I’m very excited. I’ve just been commissioned by ANC Youth League President Julius Malema to write songs about politics. There I was, wondering how the recent tirades on my debut album would come across, when all of a sudden, Bra Julius opens the floodgates! Last week, he addressed the Southern African Music Conference in Johnnesburg and all but handed me my manifesto. “Never dissociate music from politics”, he said; “Music is politics”. Wow! Is that permission or what?
During the apartheid years, most political protest music was made, understandably, by black musicians. Sankomoto, Lucky Dube and Hugh Masekela, to name but a small few, expressed their frustration and rage outstandingly. There were significant contributions from Whitey, too: rock bands like Dog Detachment, Bright Blue and Tribe After Tribe also gave voice to white indignation, for what it was worth. Anti-apartheid music was, however, the black musician’s domain, and to a huge degree, rightly so.
Fast-forward 20 years, and what does Bra Julius see? “Bling”. Lots of it. “All of you grew up dedicating your life to bling”, he told his young, star-struck audience. “We must be like Venezuela, where there is a hit song about Che Guevara. We must be more like South America”. Yes, Julius, yes! At last, an inclusive statement from one of the most racist politicians South Africa has ever produced! OK, fair enough, he’s not exactly talking to Rich Suburban Whitey, he’s talking to his Peeps. What do I have to protest about anyway? I benefited from apartheid, I vote white liberal, I live far from a disgusting township, I can emigrate when I want to, and my skin colour is wrong.
Well, Bra, let me tell you. This is a democracy now, which means everyone, and that means everyone, has a voice. I agree with you, Comrade, that politics and music are a potent mix, however ineloquently you phrased that. Watch out, though, that someone, regardless of his or her skin colour, doesn’t come along and turn that pointed finger back in on itself. This isn’t ‘us vs. them’ anymore, it’s ‘us vs. YOU’. You Glorious Victorious Revolutionary Leaders are answerable to us now, and so far, we’re not happy. That ‘us’, by the way, is comprised of all South Africa’s skin colours. It’s no longer Moral High Ground Black pitted against Evil Racist Minority White. The ANC is in charge, and so far, despite Madiba’s outstanding example, you have failed everybody and broken every promise you made. And damn right, we’re gonna sing about it. Be careful what you encourage, Bra, you might just get it.
Oh and Comrade, one more thing: you’re the first target. Check out the 7th song on that John Ellis guy’s “Come Out Fighting” album. ‘Champagne revolutionaries’ indeed!
(With thanks and apologies to Carien du Plessis’s article, “Make Political Music, Not Love”, published on July 8 2010 in The Star).