“If I envision peace, it is nearer every day”.
Day after the barbaric Russian invasion on Ukraine stared, we asked our Ukrainian expert for a playlist with Ukrainian songs to keep the spirits up.
Now as Ukrainians are busy with restoring their country – and they’re doing it quite rapidly – we asked our other contributors for local songs about peace, war and freedom, remembering that dozens other conflicts keep firing up around the world. The oldest song comes from 1961, and the newest one from 2022.
ARGENTINA: Charly García – “Buscando un símbolo de paz” (1987)
This vivid ode to youth dreams, published originally in 1987 – four years after democracy returned to Argentina, ending the darkest period of our time – “Buscando un símbolo de paz” never gets old.
It sounds like peace and dancing forms a never-ending pursuit.
BELARUS: Lavon Volski, Narodny Albom – “Prostyja Slovy” (1997)
This song comes from “Narodny Albom” (“People’s Album”), which in this case is the artist and the album name, because it was a joint superproject of popular Belarusian rock musicians, recorded and released in 1997.
The album/project tells the stories of simple Belarusian people living on the territory split between Poland and USSR in 1920-30s with the ghost of war just round the corner. Composed and sung by Lavon Volski to the lyrics of Michal Aniempadystau, “Prostyja slovy” (“Simple Words”) celebrates simple words and some things, which are the core for human everyday peace and happiness all over the world.
“Simple words, simple things: Bread on the table, flame in the oven.
“It’s that simple, it’s that good. Like crawling under the blanket with your head”
BELGIUM: Arno – “Je veux vivre” (2021)
In 2016, Arno included “Je veux vivre” on his album “Human Incognito”, while in 2021 it got a very emotional value as the “almost” title song of the album “Vivre”, “to live”, on which he re-recorded some of his best songs in a piano version. The title was symbolic because while recording the album, Arno already knew his life was coming to an end due to an incurable cancer. The version we selected is the most recent one.
Throughout his career Arno has been building bridges between cultures, languages, generations and countries, questioning what was taken for granted, tearing down clichés, often with a twist of humour. A fitting example is “Je veux vivre”. It’s not exclusively about peace, also about a world without jealousy, without poverty, and without cholesterol, but with a lovesick god and plenty of rock & roll.
Arno passed away on April 23rd 2022. He will be remembered for the many memorable songs he recorded with TC Matic and throughout his solo career. For the music, the words and the live shows, that were always unique and very entertaining.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: Skroz feat. Dino Šaran – “Pictures of war” (2022)
If we are talking about Bosnia and Herzegovina, among the best songwriters and rock poets in the last quarter of a century are certainly the Šaran brothers. Dino Šaran, the older one, is known as the frontman of Letu Štuke and a respected songwriter for many pop-rock acts outside the borders of B&H. The younger brother, Adnan, is the frontman of the band Skroz, which, just like him, somehow remained underrated in the wider, regional context.
Both living in Sarajevo, they experienced and survived the war in their twenties. Only recently, Šaran brothers made a song together, the first time ever. It happened during the filming of a rock documentary about Adnan’s band – “Skroz Sarajevo” (Totally Sarajevo). Like the film, the song also touches on the war, from the perspective of a young man – somehow as if it was made partly for this beehype compilation.
CANADA: Céline Dion – “Une colombe” (1984)
Céline Dion was only 16 when the first single of her album “Mélanie” debuted, in June of 1984.
The song, while pretty cheesy, stuck a chord in the hearts of Quebec listeners, with its positive message of peace and friendship, and was immediately given heavy radio rotation, fast becoming a hit.
So much that when Pope John Paul II visited the country, a few months later, Dion got to sing Une colombe” in front of him – and 65 000 people – at the Olympic Stadium.
CHILE: Víctor Jara – “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz” (1971)
“El derecho de vivir en paz” (“The right to live in peace”) is one of the iconic songs of Víctor Jara, an important singer-songwriter of the “Nueva Canción Chilena” movement during the 1970s in the Unidad Popular period. In 1973, he was assassinated by the dictatorship.
This song was written in allusion to the Vietnam War, however it became a hymn for social protests due to the message it delivers and generates empathy for the common people.
CHINA: SMZB (生命之餅) – “Ten Thousand Ways To Rebel” (2016)
Wuhan punk rock legends SMZB (生命之餅) known for their politically charged anthems, have been a fixture of the music scene for nearly two decades – infusing their Celtic-style punk music with a commitment to social responsibility – catchy, timely, engaged and enraged.
It’s not exactly peace and love – but their combative pride and lust for freedom for their country remains as potent as ever.
It sounds like peace and dancing forms a never-ending pursuit.
FINLAND: Kollaa kestää – “Jäähyväiset aseille” (1979)
Kollaa kestää was a punk and new wave band, who in 1978–79 released two singles, an EP and a sole album, regarded as a classic. They combined punk rock’s vigour with fragility and wit, paving the way for later indie bands. In contempt towards the prevailing stale, monolithic nationalism they refer several times to war-related subjects. Even the band name (“Kollaa holds”) sarcastically quotes a proverb recalling a famous defensive battle in the Winter War of 1939–1940.
The title track of the album, “Jäähyväiset aseille” (“A farewell to arms”), is an earnest pacifist anthem. It became more popular two years later as a folk-pop version by protest singer Liisa Tavi, herself a part of a far-left movement under considerable Soviet influence. The lyrics are squarely utopian, calling for an end to weapons used not only to destroy life but also to “protect” it.
The original recording has retained its appeal, while its wistfulness gains additional weight from conflicted nostalgia toward a time when such credulous idealism could be afforded.
GEORGIA: საბავშვო ანსამბლი “აი ია” – “შეჩერდით” (1991)
Songs about peace mostly come from the places that had been involved in imperial pursuits and often are critical of the government’s aggressive policies. It explains why Georgia, having no such history, mostly having depended on defensive wars for its survival, is not exactly a hotspot for pacifist music. However, there have been several transitional periods in Georgian history, especially around Glasnost and the fall of the USSR, where there was a place for peace efforts in the zeitgeist.
“Shecherdit” by Ai Ia, a Georgian children’s band active in the late 80s to early 90s, exemplifies this ephemeric period. This energetic song that opens their second LP from 1991 (probably written just before the painful breakaway conflicts started in the country), heavily featuring anti-militarist, pro-environmental messages, concludes with emphatic, threefold “stooooop!”. A rare, beautiful curiosity.
GREECE: Magic De Spell – “Sarajevo” (1993)
During the last two centuries, Greece and the people who lived in its wider geographical area had for sure to recall and remember a lot of war conflicts and constant tragic incidents. From the Greek War of independence from the Ottoman Empire to the Balkan wars, from the first World War to World War II and the disastrous Greek Civil War that took place between 1943 to 1949. The Greek Junta of the military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974 was next, followed by the Turkish invasion of the northern side of Cyprus.
Meanwhile, in the wider neighborhood of the country, instability and more wars have always been present, such as the Yugoslav Wars, the never-ending Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the Gulf War, the Libyan Civil War, the Syrian War and so on. Not to mention all the rest of the world’s disastrous situations.
So, as you guess, all of the above played a significant role to many artists, composers and musicians in Greece, having a long tradition of protest / anti-war / peace songs. Some of them were Sofia Vembo, Nikos Xylouris, Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Loizos, Kostas Hatzis, Manos Hatzidakis, Dionysis Savvopoulos, Arleta, several musicians of the early rebetiko movement and the list could go on forever.
But, as a child of the 1990s, I picked for this beehype special the one that haunted me as a teenager, a powerful song by the alternative rock band Magic De Spell. “Sarajevo”, which was released two years earlier than The Passengers’ (Brian Eno & U2) heartbreaking “Miss Sarajevo”, was Greece’s favourite anti-war / peace song of the decade. And I hope that the main chorus of the song, which refers to the death that goes during vacation in Sarajevo, won’t need to be sung again nowadays as new dangerous tensions divide the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
HUNGARY: Platon Karataev – “Wolf Throats” (2020)
The music of Platon Karataev is usually described as very peaceful, in many cases almost meditative. If you search through the comment sections under their Youtube videos, people often praise them for making music that can literally help you through problems.
On the contrary, I chose a song now where there is a strong dissonance. “Wolf Throats” starts with harmonies that usually characterize their music. Their vocals are always magical, almost sounding like religious singing. But this harmony soon gets disrupted. The voices start to change tone, the rhythm becomes faster, and the musical peace ends in an aggressive, almost noise like “melody”.
This follows the lyrics’ development, that leaves off of a light picture, a description of the universal ease of thoughts. However, thoughts can be dangerous too, and when they fly too far away, the peace is broken and forgotten. Upsetting times, unsolved problems and wars sometimes start with the melody of peace being broken by the cacophony of a dangerous thought.
IRAN: Mohammad-Reza Shajarian – “Language of the Fire (Lay Down Your Gun)” (2009)
Surprisingly, in Iranian songbook of the last century there are almost no songs about peace (in the sense of anti-war songs and not just about friendship and peacefulness) that is good enough and has a place in society’s collective memory, while there are tens of songs that somehow address the numerous critical situations like war, coup and political repression.
There are songs which complain about those situations or encourage to fight or resistance or songs that describe the darkness and bitterness of such times, but no popular song that directly praises or invites peace in the sense of stopping war or violence except Shajarian’s “Language of Fire”, known by its first line as “Lay Down Your Gun”.
Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, who passed two years ago, is the greatest traditional and classical Iranian singer of his time, loved and respected by millions of Iranians. While the Iranian presidential election peaceful protest from 2009 was backlashed violently by the regime, he who tried always to be on people’s side released this song which was published as a single and was never published officially.
“Language of Fire” is based on a poem by late poet Fereydoun Moshiri and arranged by Majid Derakhshani. It was a message to the ones who suppress people. Disfavored by the state and blacklisted by the state-run media, Shajarian seems to be speaking directly to the forces who beat protesters during those unrest, asking them to put their weapons down and join him for a chat: “Lay down your gun, come, sit down, talk, hear. Perhaps the light of humanity will get through to your heart too.”
ICELAND: Mótettukór Hallgrímskirkju – “Til þín Drottinn hnatta og heima”
This impressive piece of music is an Icelandic hymn called “Til þín Drottinn hnatta og heima”, which roughly translates to “To you Lord, of planets and worlds”.
The song is a prayer, sung by many Icelandic choirs. Most Icelanders have partaken in a choir at some point in their lives. It’s somewhat a national thing. I shy from calling it a national sport because we very seldom compete in it, like people do in the US. Though the roots of the custom are based in the national church, it’s more of a casual pastime in the country.
The lyrics are highly dramatic, addressing peace but also redemption. Lyrics are written by Dr. Páll Kolka (1895-1971), song by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson (1938-2013). Þorkell’s hymn “Heyr himna smiður” has become world famous, and even a Youtube hit – sung by Icelandic folk band Árstíðir.
Here is a rough English translation of the first verse of “Til þín Drottinn hnatta og heima”: “To you, Lord of the planets and worlds, sounds a prayer for peace. Give tormented, troubled masses help in need, mercy for the guilty. When the mighty mountains tremble, when all options have been tried, let the weak find the solid rock, your true grace.”
JAPAN: The Blue Hearts – “Aozora” (The Blue Sky) (1989)
“We could be equal under the blue sky, no matter if our skin is black or white”. This is what The Blue Hearts might be talling us in the song “Aozora” (青空), or “The Blue Sky”. Influenced by great rock musicians like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen or The Clash, they are one of the biggest rock bands in the history of Japanese music.
Like Radiohead who sing “We’d be a walking disaster” in “There There”, The Blue Hearts always worry when someone has a deadly weapon to kill another person. We might sometimes be a victim, sometimes be an assailant.
“Aozora” comes from their third album “Train-Train”, which is named by inspiration from Woody Guthrie’s song “This Train Is Bound for Glory”. They sing that we could look for glory with our internal wickedness.
LITHUANIA: Vytautas Kernagis – “Baltas Paukštis” (1998)
Vytautas Kernagis (RIP) was not just a famous Lithuanian singer-songwriter, a pioneer of singing poetry, a well known actor, director and television announcer. Probably most of us remember him as a freedom figure whose songs accompanied our nation’s way to freedom in this difficult yet brightful period of Lithuania’s history.
The song “Baltas Paukštis” (“White Bird”) by Vytautas Kernagis is an allegorical tune about a bird that, despite all the adversities and impending dangers, is raising to a new flight (or fight if I may), hope and life. This is not the only freedom song Vytautas Kernagis wrote, but it is definitely the most sacred and symbolical.
MALAYSIA: Azmyl Yunor and Orkes Padu – “Tanah Air Ku” (2016)
This song was written as a challenge by a local radio station for artists to write an alternate national anthem for Malaysia.
This song speaks about Malaysia being a country of peace and freedom. Slight disclaimer, I actually played bass on this song LOL. Hope that doesn’t disqualify it as I just think it’s quite apt.
NEW ZEALAND: Herbs – “Sensitive To A Smile” (1987)
Taken from the album of the same name, “Sensitive To A Smile” is one of the most well-known and unique singles from the first-generation New Zealand Pacific Reggae band, Herbs.
Written by band members Dilworth Karaka, Charlie Tumahai and the American poet Todd Casella, “Sensitive To A Smile” reached #9 in the New Zealand Top 40 singles chart after it was released, sending a message of peace, love and the importance of family across the nation.
The accompanying music video – shot by the filmmaker Lee Tamahori, who went on to direct the cult New Zealand film “Once Were Warriors” – was filmed in Ruatoria, a troubled and divided East Coast town where issues surrounding a Rastafarian sect led to assaults, kidnappings and firebombed churches. You can learn more about these events here.
(Martyn William Pepperell)
NORWAY: Karpe Diem – “Tusen Tegninger” (2010)
The path to peace begins with tolerance. For over 20 years Norwegian rap duo Karpe (formely known as Karpe Diem) has been a powerful force, merging cultures and pushing the boundries of the performing arts. The title of the song “Tusen Tegninger” translates as “A Thousand Drawing” and is one of their most personal song. The song is anpowerful prayer for tolerance across cultures. A prayer that sadly has yet to be answered.
On July 22, 2011 Norway and it’s democratic values was struck by terror. In wake of the grusome attack the people of Norway responded with a peace demonstration: a parade of roses. One month after the attack a National Memory Service was held in Oslo Spektrum. One of the acts performing were Karpe Diem. The duo performed “Tusen tegninger” together with their live band and the Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra. This special performance ended up being one of the most memorable moments from the service.
The song is bilangual: The rap verses are in Norwegian and the chorus are in Arabic. Even if you don’t get the words the emotional performance might make you grasp the message. The path to peace begins with tolerance.
(Edvard Granum Dillner)
PERU: El Polen feat. Susana Baca – “El mundo recibido” (1972)
The legendary group El Polen, which is considered one of the forerunners of Andean rock, recorded this song with the ambassador of Afro-Peruvian music, Susana Baca, in the early 1970s, as one of their first recordings.
“El mundo recibido” is a folk song that evokes reflection on the world we are receiving. While it appeared on the reissue of the album “Cholo” in 2011, the original version comes from 1972.
(José Luis Mercado)
POLAND: Penderecki – “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” (1961)
Sweden has Abba, France has Édith Piaf, Spain has Rosalía, Iceland has Björk, Brazil has Gilberto Gil, South Korea has K-pop, and Germany has Kraftwerk (or Rammstein). Poland has Chopin, and other stars of the philharmonic like Górecki and Penderecki.
You might already know the latter one’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima”, probably because Stanley Kubrick is quite a fan – he included it in “The Shining”, “Twin Peaks” and the “Inland Empire”. But you could also have heard this work in “Children of Men”, “The People Under the Stairs” or “The Exorcist”.
There’s a reason for it: it’s terrifying. Not just for listeners, also for performers – many violinists didn’t want to play it because they were worried it would damage their instruments. But initially, it wasn’t written in the memory of Hiroshima victims, it was called simply “8’37”. Penderecki changed it later reportedly “struck by the emotional charge of the work”.
PUERTO RICO: Koala en Krayola – “Libre, Verde, Saludable” (2021)
Throughout “Libre, Verde, Saludable” (Free, Green, Healthy), Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Koala En Krayola dreams big and invites us to do so as well. She begins by dreaming up a free country (Puerto Rico being a colony of the United States to this day), where people ride their bikes to the beach and always greet each other with a smile.
In her dreams all dogs have found forever homes, while trees are taller, their fruits sweeter – and as the song progresses her visions coalesce into a powerful statement of intent: “Si paz voy imaginando, cada vez está más cerca” – “If I envision peace, it is nearer every day”.
SLOVAKIA: Ivan Hoffman – “Nech mi nehovoria” (1989)
Ivan Hoffman is also known as a voice of Velvet Revolution in 1989. The song is a reaction to atmosphere in former Czecho-Slovakia just before the end of socialist regime.
This is also a legendary performance from a festival where the artist was invited on stage during Joan Baez’ performance and his show was cancelled by authorities.
SLOVENIA: Majda Sepe – “Med iskrenimi ljudmi” (1972)
Here’s a Slovene classic, its title could be translated as “Among honest people”. The song won the yearly “Slovenska popevka” music competition in 1972, which means it is exactly 50 years old this year.
“Med iskrenimi ljudmi” talks about honesty in general, and Majda Sepe finishes the track with a simple wish: “Let me wake up tomorrow among honest people.”
SOUTH KOREA: Jung Tae Choon and Park Eun Ok (정태춘 & 박은옥) – “5.18” (1998)
If you want to discover the history of cultural movement regarding the democratization in South Korea, you must not miss Jung Tae Choon and Park Eun Ok, a couple folk duo. Starting his career as a contemporary folk musician who sought to integrate traditional Korean music and contemporary folk, Jung has gradually transformed into the flagbearer of protest music in Korea – where the oppressive autocracy regime continued almost 40 years after the Korean war.
“5.18” is a song about Gwangju Uprising of 1980, and it is an aural testament. In the soundscape full of grievance and fury, Jung depicts the snippet of massacre and sadness of survivors with bloodstained voice. It is the requiem for the victims of state violence, but also the demand for memory and remembrance.
The fact that the song came out 18 years after the uprising tells quite a lot. “No, never forget the petal-like bodies and medals / Until you bury those medals in front of the graveyard.”
TAIWAN: Penny Suyang（蘇婭) – “Formosa Beautiful Island”（美麗島) (1979/2008)
This classic folk ballad was originally released in 1979, and was composed by Shuang-Tze Li（李雙澤), based on the poem “Taiwan”（台灣）written by Shiou Shi Chen（陳秀喜). It used to be forbidden by the government because the lyrics contents were deemed as a declaration of Taiwan’s independence – though the real meaning is just writing about the beauty of Taiwan.
The song was first recorded by the legendary protest singer-songwriter Tsu-Chun Yang（楊祖珺). Beside Taiwan’s landscapes, it lauds its brave people, beautiful sunshine and endless lives of mother-nature.
The version shared here is a cover sung by Penny-Suyang（蘇婭）from the tribute album to Shuang-Tze Li. Penny’s voice is soulful and powerful, which clearly conveys the original spirit of this powerful and beautiful song.
TÜRKIYE: Mor ve Ötesi – “Uyan” (2004)
Mor ve Ötesi is one of the most important rock bands of the Turkish music scene. “Uyan” means wake up! As you can guess, this song is a wake up call for the humanity to see the reality.
“Uyan” comes from their iconic album named “Dünya Yalan Söylüyor”, or “The World is Lying”. Not only “Uyan”, but many other songs on this release include important critic of the world system, politics, wars, etc.
And also, “Dünya Yalan Söylüyor” is the album which took Mor ve Ötesi from the alternative scene to mainstream.
Picture: BKFoxx – “Rise from the Mud“, mural in Kyiv