Can Music Foster Social Inclusion in Cities?

By Alexander Salem

Earlier in July 2019, the Sound Diplomacy Berlin team were invited to organise and host a panel discussion on the topic, “fostering social inclusion in cities through music”, at the #wirbleibenmehr city-festival in Chemnitz, Germany.

Chemnitz is a rather peculiar and conflicting city. Not just in terms of the socialist architectural legacy left behind from the former German Democratic Republic, but also in terms of the notorious global reputation it has gained following neo-Nazi rallies that have taken place in the city in recent years. Situated in the State of Saxony, some fifty kilometres away from the Czech border, Chemnitz is a relatively slow-paced and humble city. To most outside observers, Chemnitz has become synonymous with the increasingly popular far-right political group in Germany, Alternative für Deutschland [Alternative for Germany], amongst other far-right splinter groups based in the city – most notable of which being Bürgerbewegung Pro Chemnitz [Citizens' Movement Pro Chemnitz]. With an alarming spike in xenophobic violence and anti-refugee rhetoric, Chemnitz has become a stronghold of these far-right political parties; gaining over a quarter of the region’s electorate.

Ph: Gianni Mae performing at the #wirbleibenmehr festival, author’s own.

Ph: Gianni Mae performing at the #wirbleibenmehr festival, author’s own.

In an effort to shake off Chemnitz’s notoriety and to demonstrate both the city’s multiplicity and openness to the world, tens of thousands of Chemnitzers gathered at the #wirsindmehr [There are more of us] anti-racism concert in late August 2018. Frustrated by the negative images of the city and infamy earned by the far-right, an estimated 50,000 spectators turned up on mass, chanting to the songs of popular German artists, in defiance against the hateful and intolerant sentiments of far-right movements in the region. It felt, for one day at least, that music had the power to bind Chemnitz’s inhabitants together in ways that the city had never witnessed before.

 One year later, to commemorate the collective spirit and efforts of the #wirsindmehr concert, Sound Diplomacy’s Berlin team were invited to host a panel discussion at the #wirbleibenmehr [There are still more of us] event in Chemnitz’s city-centre. The city-wide festival hosted a remarkable line-up of notable artists from Curaçao’s Gianni Mae, to Berlin’s Dr. Motte, to Chemnitz’s TEREZA – along with various workshops, lectures and film screenings.

Sound Diplomacy’s panel discussion at #wirbleibenmehr festival, author’s own.

Sound Diplomacy’s panel discussion at #wirbleibenmehr festival, author’s own.

Sound Diplomacy’s panel discussion at #wirbleibenmehr festival, author’s own.

Sound Diplomacy’s panel discussion at #wirbleibenmehr festival, author’s own.

Speaking on the topic of “fostering social inclusion in cities through music”, Sound Diplomacy’s Katja led a nuanced and thorough discussion with four regional music culture figureheads. Jonas Zipf (Jena Kultur), Jörg Braune (Bandbüro Chemnitz), Lena Ingwersen (Music Cities Network) and Tilmann Löser (Klänge der Hoffnung) joined Katja in discussing several practical methods of engaging and fostering social inclusion in civil society through the organisation of regular music-related events in their respective towns and regions. The hour-long panel discussion culminated with one overarching message: music unites and galvanises different communities in the city in ways that extend beyond the confines of gender, nationality or migration-status. As such, the #wirbleibenmehr city-festival in Chemnitz is a testament to this endeavour.