Bridge Over Troubled Water: Music and Peacebuilding

This is a guest post from Ali Mabardi, who writes about peacebuilding at her blog, Critical Peace. If you’re interested in hearing more from Ali, please like her Facebook Page.

In a previous post, The Cellist of Sarajevo, I described how one Bosnian man became a symbol of peace and hope in a country devastated by war. He defied the violence, tragedy, and hopelessness surrounding him and transcended his reality with the use of a single instrument, his cello. He also has emphasized a profound, grander concept. Music is powerful.

It can elicit latent emotion, enhance an already present emotion, describe feelings you may not know how to articulate, and draw you out of a current time and space into an alternate reality. Just look closely at any musicians’ faces as they play their instruments. It doesn’t matter what instrument, it is obvious they are passionate about and moved deeply by what they are playing. They are raw, unguarded, and connected with their core. Consequently, we can connect with them on a personal level. This association is so potent and commanding, people spend valuable time and money chasing it for months, or even years, at a time. Watch this short video and examine the musicians as they play, but more importantly, actually feel the emotions this raises. Connect with yourself.

Music also requires and coerces collaboration. I find the best collaborations to be unexpected and unusual because, if executed in a careful manner, these are what can result in the most beautiful, harmonious, creative outcomes. Think of two artists you were surprised to see work together, but ended up producing music that was reminiscent of them both, yet created a novel, unique sound and vision. Personally, one of the best examples of this Alison Krause and Robert Plant’s Grammy-winning collaboration Raising Sand. These artists both have roots in blues and folk, but took alternate routes when it came to their distinct musical sounds. However, this album exemplifies what can emerge from attempting something different, from not taking the obvious route, and working together with someone you never thought you could or would. Listen to this one song off of this inspiring and interesting album.


Ask people what they can’t live without and, besides the obvious, I bet most of them will say music. Although we all have personal tastes and opinions about our choices in music, it is still one of the world’s ultimate unifiers. It has the ability to take individual, completely different units and transform them into a cohesive, beautiful whole. This statement is true for both individual instruments in a band or autonomous members of society.

Like music, building lasting peace requires being raw and unguarded with your emotions and unexpected collaborations. See what happens when you let your guard down and reach out to someone unanticipated, it could fail miserably, but it could be one of the best choices you have ever made.

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