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Can music create change? More artists take on gun violence

Police investigate after gunshots were heard near River and Dundas streets in Regent Park on Aug. 12, 2019. CITYNEWS

David Clayton-Thomas is reminiscing about his performance with Blood, Sweat & Tears at Woodstock 50 years ago. At the time, he was writing music protesting the Vietnam War and the Grammy winner is no stranger to writing politically motivated songs.

“We came to change the whole world with a song and we really believed that. And we did at least for a minute,” said Clayton-Thomas.

“I started with political involvement going back to a song I wrote in the 60’s called ‘Brainwashed’,” he told CityNews. “It was a very vicious wicked attack on the Vietnam War – so vicious it was ahead of its time and they wouldn’t play it in the states.”

Five decades later – Clayton-Thomas’s music has struck a chord again.

He wrote a song called “Never Again” that addresses gun violence, specifically in the United States. “The gun violence in the states is an epidemic. It’s horrendous,” he said.

Within hours of the song being released, the singer who now calls Toronto home, got hundreds of responses.

“It obviously struck a nerve and so it should. What’s going on right now is just a horror show. It’s unbelievable what is going on.”

The recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio are shining an even bigger spotlight on the deadly gun violence happening south of the border.

But gun violence isn’t just an issue in the U.S. As of August 18, Toronto has already had 274 shootings, 15 more than the same time last year.

Multiple musicians have voiced their concerns in the spike in violence including country singer Kacey Musgraves, who recently told a crowd that something needs to be done.

But, do songs about change or artists asking for change actually create a cultural shift?

“Music has probably more power than any individual medium to put ideas into people’s heads,” said York University Professor Rob Bowman. “That said, people choose deliberately what the want to listen to and what they choose will often reflect where they already are at in terms of their social values.”

“So often when we see songs that are addressed social issues, they are often communicating with people who are already there, they are preaching to the choice,” said Bowman. “So can any individual song turn gun violence around? Absolutely not. Can they have any impact? Perhaps.”