongfully. An example is listening to music on repeat while running away from our responsibilities.

On the other hand, if a piece of music is made with the most malicious intentions (example: a song with a catchy beat and profanity in its lyrics just to make a quick buck and push its creators to fame), if we as receivers of that music are mindful to how that music is affecting us, and are using it consciously instead of allowing it to use us and hook us with its catchy rhythms, the music will not have power to hurt us.

So the next time we choose to tune into an album or a track, how about we be mindful to how that piece of content is making us feel? Maybe this way, we would move closer towards the healing we as individuals and as a society seek.