Music unites and breeds a level of consciousness of a large mass of the population, whether it is a tool of emancipation, rebellion, propaganda and the like.
The power is in the expression of the words – what are we saying – ‘kana there is the revolution of the self’ says Mandisa Mabuthoe, a poet on the discussion about music in politics.
Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” – song that captured the frustration and pain of the American public during times of war. James Brown subconsciously broke racial barriers by ruling the R&B world, at a time when the civil rights movement was wounded through violent riots and the assassination of Martin Luther King. Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s collaboration album symbolises a remnant of the emotionally charged transition experienced by many South Africans during the eighties and early nineties. When attempting to view things in a romantic way, music and politics seem to have a symbiotic relationship, where one feeds off the other and interchangeably so. There is no balance to be sought and there are too many dynamics to separate the two. There are some things that infringe on the basic rights of a musician as a human being. Censorship and the tightness of its grip on the musicians work for instance. An artist’s involvement in politics determines their success in some cases; perhaps that is what is defined as social responsibility – foundations, donations and trusts etc… being the face of a publicity campaign of a sort. Chances are that the musician has more influence on the population in terms of changing mindsets about a social issue. Are we bound to give back to society? What about artists that just don’t care but are capable of a lot of influential power? James Brown, for example, as Nelson George puts it was ‘the most powerful individual on the scene [who] had arrogance, black appeal and a cultural integrity that was the envy of the young-blood political activists of the civil rights center and nationalist left’.
The other side, of course, is the politics in music – a redundant melody fading in the whispered echoes of the musical winds. I am talking about self-identification of the individual and their frame of reference. The question of ‘what are we saying?’ arises again. Before we were seeking redemption for a peaceful co-existence between black people and the superior white; now it is poor versus the privileged; the abandoned, the voiceless and marginalised versus the milk, honey and silk toilet paper.
How do you create a need for someone who has never needed, when you cant take away what have known – no need for a need? Music? Do you play with their emotions – a self-inflicted pressure and expectation.
In reality, however, it is only fair that one must give back to their community – so let the freedom of artistic and musical expression be. If one gets shot or killed, at least their words will remain their legacy.
‘Egypt still exists in Chicago but the pharaohs are more sophisticated and subtle’ – Martin Luther King Jr.