Can music disarm a regime and disrupt a war? In Africa's most violent and oppressive regions, victims of rape and torture are using songs to forgive their attackers and encourage their exit from the Lord's Resistance Army. Increasingly, the persecuted use FM radio to encourage the fighters – whom war criminal Joseph Kony abducted as children in Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan – to defect and return home.
Since 1987, these broadcasts have inspired thousands to abandon Kony's rule, though the majority of defections have happened since 2009, following the establishment of Amplify Peace – a program of the Voice Project, co-founded by filmmaker Anna Gabriel, daughter of Genesis singer Peter Gabriel.
Recently, the Voice Project invited musicians to contribute to the first in a series of digital albums celebrating the soldiers' sacrifice. Home Recordings, Vol. 1, set for release on iTunes on January 15th, collects raw tapes of Gabriel, Billy Bragg, Garrison Starr and others covering songs of peace written by their peers.
"I think it's great in that it's very tangible," Gabriel told Rolling Stone in a phone interview this week while on sabbatical with his family. "I just thought it was a stunning example of our music actually changing lives, and it seems to be very effective where almost every other initiative has failed."
For 25 years, Kony's rebels, many of whom the terrorist captured as children, have mutilated and murdered thousands as part of the leader's initial aim to overthrow Uganda's president. Kony refused to sign peace agreements in 2008 and has since escaped military raids intent on taking him out. Last year, the LRA forced almost 500,000 people from their homes, according to a U.N. report.
"Deep down, they're a bunch of scared children. Shame is the number one holder of all bad things," said Delta Spirit singer Matt Vasquez, who contributed a video to Amplify Peace in 2010. "It's an incredible tool that music is being used in that way."
Added R.E.M. bassist and Voice Project participant Mike Mills, "I think as you provide information and throw a little sunlight on this sort of behavior, people will see that they are not destined to be that way. There is good that you can do even from thousands of miles away."
In late 2011, President Obama deployed and ordered special forces to assist armies that were resisting LRA occupation. U.S. troops have since improved communications systems as victims reach more of their attackers with messages of understanding on the radio.
"I think that's one of the reasons that [Nelson] Mandela is still the highest regarded moral authority in the world in lots of places," Gabriel said, "because he came out of 27 years and instead of teaching revenge, he taught forgiveness."
The Voice Project's Home Recordings, Vol. 1 track list:
01. Acello Miriam – "Dwog Paco (Come Home)"
02. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros feat. the Gulu Widows Choir – "The Voice Project (Remix)" (by Chris Holmes and Alex Ebert)
03. The Gulu Widows Choir – "Suitcase" (by Joe Purdy)
04. Joe Purdy – "Swan Swan H" (by R.E.M.)
05. Mike Mills – "Sing Their Souls Back Home" (by Billy Bragg)
06. Billy Bragg – "On a Good Day" (by Joanna Newsom)
07. Gary Go – "Chicago" (by Joseph Arthur)
08. Joseph Arthur – "Shock the Monkey" (by Peter Gabriel)
09. Peter Gabriel – "In the Neighborhood" (by Tom Waits)
10. Tom Freund – "There Is So Much More" (by Bret Dennen)
11. Brett Dennen – "Healing Hands" (by Citizen Cope)
12. Angélique Kidjo – "Soweto Blues" (by Hugh Masekela)
13. The Submarines – "For No One" (by the Beatles)
14. Garrison Starr – "Broken Headlights" (by Joey Ryan)
15. The Milk Carton Kids – "Ghost Town" (by Cary Brothers)
16. Cary Brothers and Laura Jansen – "Come Pick Me Up" (by Ryan Adams)
17. Spirit Family Reunion – "Too Young to Burn" (by Sonny and the Sunsets)
18. Priscilla Ahn – "Masters in China" (by Benji Hughes)