The main objective of this essay is to examine the extent to which African Musicians have used their musical prowess as a tool for activism against global justice. This study was conceptualized to study the evolution of activists’ strategies of African Musicians relative to global justice. Furthermore, this study will evaluate the tactics of activism used by the selected African Musicians in tackling global injustice by examining the underpinning themes explored in the various songs of the artists relating to war, corruption, power tussle, bloodshed, peace and deep concern for the citizens.
1.1.1 Global Justice
Although Ukavwe (2014) noted that justice has a complex, indistinct and unidentifiable definition, it is still a major pillar in the human hub for the upholding of social uprightness. Thus, justice can be referred to as a basic requirement of a system of social morality where individuals are allotted their basic rights and entitlements. According to Lauer (2017), global justice, which is a continuous project, is usually an unstable ideal and goal burdened with unequivocal interests. Going further, she disclosed that global injustice involves the total neglect for the life and wellbeing of the populace who have been forbidden and coerced to seek protection from hopeless conflicts. Global injustice thus features resource extraction activities and trans-national corporate authorities who use violent means to affect the properties, survival and means of livelihood of the dwellers of their jurisdiction. In his book, Nagel (2005) explained that global injustice for a long time has been seen as the withstanding of gross discrepancies in the worldwide distribution of basic resources including food, water, sanitary shelter, medical treatment for readily curable diseases, military protection of civilians.
1.1.2 African Music Activism and Global Justice
According to Mohammed-Akinyela (2012), various social movement theorists who have studied the diverse means of mobilizing populations to bring about social and political change have established a link between music activism and global social change. Bergh and Sloboda (2011) also noted that music is a social phenomenon and an ideology mechanism which is often used for stirring up conflicts. This was also corroborated in the revelation by Ekman and Amna (2012) that while the relationship between music and politics has been generally studied across various disciplines, the studies have been used to focus on the diverse ways that the artists have influenced political outcomes. For instance, Weij and Berkers (2019) cited an example of Pussy Riot on YouTube which through the use of obvious and revolutionary lyrics vis-à-vis their music activism subsequently led many people to get involved in the political discussions which their music instigated.
Particularly, Mohammed-Akinyela (2012) highlighted that Africans use music to express their most significant moments in life such that there are various songs for particular occasions such as life, death, marriage, rites of passage ceremonies, and mostly wars or injustice. In the same vein, Adebayo (2017) established that African music describes the true essence of being an African while Onyebadi (2018) rated music as a significant aspect of African society, culture and tradition by adding that music has a way of impacting politics and political activities.
For instance, Zaid (2001) revealed in his works how African artists such as Lucky Dube, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Alpha Blondy have used their musical prowess to leave critical marks on Africa’s political orbit with the delivery of their songs using scathing commentaries and criticisms, messages against unprogressive and corrupt government leaders and the rampage poverty level in the continent. Although a Jamaican, Bob Marley was also an example of an artist who used music as a tool of societal change vis-a-vis his songs about Rastafarianism while bringing the world’s attention to conditions of the impoverished in his country (Zaid, 2001).
A lot of African artists have used their music as a platform for political messaging using various themes. For instance, Mohamed Wardi, a Sudanese musician used his songs to awaken his fellow countrymen to support democracy and condemning authoritative and despotic leadership in his country (Satti, 2017). The Kenyan freedom fighters also used their Mau Mau songs as a discourse against the level of colonial injustices during Kenya’s independence struggle (Gakahu, 2017).
1.1.3 Case Studies
This study will be examining the music of three African Music icons including Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (Nigeria), Miriam Makeba (South Africa), and Alpha Blondy (Cote d’Ivoire). These African Musicians were selected basically because of the marks they have undoubtedly left in the political circle of Africa and the world through the activism-related lyrics of their songs which mostly includes sarcastic comments, condemnations, and messages opposing the unprogressive governing of their countries’ political rulers coupled with the the filthy and downgraded living standard of huge number of Africans who have been riddled with wars, violence, and other social ills which continuously devastate the continent.
Case Study 1 – Fela Anikulapo
2.1 Context and Background
Earlier in his career, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti abandoned jazz and classical music for his signature Afrobeat music which he used throughout his professional career days as an activism tool used to fight corruption, injustice of all forms and the dysfunctional government in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. His death in 1997 pushed the New York Times to describe him as a “band leader who artistically used his energetic Afro-beat rhythms and sarcastic pidgin English stanzas to spur Nigerian leaders and condemn their authoritarian administrations (Onyebadi, 2018). Mostly, his songs are always about power abuse and the impoverishment caused to the citizens by the selfless leaders who wickedly amass riches for themselves at the expense of their constituents.
More so, His audacity was checked by the then military-led government of Nigeria which made them to persecute him in 1974 and eventually led to his imprisonment (Botchway 2014). This further made Fela to intensify efforts in using his music as a principal tool for instigating revitalization of visions in the citizens which will in turn help them to continuously make efforts to initiate positive socio-political and cultural changes in their lives to achieve empowerment and self-development (Hawkins, 2011).
Fela was really disturbed by the dictatorial type of leadership practiced by the government, the political unpredictability, the scandalous contempt for constitution and the incessant deep-rooted partiality practiced by the leaders in Nigeria and Africa as a whole (Olaniyan, 2001). This led to the release of array of his songs which had titles like ‘Colonial Mentality’, ‘Mr Grammarticalogylisationalism’, ‘Vagabonds in Power’, ‘Authority Stealing’, ‘Confusion Break Bones’ among many others. However, for the purpose of this essay, we shall be considering the lyrics of his song titled “Vagabonds in Power” released in 1979. His title was sarcastically coined from the honorific acronym VIP (Very Important Person) used by corrupt African leaders to “Vagabonds in Power.” This was done to reveal how the people with power and authority enrich their pocket with the entitlement of their citizens all in the name of the post they are holding.
The song which was recorded live at the Berlin Jazz festival in autumn 1978 had its lyrics inspired by an encounter between Fela himself and Sam Nujoma, leader of Namibian Liberation Movement, the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) in 1978 (Partisan records, 2019). The song was used by the musical icon to describe the various forms of power in the society ranging from the power a man who developed a make-shift wheel-barrow to help people in carrying their luggage in the market for a fee to that of the country leader who uses his own power to enrich himself and forget the groanings of his people as seen in the transcribed lyrics below:
Him take am He (head of state) uses it (power)
Steal money To steal money
Ha ha, why? Ha ha, why?
I don’t know! I don’t know I don’t know! I don’t know (someone replied)
You don’t know anything at all You don’t know anything at all
You just my brother, ha ha You are just my (ignorant) brother, ha ha
Try this one: Try this one:
Him no know hungry people He doesn’t know hungry people (or, that people are hungry)
Him no know jobless people He doesn’t know that people are jobless
Him no know homeless people He doesn’t know that people are homeless
Him no know suffering people He doesn’t know that people are suffering
Him go dey ride best car He will ride the best car
Him go dey chop best food He will eat the best food
Him go dey live best house He will live in the best house
Him go dey waka for road If he walks along the road
You go dey commot for road You will get off the road for him to pass
Him go dey steal money He will steal (people’s) money
Na “Vagabond in Power”! He is a Vagabond in Power . . .
Having seen the inclination of these set of leaders (Vagabonds in Power) towards the siphoning of public funds with the power they hold, Fela was more enraged by the realization that they carry out this act of condescension with a sense of authority and impunity and go unpunished (except for some unlucky scapegoats in recent politics).
Case Study 2 – Alpha Blondy
3.1 Context and Background
Born as Seydou Kone, the Cote d’Ivoire born reggae superstar is internationally known as Alpha Blondy. His kind of music has over the time put Ivory Coast on the reggae map and has beyond reasonable doubt proven that reggae music is not limited to Jamaica. His music lyrics are always dispensing messages related to peace advocacy and always preaching cessation of wars and conflict. This made him to be nominated as a Peace Ambassador in Ivory Coast by the United Nations (IREIII, 2018). Earlier in his singing days, he revealed that the greatest influences on his choice of career are two great Jamaican reggae musicians (Bob Marley and Burning Spear) and his grandmother. Ever since he attended the reggae musical concert organized by Burning Spear, he has been drawn to a musical style which contains socio-political messaging (Onyebadi, 2018).
Although Alpha Blondy has sang about the overwhelming conditions of the incessant wars in Africa as a whole in the past years, the significance and moral standing of his messages still remain valid and current in recent happenings. This is evident in few wars happening all over the continent including the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, Al Shaba in Somalia and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali. Another attestation to the growing wars in Africa is the interminable wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
Alpha Blondy has a lot of songs he rendered about war, conflicts and peace resolution including ‘Bloodshed in Africa’, ‘Peace in Liberia’, “Take no Prisoner’, ‘Apartheid is Nazism’, and ‘Come Back Jesus’ amongst many others. However, for the purpose of this essay, the lyrics of the song “Bloodshed in Africa” was analyzed.
The song titled “Bloodshed in Africa” which was released in 1986 has Alpha Blondy’s synopsis of the disastrous outcome of wars and conflicts in Africa embedded in it. According to Kroubo (2010), this particular song by Alpha Blondy condemns the gruesome neocolonial policies that were established by Western African countries. In the lyrics, Blondy started the song with a dirge and then to an opposition of the bloodshed associated with Babylon (a symbol of evil and viciousness as already identified by Davidson (2008).
Bloodshed in Africa, bloodshed in Africa
What a shame, what a shame
It’s a bloody shame, oh yeah
It’s a mighty shame, oh Lord
See Babylonians are coming around
And are messing around with my people’s mind
I can’t stand it
No, I won’t bear it
It is noteworthy that reggae musicians (rastafarians) use the word ‘Babylon’ a lot to make their ideas known to the world. Rastafarianism is thus a term used by the reggae musicians synonymous to the struggle for redemption from poverty, disease, destruction, bloodshed, and insecurity. Yet, having noted the ferocity of the African Babylon, Blondy made known his hopefulness of the new era coming at some point after the war in the last part of the song as shown below:
You see, Babylon you bound to fall
You bound to fall, you bound to burn down
Babylon you bound to fall
You bound to fall, you bound to melt to the ground
During the release of the song, the obvious wars going on in Africa include the ones in Angola, Chad, and Ethiopia. Yet, there was no part of the song where Blondy specifically call for a cease-fire for the ongoing wars unlike the case for Liberia where he fervently plead for peace having come to the realization that the end result of wars is not always favorable to both the victors and the vanquished as they will bothsuffer the pains of the wars in terms the damage and the destruction that would have ravaged the two countries.
Case Study 3 – Miriam Makeba
3.1 Context and Background
Popularly called “Mama Africa”, Miriam Makeba was a United Nations goodwill ambassador, and civil rights activist during her lifetime. This is evident in her advocacy against the Apartheid and the white-minority government in South Africa using musical genres like the Afropop, jazz, and country music. More so, Makeba’s active role in the US Civil rights movement as part of black cultural activism has recently been investigated in a research by Feldstein (2013a). While her role in the anti-apartheid political movement in the US aspart of an international network of activists was investigated by Weaver (2013). This led to the production of Anti-apartheid songs and held the performances that mobilized all the suppressed black South Africans to overthrow the internal colonialism that was imposed by the Afrikaner ruling elite (Onyebadi & Memani, 2018).
While visiting Guinea for the first time, she met Stokely Carmichael who would later be her husband. At the time they met, Carmichael was also a radical civil rights activist and a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who had just arrived in Guinea after a visit to Algeria And Syria (Joseph 2014). In 1968, she married Stokely Carmichael, who at the time was the leader of the Black Panther Party. Based on the kind of music she sings and her marriage, she was persecuted and banned from the United States, which made her to relocate to Guinea (Wikipedia, 2020).
During the apartheid period, the black women in South Africa were very experienced and they shared a disadvantaged, dual heritage and a complete history of marginalization. Their culture and tradition happen to considered them as equal subordinates to men because of the gender the have. An all-white government that practiced apartheid as a philosophy that colonized them and their other male folk, and regarding them as belonging to an inferior race. However, not all the women accepted this cultural overthrow or apartheid-induced marginalization.
Thus, Miriam Makeba used her music to fiercely fight against such apartheid and also towards the liberation of black people. It is just black women in apartheid and pre-independence South Africa that experienced the marginalization described above, it was argued that their fate had not always been unwelcoming. Also, worth noting that in pre-colonial South Africa, black women held positions of power in society alongside men (Onyebadi & Memani, 2018).
Miriam Makeba’s song ‘Homeland’ which was produced in 2000 was analyzed in this part. The song which was recorded shortly after her return to her home country aftermath of the Apartheid reveals her painful past as an individual and a member of a disenfranchised group. Thus, she sings of how she has been denied of her rights to develop in her home town as shown in the lyrics below.
Memories of days gone by
When I felt so alone
If you ever felt this way
Think about my story, how it came to play
My heart is beating fast
Now at last I’m home
Miriam Makeba’s heartfelt story comes as a self-making therapeutic process. It is a therapy in that it is a painful past which Makeba remembers to entail both mental and emotional occurrences of trauma. In a way to show her deep concerns for the pains passed through by her fellow South Africans, she used the song to preach a therapeutic way which can be used to forget past pains having confirmed that healing is obtained through the reflection on and the perfect understanding of the past.
The songs used in this analysis have shown how the three artists (Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Alpha Blondy, and Miriam Makeba) have thematically used their songs to have portray political messages. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti has used his Afrobeat music to present the outrageous misuse of power by the African (most especially Nigerian) leaders, their corrupt practices and the exploitation of their citizens, while Alpha Blondy on the other hand used his reggae to speak against the perpetual wars and struggles ravaging the entire African continent. Using her personal experience as a reference point and her liberal activism background (Feldstein, 2013b), Miriam Makeba sang against the maltreatment meted out on the poor coupled with the uncertain living standards of the relegated citizens whose governments are being led by leaders who are not moved by the tears of their average citizens but continuously glorify themselves in corrupt practices vis-à-vis pilfering of government funds meant for the development of their citizens.
Coupled with the way the three artists were ousted by their countries, it could only mean that their political messages have iota of truth in them and are not exaggerated. As such, their musical activism was evidently directed towards the achievement of global justice in their countries. This is also corroborated by Segun and Ojakorotu (2019) who recently opined that Fela and Makeba used their musical prowess to play serious roles vis-a-vis their ability to preach disapproval of conventional political orders in their respective societies.