With the power to elicit strong emotional responses and the ability to influence attitudes and social norms, music can be described as one of the greatest forms of communication known to man. Decades ago most of the songs by African artistes could be seen as earth-moving and ones that shaped the society positively, but this can’t be said of music in this present era.
To re-echo Dana da Silva’s, a contributor to the United Nations Africa Renewal Online magazine, thoughts, “the anti-apartheid and government challenging lyrics of musicians like South Africa’s Miriam Makeba and Nigeria’s Fela Kuti have largely been exchanged for party-hard, live-the-rich-life lyrics”. He continued that “with today’s technology, music has become even more of a part of our life experiences: we listen to it on our drive to work, when we go to parties, while we study, when we exercise, and in so many other settings. Yet we see fewer and fewer people taking to the streets with picket signs because of its message.” It must however be noted that despite this, there are still some African musicians who hope their lyrics will inspire positive changes in their societies and the continent as a whole.
One of the most prominent amongst these musicians is the legendary Salif Keita of Mali, who music lovers refer to as ‘the golden voice of Africa’. As an albino, Salif Keita has dedicated much of his musical career to advocating for the rights of people living with albinism due to the abuse they suffer. In several African countries including his home country Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania and Malawi, albinos are hunted down with their bodies severed and made into potions. These albino hunters believe the potions bring good luck and wealth.
It is against this backdrop that the legendary musician set up his Salif Keita Global Foundation. The foundation provides grants for health services and legal assistance for albinos at risk of persecution. The foundation further distributes hundreds of sunscreens, sunglasses, and hats every year to albinos to help protect their fragile skins from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Last month, Salif Keita launched what is likely to be his last album, titled, Un Autre Blanc (Another White). According to his wife Coumba, “the title of the album ‘Another White’ was definitely linked to his albinism because he’s white but he’s not a white man, a white race – so he’s another type of white.” The album was launched in the Malian town of Fana, where a 5-year old albino girl, Ramata Diarra, was ritually murdered and beheaded in May this year, and Salif Keita dedicated the concert to her.
Another prominent African musician whose songs are driving change on the continent is Ugandan pop-star turned politician, Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu). Wine describes his art as “edutainment” – entertainment which educates.
Some of his hit songs include Kadingo, which talks about personal hygiene; Obululu, released towards the 2011 elections urging Ugandans to stay united even if they supported different candidates; Time Bomb, attacking corrupt officials, nepotism tendencies, unemployment and rising cost of living; and Situka (Rise Up), which was released after the 2016 elections nudging supporters of candidates who lost the polls to pick themselves up and walk instead of giving up.
Through his fame, Bobi Wine has also used his influence to set up the ‘People Power’ movement in Uganda. The movement first and foremost seeks a regime change to the dictatorship of President Museveni, who has been in power for more than 30 years and secondly, to remind Ugandans, especially the youth of how powerful they are and how they can harness that power.
Ugandan musician turned politician, Bobi Wine (C) with members of the ‘Power Power’ movement.
The movement has seen young professionals and mainstream opposition politicians come on board to advocate for a political change. The effect of the movement has already been felt across Uganda as members of the movement who participated in parliamentary elections won massively. For example, Asuman Basalirwa, MP for Bugiri municipality and member of the movement, became a legislator after winning a by-election, defeating candidates from both the ruling and main opposition parties.
On November 24, 2018, Bobi Wine launched the Ghana Chapter of the ‘People Power’ movement which seeks to mobilize Ugandans in Ghana to also advocate for regime change in their homeland and he thereby encouraged them to return home to help develop their country. He further stressed that the movement would be launched in other countries across the world, in order for Ugandans in the diaspora to also join in to demand for change in their homeland.
Bobi Wine (in red beret) and members of the ‘People Power’ Ghana Chapter during its launch.
Professional musicians are not the only ones using their craft to influence African societies. Local and international organizations are either partnering with professional musicians, or using music to effect the changes they want to see in the areas they operate. For example, in 2015, an outbreak of cholera in Ghana, where over 30,000 people were infected and 250 people died, as well as the outbreak of Ebola in some West African countries, led UNICEF Ghana to partner with the government of Ghana to create the Agoo platform.
The Agoo platform provides critical information about cholera, Ebola, and hand-washing with soap. At the heart of the platform’s information and engagement campaign for young people is a karaoke song and dance choreography titled, Wash Wash Hands. The song features prominent Ghanaian artistes including Edem, Wanluv Kubolor, Gasmilla and Wiyaala and it is performed in more than 6 main languages in Ghana, which include English, Pidgin English, Twi, Ga, Hausa and Ewe.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGjkZPyiD3g video link for Wash Wana Hands
Several other notable musicians are also making lasting impact across the continent with their songs. In Benin, UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Angélique Kidjo keeps a strong note of social concern in her lyrics, which covers issues like hunger, HIV/AIDS, homelessness and injustice. Also, Okyeame Kwame of Ghana uses his craft to promote and inspire Ghanaians to patronize ‘Made in Ghana’ products.
Ghanaian media giants, Joy Prime, of the Multimedia Group, recently partnered with Ghanaian musician Okyeame Kwame (L) to help promote his “Made in Ghana” campaign.
In conclusion, with the youth being the most vulnerable to social pressures and music being a common language that transcends national borders and connects cultures, thus creating a global understanding, musicians can harness their talent to empower the youth and promote national development. This observation was also made by Ghana’s Minister for Tourism, Art and Culture, Catherine Afeku, at the just ended AFRIMA 2018 Awards hosted by Ghana, when she said, “our (African) musicians are very talented, intelligent and are ambassadors of hope to the next generation.”
Ghana’s Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Catherine Afeku, during the AFRIMA 2018 Awards held in Ghana.