Englert (2008) observes that ‘scholarly discussions of popular culture in Africa have for long revolved around the question of authenticity; especially with regard to popular music the introduction of musical elements from Western musical style has often been viewed as a loss of it.’ Authenticity within the cultural discourse mainly refers to genuineness and originality of that cultural product; because the level of authenticity is important to the construction and acceptance of one’s identity.
Many artists have been accused of imitating Western styles in their artworks; which is contrary to how youth would perceive it. They view this adoption as progression or advancement, however, traditionally and conservative cultural context reject the western style of music, most blatantly seen in popularity sales between hip hop artists or contemporary artists and traditional such as Dramaboi, Nomadic or A.T.I, Culture Spears, CharmaGirl or Stampore. The problem in this case is not the quality but rather the content and language used – Batswana will not consume or relate if it does not have a sense of patriotism or strong cultural value. So the question once again arises: What are we saying?
‘Africa has long been renowned for its musical heritage, but it's only comparatively recently that the continent has been exporting it abroad. Youssou N'Dour and the Senegal born hip-hop artist Akon may have broken into the pop mainstream, but both had to conform to Western tastes and styles of music in order to do so’, says TIME journalist Christopher Thomson. Again, the notion of a loss of identity at the cost of progression and popularity emerges; that conforming happens either way as an artist and seems very necessary. But that is not what I, along with my other comrades in the game signed up for. Are we saying that you either have to become a traditional artist or a contemporary artist, abiding by rules you found in each establishment? The idea of being an individual or unique is just meant for fuelling dreams and it runs out the moment your bubble bursts with reality prickling away.
Although the relationship of music and politics intensified in Europe during the Cold War, it was also emerging and becoming instrumental to social control. Earlier research suggests that popular culture, particularly music was seen as detrimental due to the fact that it was a form of social control. In Africa, music has become a tool of political communication as it is easily disseminated amongst the masses. Another cultural and communication author, Eric Hobsbawm observes that commonly, the role of the artists was different in countries with repressive regimes such as Apartheid South Africa, “because these countries’ artists enjoyed the ‘sense of being needed by their public’”. Think Mbongeni Ngema, Athol Fugard and Zakes Mda and the South African Protest Theatre in the last half a century.
In the wake of June 16 celebrations and commemorations, it is important for us to remember the ghosts that continue to fight for our identities as Africans through their pieces of art – I mean “political writers” such as the late Bessie Head, who was rejected by the South African government and is now known as a Motswana, or the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiongo or Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe who are still alive and very active within literature circles – fighting for our African identities.
In the early 70s, my parents Alice Mafabia Letsie and Kagiso Alpheus Bautloane (I called my dad Thabo and only knew his real name very recently – lol- politrix right???) were exiled separately from their respective countries – my mother was married to a Sotho royal and he passed away a few years after June 16. My father was exiled to Botswana and taken to the University of Botswana, funded by the ANC. I am a product of a revolution and so are you – I am in conflict with who I am: a Motswana, South African or Mosotho but at the end of the day I am an African child. There is a reason to remember June 16, highly emotional for me, bittersweet for most and fundamental in our daily personality construction. Remember your past to understand your present to know where exactly you are going - Happy Youth Day and Day of the African Child – calling all Revolutionaries. Come out!