Loosely defined, culture refers to the shared values, beliefs and ideologies of a specific group of people. Culture, therefore, influences the manner in which we learn, live, and behave. The culture is the unifying force that brings the people, the economy, and the politics into one. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi – “… a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people…”.
We can see the heavy influence of the ‘Shinto’ culture within Japan. Shinto, developed roughly around 500BC, started as a clan religion that worshipped the ‘Kami’. Kami – literally meaning ‘divine’ – should not be mistaken for meaning one god as it is a polytheistic religion. The kamikazes valued their religion and way of life so much so that they were willing to die for it. By volunteering for the special attack corps, they felt that they were standing up for their way of life. The kamikaze attacks took place because it was considered honourable to die for an important cause and when that honour was witnessed by others within your community, your family’s honour was celebrated. Shinto put forth the values that the Japanese lived by, and those values are what prompted many young Japanese men to give their lives for their nation.
Beatrice Garland openly expresses challenge to the influence that culture poses over people. In her poem ‘Kamikaze’, she explores the repercussions of attempting to defy your culture. When Shinto is followed unquestionably, a great honour is bestowed upon you and your family, but in the poem ‘Kamikaze’, at the prospect of reluctance to devote his life to what society believes is the right path for him, he is treated “…as though he no longer existed…” and rejected by his family; furthermore, his children learned to “…live as though he had never returned”. Garland reveals the conflict that ensues within the family – even the pilot’s grandchildren learn by the example of their elders, to shun and ignore their grandfather, exposing how cultural influences are passed from one generation to the next. The “shaven head” of the pilot, the “samurai sword” and the prayers all symbolise adherence to the strict bushido honour code of death before defeat. Kamikaze pilots were expected to die in battle by crashing their planes into enemy ships. We can also see the psychological effects and consequences of not adhering to cultural expectations through the powerful line at the end of the poem:
“sometimes he must have wondered which had been the better way to die”
This shows that the pilot’s wife wondered if the pilot ever considered whether his living death – being shunned by those who he came back for, those who once loved him – is worse than the kamikaze death he avoided. This emphasises the pressure and strain placed upon individuals to accept the dominant culture whole heartedly.
Whilst, in Japan, cultural ideologies are seen to have a major influence, in England, music plays a significant part in the culture of young people today. For example, a renowned band named the Beatles were founded in Liverpool and they are considered to be one of the most influential music groups that ever existed. Some of the best artists today are from England! For instance, the popularity of Drill music continues to increase in popularity amongst the youth of today and has somewhat become a part of their shared culture. More recently, it has been associated as an influential factor contributing to the growing societal issues of gang culture and knife crime. Like countless youth music movements before, Drill lyrics deal with controversial issues. Born in the harsh landscape of inner city Chicago, and chiming with kids growing up in London’s sink estates, there’s heated debate over whether Drill simply reflects the realities of living in places where hardship seeps into every aspect of daily life, or whether it influences gang culture.
But what if Drill isn’t the catalyst for violence, but instead, a way of curing it?
A group named ‘Hope Dealers’ overtly use the Drill flow to offer positive messages and preach in flows that are proudly influenced by the likes of artists Headie One and K-Trap. Hope Dealers are a group based within London that pioneer the ‘Gospel Drill’ sound. Gospel Drill is a subgenre of UK Drill that places emphasis upon Christian values as opposed to violence. In theory, by using a sound that has proven popular and is seemingly a better way to be understood, they are attempting to turn young people away from gangs and towards God. The group is affiliated with the somewhat controversial church, SPAC Nation, where they went viral after a video surfaced of them performing Gospel Drill music in church whilst wearing balaclavas.
One member, Nathaniel Oki, who grew up in Peckham, South East London, and whose best friend was stabbed to death when he was 15, said that mixing Drill with Christian messages has helped to reach him as a troubled child. Now, at the age of 28, he is a well-respected pastor at SPAC Nation. This, to me, supports my belief that music can be used as a tool for change, heightening morality and discouraging the acceptance of societal ills that threaten the world we live in today.