A documentary of one my favorite musicians, the Nigerian Afropop star Fela, is titled Music is the Weapon (http://vimeo.com/8818071). Fela used music as his way to speak truth to power—it was such a powerful weapon that the government arrested him on multiple occasions, imprisoned him once for 20 months, and harassed his family.
Like all art forms, music is powerful. It produces strong emotional responses but it can also cause us to think differently about the world. Consider the way in which Bob Marley’s strong message of self-emancipation, of freeing the mind, resonated with people around the world.
In Coda and Chorus, a two-book series by Emma Trevayne, an evil government known only as the Corp uses music to subdue the population in a shadowy post-apocalyptic world. After a war that had destroyed almost the entire United States, doctors discovered that music was one of the few medicines that soothed wounded people. Over time, the Corp developed specially coded music as a potent drug, its effects similar to morphine or heroin.
In Coda, the first book, the population of the “Web”—an island city that used to be known as New York City—is literally addicted to encoded music. They sometimes OD on the music. If they stop listening, they go through dangerous withdrawal symptoms. The Corp enforces regular listening in order to ensure compliance of the population (a hideously new version of “religion” as the opiate of the masses, in this case, music as quite literally the opiate of the masses). A young man Anthem, upon discovering a plot to encode music so that it not only makes the population drugged and compliant but also controls their every thought and action, seeks to overthrow the Corp from within by replacing the addictive music with real, un-encoded music.
In Chorus, Anthem’s much younger sister Alpha has tried to escape the world of the Web—and the flashbacks she endures from the one time she had listened to encoded music—by fleeing to Los Angeles. After the Corp was successfully brought down in Coda, the Web discovered that two other cities remained—Seattle and L.A. Alpha is seeking a cure from the addictive nature of the music. Though the Web is now a democracy, many of its citizens are still extremely addicted. Alpha returns to the Web when she learns that her brother Anthem is dying. Once there, she is disturbed by hints that suggest the Corp may be attempting to return to power. Her own flashbacks grow worse, the temptation to begin “tracking”—that is, giving in and listening to encoded music—becomes almost irresistible, and she soon finds herself betrayed by the one person she never expected. Now on a mission, like her brother Anthem before her, she seeks to destroy the Corp and bring rehabilitation and redemption to everybody who, like her, wants freedom from addiction.
Though some details of the books can be a bit confusing, both books are engaging reads and will capture the imagination of any teen interested in dystopic or apocalyptic literature. Strong themes of corruption, power, authoritarian governments, addiction, and freedom run parallel through both books, and offer teachers, librarians, and parents a way to use these books for introducing teenagers to important concepts. A sub-theme of the book is the apparent bisexuality of many of the characters and the ways that dress and makeup are no longer gender specific in this future world.