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Political musicians, Musicians Who Sing For Their Stomachs Rather Than to Impact The Society.
Today, we have more of political musicians who sing solely for fame and their stomachs. There are actually two types of political musicians; One uses his/her music to influence politics and policies, while politic influences the music and policies of the other.
Political expressions through music and songs have been part of many cultures and countries in the world. I can remember the likes of South Africa during the apartheid period where music was used to tell the story of black people and their struggles in the oppressive and racist regimes. Songs were coming all over the world and not only from South African musicians. Stevie Wonder did “It’s Wrong (Apartheid)”, Youssou N’Dour (“Nelson Mandela”), Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and many others. Hugh, Miriam and others had to go on exile because they criticized the government with their songs. Songs criticizing the apartheid government of South Africa were banned. However, this didn’t stop the artists from using their music to decry the ills of the apartheid government. These are political musicians whose music influenced and affected the politics and policies of the country in many ways.
By nature, music has always been inherently political. Some political musicians have been using their songs to decry societal ills for time immemorial. The most loved musicians are usually those that stand for what the people want. They stand against injustice, they talk about the pains of the people, corruption and other societal ills. History doesn’t forget such political musicians for standing up for the people by giving them music, as well as putting pressure on oppressive governments in particular with their songs.
Political musicians, Music and Politics
Politics and music have been bed-fellows for many centuries. At times the relationship is filled with warmth and friendliness while at other times, it becomes a Tom and Jerry-like one. One thing that is very common about the politician and the musician is that both seek to inspire their audience. There are cases that they even use each other to sell their ideas.
In the 2018 presidential elections in Cameroon, we saw musicians like Valsero and Longue Longue campaigning for the opposition in rallies. There are many cases of campaign rallies to musical endorsements. We have heard songs of victory when there are achievements, and protest songs when socio-political unjustness implants itself.
When the going is good, governments and musicians rub shoulders and when things get rough, the songwriters make a total U-turn. The same microphone that was used to shower praises turns out to be the same used in bashing and decrying injustice.
The father of Afrobeat, ‘Fela Kuti’ is regarded as one of the best political musicians ever in Nigerian and Africa as a whole, not because of the fact that he could play every known musical instrument, but mostly because of the fact that his music was never influenced by politics! Fela Kuti is an example of a legend who musicalised politics.
Fela Kuti Was beaten, imprisoned, lost his mother, but until his last breath, he was never a compromised musician. He won so many awards while he was alive and even posthumously, the awards keep coming in. He’s dead, but his music lives on. Wiz Kid, Davido, Flavour and many other African musicians, maybe singing more about love, women and sex, but there’s no denying of the fact that their pieces of music are all built on the default template of Afrobeat created by Fela Kuti.
This shows that political musicians who sing to impact society are more important than the ones who sing for fame, money and their stomachs.
Bobi Wine Among African political musicians
Bobi Wine, (whom I admire so much) is a courageous young entrepreneur and political musician who has used music to decry social and political injustice in Uganda. At this moment as I am writing, he is changing the political landscape of Uganda with its effect felt in the neighbouring country, Kenya. He has been a thorn in the flesh of President Yuweri Museveni and his government. A victim of several arrests and concert cancellation, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine has been a member of parliament in Uganda since July 11, 2017. He had this to say in one of his posts on social media:
They politicized music in the first place. They paid artists to sing *tubonga naawe. They wanted music to brainwash people and influence politics in their favour. We also decided to use music to awaken the people and it became too much for them. They realized they had started a game they couldn’t play. Today they want politics to influence music but do not want music to influence politics. Hypocrites of hypocrites.
Politicised Music By Ugandan Political Musicians
*[Tubonga Naawe was a song by a group of Ugandan artistes praising President Museveni. They included Bebe Cool, King Saha, Jose Chameleone, Rema Namakula, Iryn Namubiru and others.]
Tibonga Naawe was condemned by many social media users, critics and fellow artists. A similar thing happened in Cameroon during the campaign period for the October 2018 presidential elections. The ruling party invited some artists to take part in a grand concert during the campaigns. The artists called for the concert met with tough criticisms from fans and social media users. Some artists even had to withdraw from participating because of the uproar from their fans. Things didn’t end after the elections as until now, some of them had to cancel their end of year concerts as social media boycott messages went viral.
What Bobi Wine said above is the exact romance between music and politics especially under an oppressive regime. Music, we all know is a form of communication. Musicians use their songs to express their opinions, especially on what touches them. Most at times, what touches them is what affects the society in general.
Cameroon’s political musicians and the ‘We Need Peace Song”
I can remember how a group of artists in Cameroon came up with the “We need peace song” in other to join voices to end the crisis that is rocking Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions. They got a lot of bashing from social media users, as many said they needed justice first and not peace. That there can be no peace if there is no justice or peace will come if there is justice. This is to tell you that in situations where there is social and political injustice, not singing about the pains of the people may not be welcomed.
These politically-influenced musicians include Salatiel, Magasco, Mr. Leo, Daphne, Minks, Pit Baccardi, Nabila, Blanche Bailey and KO-C. They were rather influenced by politics than to influence politics with their music.
Even if the artists’ motives for the ‘We Need Peace Song” was genuine, we wouldn’t blame the public for seeing them as musicians whose musics have been politicized with some few tins of sardine and loaves of bread by the regime in power. When their voices were actually needed, they failed the people, and when the people needed Justice, they started preaching peace.
Legendary Political Musicians from Cameroon
Talking about Cameroon, the country has had its fair share of Political musicians who used their music to portray and decry the ills in the society. You cannot talk of such artistes without mentioning the name of the most loved Lapiro de Mbanga (Lambo Sandjo Pierre Roger) who sang without mincing words. His songs could
be understood by every stratum of the society. He used the Mboko (a lingua franca in Cameroon which is a blend of English, Pidgin, French and local languages) or Njakri to pass out his message.
Lapiro de Mbanga was imprisoned in 2008 for criticizing the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, in his song titled “Constitution constipée” (“Constipated Constitution”). In the song, he denounced the amendment of a constitutional clause that limited the president to a two-term mandate of seven years each. The song was banned from the airwaves. That notwithstanding, it was used as a riot song during the February 2008 protest against the change of constitution that ended up landing Lapiro in jail after he was arrested on April 9, 2008.
Just like Fela Kuti, on whose default template of Afrobeat, Wiz Kid and a host of other African musicians built their career; Lapiro de Mbanga is almost of such reputation. We look at Lapiro de Mbanga as the father of Mboko, who actually inspired the self-proclaimed Mboko-god-Jovi.
The Mboko brand of music has been branded as a revolutionary brand of truth! We are yet to listen to any revolutionary song from Jovi. Could it be that he has politicized Lapiro de Mbanga’s Mboko music or that his balls are not big enough to decry the many injustices faced daily by Cameroonians?
Music has been used to comment on current affairs affecting nations, for political pressure, to mould and define public opinion and for propaganda. Songs have been used for protests in many countries. During the colonial days, many African countries used songs to protest the barbaric colonial rule. You had the Mau Mau hymns in Kenya, the Northern Rhodesian party songs, Guinea RDA songs, just to name a few.
Songs have been used at local levels to pass information, express public opinion and even used to exert pressure on some individuals who may be doing things that do not conform to what the community wants. In Balikumbat, a village in the North West Region of Cameroon, the Sumali music is used to decry ills in the society, praises to people who have done something important in the community and also for duels (beefing”) among the various Sumali groups. It is very common to hear them come out with a new song in their next meeting session when something scandalous (very common with cases of adultery or infidelity) has happened.
What actually prompted me to write this post was this article by Jason Burke, Congolese election rivals deploy musical powers of persuasion in The Guardian. In the post, Felix Wazekwa, owner of a band said:
If you can get people to dance, then you can get a message across very easily. The politicians have a message, and I am [the] very good at getting people to dance. So they come to me.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, at the time of writing this post, was at the different polling stations in the country to determine their next president. It should be noted that the polls have been delayed for two years after it was first scheduled. Above 46 million Congolese registered voters are selecting a successor to President Joseph Kabila who came to power in 2001 taking over from his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila 10 days after he was assassinated.
From Wazekwa’s comments above, you will see that politicians use music and musicians as opium to sway voters to believe in their ideology. Felix Wazekwa is a household name in The DR Congo. He is well known for his collaborations with Papa Wemba and Koffi Olimide who are great names in Congolese music. You can understand the influence he may have on the population as he will be helping the local politician pass their messages to the public that yearns for change. What they may not know is genuineness of the message they dish out using their music. What matters more them is the money that enters their pockets.
DR Congo is well known for introducing the calling of names of big business people and politicians in their music. It should be worth noting that the name calling in songs is not done for nothing. People pay for their names to be called or artists do that to gain special favours from them. The situation is totally different from the case of a musician who sings to decry the socio-political injustice in the community.
Read what Wazekwa said,
During the campaign, I sing what I’m told to sing … I’m not here to judge.
Politicians even go to the extent of asking artists to make special compositions just for them. Jason Burke’s article also makes mention of Wazekwa’s recent single praising Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the candidate representing the incumbent government. Ramazani is a name that has featured in many songs from DR Congo in the past.
In Cameroon, the name calling in songs is reducing daily especially with artists from the younger generation. However, very few artists in Cameroon come out with songs inspired by social and political ills in the country. The few who use music to decry the government’s failures and excesses are suppressed with intimidations and bans.
Valsero (real name Gaston Philippe Abe Abe) is what I can say is the most popular political musician in the country after the death of Lapiro. He is what we can term a political rapper. He uses his songs to attack and denounce the 85-year-old President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, who has been in power for 36 years and just won another 7-years mandate last October 2018.
He has been the voice of the youth, encouraging them to take part in politics, because to him, it is the only way they can take control of their destiny from the almost all-octogenarian government of Cameroon. Some of his song titles include:
“Politiquement Instable” (“Politically Unstable) was his solo album released in 2008
“Çe pays Tue Les Jeunes” (“This country kills its youths”) where he decried the manner in which the country’s policymakers do everything to neglect the youths except for giving them fake promises during elections
“Ne me parlez plus de ce pays” (“Don’t tell me about this country anymore”) and the most popular
“Lettre au president” (“Letter to the President”) that earned great love and respect from the youths in particular and anger from the regime and its barons. The song had great success. In 2009, he released “Répond” (“Respond”) asking the president to respond to his first letter, “Lettre au president”, which he had ignored.
Valsero has been detained and released on several occasions and many of his concerts banned.
Another popular rap artiste from Cameroon whom I find very interesting is Big G Baba. His songs speak a lot about the socio-politico-economic problems Cameroonians are facing. He has a very subtle way of putting his thoughts in his music. It is all fun but sending a deep message. All his songs that I have listened to is talking
about something, we need to shun mostly in an ironical manner. I got the feeling Cameroonians, especially the youths are still not ready for his type of music because many prefer songs with love, sex, women and other deviant stuff.
However, the October 2018 elections had great participation from the youths due to activities of artistes like Valsero. He founded an association, Jeune et Fort (Young and Strong) with the aim to promote education, citizenship, electoral and democratic culture among youths in Cameroon. Through the association, he launched several campaigns: “Va voter” (“Go and vote”) in 2007 and “Je vote donc j’existe” (“I vote, I am”) in 2011.
In every corner of the world, musicians or bands have used their music to pass a message or better still sell their political views. They use music as well as performances to create great movements just like what Bobi Wine has done in Uganda. Social and political problems are far from ever getting finished, so does music that sends out political messages. These very conscious artistes will always make sure their voices are heard through their music.
By Lobga Derick Sullivan for Iyun Ade Blog