Socialist Worker

African music offers a social message against dictatorship and oppression

by Makola Mayambika
Issue No. 1958a

It came as an insult when the Live8 organisers forgot to put any African artists in their line-up in London. Many of these artists regularly fill concert venues in Britain, France and have a huge following across the African continent.

They have many styles, from the fresh funk sounds of Afro-beat in West Africa to rumba OK Jazz in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Various musical forms invigorated African music. “Western” music was introduced to Africa by visiting musicians, through record sales and by radio.

The popular music of the continent is the product of two parents — one African, the other external. African pop styles have become centralised around the main cultural or commercial centres.

There is “Manding swing” or “electro griot” music from West Africa. The “Swahili sound” comes from East Africa . “Jive” and jazz from southern Africa.

Arabic influenced music comes from the north. Makossa and “liberation” music comes from the area between Cameroon and Gabon, and the area between Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

I was born in the 1980s in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. In those days OK Jazz and rumba were really popular amongst my parent’s generation. Under the then Mobutu dictatorship songwriters could not be remotely political.

But it was through the social messages of artists like Franco that music was used to advance society. Artists warned people of the dangers of contracting HIV and challenged sexism.

Franco adopted village music to summon people or spread news, with an original style using monologues and story telling.

My biggest respect goes to the man nicknamed the “Black President”—Nigerian Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. He was a tireless campaigner for the poor. His incendiary anti-establishment music and politics earned him the respect of millions.

Fela blended African-American jazz, soul and funk with traditional Nigerian and West African rhythms, often singing in the pidgin English spoken by the Nigerian poor.

Fela was harassed and vilified by the ruling elite, spending most of the 1980s in prison.

His song “ITT (International Thief Thief)” — a scathing attack on the corporate looting by Western transnationals — earned him the wrath of the Nigerian military regime.

Over 1,000 soldiers attacked and burned down his house, throwing the musician’s mother and brother out of a window. Fela, in an act of grief-stricken protest, placed his mother’s casket at the doorstep of the dictatorship’s headquarters.


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Sun 3 Jul 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1958a
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