Over the ages music has been used as a means of social protest in many different periods. During the civil war songs like Glory, Glory, Hallelujah and Battle Hymn of the Republic were used to rally the troops together, and it was relatively common for battle to stop while an off the cuff concert was held.

In the 1986 Edsa Revolution of the Philippines while people were out on the street literally using their bodies as a means of blocking army tanks from moving, they would be singing folk music especially Bayan Ko (my country).

Protest music is said by social movement theory to be using music (and sometimes dance) as part of a larger development of big unofficial groupings of persons and/or official organizations concentrating on certain social or political issues carrying out resistance, or trying to create what they see as positive social change.

Several theories abound as to why people use music in protest, but after reading several books articles on the matter I can say that they all basically boil down into two main arguments neither of which is mutually exclusive. The first argument that music is spiritually uplifting and thus persons turn to it during times of hardship. This is believed by an extremely diverse crowd philosophically from composers Francis Bacon & Gioseffo Zarlino; 6th century philosopher Anicius Boethius; Medical pioneer Franz Anton Mesmer; and Roman Catholic Theologian St. Thomas Aquinas. Or as put by more simply put by Freedom Fighter Lindiwe Zulu "Song is what keeps us alive."

The second theory is that music can help put into words the things that the person/group wants changed about the current social framework, and the reasons why in a way able to be understood by each other as well as those in charge (usually without fear of reprisal). This theory is supported by many political economists, social movement theorists, and Jesuit liberation theory believers. As one artist in the movie Amandla says How can you ban singing?

In America and parts of Europe during the Flower Power movement of the 1960s protest music and recreational drugs were used in a sense to forward what was felt to be a spiritual movement of hope and understanding of each other. Per bio-chemists and Human Potential Movement member Robert S. de Ropp people used music & drugs as a means of creating a feeling of being in a wider life than that of the worlds selfish little interests and a direct conviction of the existence of an ideal power and also of communicating the world they wanted to live in, a world where skin colour was not considered important and a person could use multiple religious experiences in order to seek freedom from the rigid mores of the 1950s and before. When people of today think of this they usual think of The Beatles White Album or the freestylings of The Grateful Dead. Thought I personally believe the recreational use of drugs has been proven to create more problems than its worth, certainly one positive effect of this experimentation was that protest music has become a well known tool used for social change and music is now used frequently to comment on undesirable situations in society even when the song is not mainly about such.

However be it in the western world or Africa the role of protest music changed after the 1960s from one of peaceful lyrics using that particular cultures mainline type of music (be it pop, rock, or in South Africa mbube or isicathamiya) into more harsh lyrics of (alternative, hip-hop, or Toyi-Toyi). As A& R man Sifiso Ntuli and artist Sbu Nxumalo said in the movie Amandla of this period of change from peaceful to armed protest that you started getting those songs, they started getting military overtones, it was the era of the peoples war. The era of Unkhonto We Sizwe and internal arms struggle and peoples armies within and "those songs started beginning to take on those overtones changing a word here, there, putting an AK there, taking out a Bible there. (laughter)"

In South Africa and in other countries artists (including music leaders) were often members of the resistance. Artists often use their opinion leader status as a way in which to educate and inform the main populous of what is going on in modern society that needs fixing. A modern American example of this would be Pinks recent songs Dear Mr. President or Stupid Girls.


As recently as the early 1980s few of us had listened to the music of Africa save the occasional pop version of a Miriam Makeba tune like Pate Pata or American/British covers of Solomon Lindas The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh/Mbube).

Yet now South African music features in Converse commercials, on Spike TV ads, in American hip-hop Missy Elliott's & Jay-Zs albums, on the TV show E.R. and for the older audience in sold out concerts in venues like the Marin Center where groups like Ladysmith Black Mambazo who tour the country with poppy folk artist Paul Simon or alone.

But why was it not until the 80s that this music was heard? One word... Apartheid


Apartheid (from the Afrikaans and Dutch from the word apartness) from 1948 to 1994 was a social system of legislated segregation similar to but more through than Jim Crow laws in the southern United States. Under this system people were classified into White (Europeans and whiter mongoloids like Japanese) Black (native African blacks only as wealthy European and American blacks would be given honorary white status) Asian (Indians, and darker mongoloids) and Coloured (people who were a mix of one or more races) and were forced to geographically separate from each other solely on the basis of legal classification. This included the separation of multi-ethnic families, and the military style moving of natives from their dwellings to so called homelands which were usually never areas these people's ancestors had ever lived in. They were supposed to be like the United States Indian Reservation system where they would have their own set of laws and governances within those boundaries however this was never actually the case.

These laws made so that non-white people werent allowed to vote or have any influence on government policies. Also because non-whites were citizens of their respective homelands and not South Africa accessing better hospitals and social services of South Africa was dependant on being employed by a white South African company resulting in a poorer level of health among the native populous.

Though in the main apartheid is the legacy of predominantly Afrikaner governments the roots of this date back to the British colonial when a system of pass laws were created in the Cape Colony to prohibit the movement of blacks out of tribal areas into areas occupied by whites and coloureds. Pass Laws prohibited not just residential choices of blacks but also the made it so they needed a signed pass in order to go into these areas. One had to have this pass on his person at all times and was not allowed to be in these areas after nightfall.

Thus from a historical perspective apartheid can be shown to be an expansion and furtherance of the practise of the previous British governments policies of segregation.


In terms of South African protest music it can be said that each period of the struggle for freedom, and its various external and internal influences created different forms of music that were an unique blend of trends related to what was happening at the time. Influences ranging from the church, to changes in the American music scene, to exile, and increasing violent ANC and Boer police actions shaped the nature of the music itself including a period of violent music and dancing reminiscint of the old Zulu war music of the pre-colonial era.


Isicathamiya and Mbubes are rooted in a mix of native South African, ragtime and American minstrel music forms. American vaudeville groups such as the Virginia Jubilee Singers toured South Africa from 1890, inspiring many Black South African groups to imitate their song styles. However, previous to this landed native elite Christians in a misguided want to imitate British culture would perform choral music as it was identified with Victorian mores. In particular revival hymns taught to them by American missionaries was an important part of their education.

However the content of the lyrics changed when in 1913 the Native Lands Act forces thousands from the land they used to own. Native Africans no matter if they were educated Christians or uneducated housemaids were shoved out and moved to squalid areas. In response to these African-American forms of music and dance were embraced by native Africans as they were considered better suited to the task of emerging black decent. Isicathamiya was born when gospel and vaudeville four-part harmonies where mixed with traditional melody forms.

Like many other urban genres of music isicathamiya has evolved with the changes in the environment around it. It is particularly ironic that the earliest protests songs Senzeni Na? and Naants' Indod'Emnyama (Beware Verwoerd) owe a great deal musically in part to white American music which was based off black American music which is in turn based off West African music forms. Denied selfhood and self-respect isicathamiya and mbube illustrate how symbols can be reinvented to serve the needs of people in forceful ways.

Artists like Vuyisile Mini known for his booming bass voice created songs commenting on the surpression experienced by natives at the time. His songs included lyrics like Look out, Verwoerd, here are the Black people. Joining the ANC resistance, he was eventually imprisoned and executed for his activities as an ANC member, and for the many songs he composed making fun of white people he was found guilty of treason.


Before the Group Areas Act of 1950 ethnically integrated pockets of South Africa existed among the poor and lower-middle class artists of the time. These included Sophiatown in Gauteng and District Six in Capetown area. Sophiatown was a bustling area considered the South African Harlem of its time, and like Harlem had a lively jazz scene where black artists were predominant and a mix of well kept artist own houses, and eye-sore tenements (shanties). As more and more people were shoved into Sophiatown creating water and sewage issues which eventually the Afrikaneer government used as part of an excuse to move people out of their the redevelop it into the suburb of Triomf (triumph).

Also during this period black South Africans themselves were constantly debate their jazz's relation with American and African roots. But apartheid overlaid the word jazz with other more sinister connotations. In some critical and ethnomusical studies of the time done by white social scientists categorized different types of jazz under a sliding scale of "authentic" (by composed by white or American musicians) to "primitive" (composed by native African musicians). In order to get radio play many artists had to hide their race behind a curtain while a white person pretended to be playing the song in front of the audience. Fortunately for us non-South Africa artists of the time like Dizzy Gillespie had a better grasp on the situation. Gillespie upon meeting Ernest Motlhe in London said I hear you are from the Pedi people in South Africa. Man! Those people have the most advanced skill of all time, rhythmically. You cant play a single piece of rubber pipe and still keep time, because those things wobble - but your people can do it!
One example of jazz as a protest song is the ironic underground hit of the time Meadowlands by Nancy Jacobs and Her Sisters, which is about the forcible moving of people out of Sophiatown and into the state created township of the Meadowlands.

English Lyrics (Translated Native Lyrics)

Lets Go, lets go, lets go to Meadowlands
(Have you heard what all the tsotsis say?)

Well work night and day, going straight to Meadowlands
(Were not leaving were staying right here)

Have you heard what the white people say?
(Staying here, staying here)

Lets all go to Meadowlands....
(Staying here in our beloved place)
Our beloved place

Things were so bad that some left for the UK or the United States. One such couple included pioneer ethnomusicologist Professor John Blacking (famous for his studies of the Venda peoples of the northern most regions of South Africa), and his Indian fiancee Dr. Zurena Desai who can be seen here http://www.apartheidmuseum.org/downloads/apm1.pdf
(page 6) having a magistrate peer into their bedroom, and after being sentenced under the Immorality Act as they are leaving for London.

Other songs of this genre include Sad Times, Bad Times by the multi-ethnic cast of King Kong which also talked about the day to day life of the Johannesburg musician.

Another example of this was the forcible of people from District Six. District Six named as such because it was the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town established. In 1867 when it began is was a community with a good mix of all types of South Africans: artisans, labourers, freed slaves, merchants, and immigrants; particularly Chinese and Jewish immigrants. It was a energetic center near the port and main city.

First to be forced to move were black South Africans, later it was declared a white area and over 60,000 people were removed to the barren Cape Flats area and their houses were bulldozed. Hugh Masekela also made a song about it simply named District Six.


Later protests songs in the 60-70s like Stimela by Hugh Masekela mixed genres and were starting to comment on the day to day issues of working in the white mans world. In fact Masakela himself pointed out in the film Amandla that train songs were similar to US underground railroad songs and a symbol of something that took away your ....loved ones.

For the women songs like Madame Please explained the duality of working as the nannies of children who would eventually be taught to hate them because of the colour of their skin.

Natives were urged by a then emerging leader Nelson Mandela to take more drastic action by burning their passbooks. On March 21st, 1960 however this peaceful protest lead to the Sharpeville massacares where at least 300 blacks were injured and 69 where killed when the police opened fire on the demonstrators shooting many in the back. On the same day in the Langa township of Capetown police threw tear gas into that crowd of passbook protestors shooting three people and injuring many of the protestors.

This created the end of the peaceful resistance and the beginning of armed conflict.
Walter Cronkite's short documentary like coverage of the events shocked the world and spearheaded a worldwide censure of South Africas Apartheid policies.


For this Nelson Mandela had been sent away to prison for what people thought would be forever, creating an effective tactic of fear in the majority of the populous. A second exodus of artists again to the UK and United States included such major artists as Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela. Colaborations with artists in those countries helped fuel the international anti-Apartheid movement which lead to economic sanctions from those and other countries. However, this was at a cultural price of some including what Hugh Masekela calls a time where I began to start dreaming in English. White musical artists like American Paul Simon and English by birth (but long-time South Africa resident) Johnny Clegg began commenting on the horribleness of apartheid and forming songs with multi-racial in spite of the illegality of this in South Africa. Clegg originally an anthropologist, became interested in Zulu music based on the work of sociologist David Webster who was assassinated in 1989 because of his work with detainees. Clegg formed the inter-racial band Juluka with gardener Sipho Mchunu, and in spite of not being able to get air play in South Africa at the time word-of-mouth alone made it a local hit. They then toured Europe and became an international success. In 1986 Juluka was disbanded mainly because Mchunus father had asked him to help with the family farm. Clegg went on to create another inter-racial band Savuka which like Paul Simon blended African, Celtic, Pop and folk influences with social commentary.

In the black African community songs like Free Mandela or Bombs; and Nkosi Sikelei Africa (now the first part of the new national anthem) dominated new illegal radio stations and shebeens (bars), the later of which had become hangouts for the more radical portions of the struggle.

The amount of deaths due to the increasingly violent actions of the ANC and the Afrikaneer policemen created and situation where there was funeral after funeral, and direct lyrics like in Bring Him Back Home - Nelson Mandela by Hugh Masekela were created to give hope to an in bittered public.

However on the other hand you also had Toyi-Toyi is amazing mix of music and warlike dance used not only to express justifiable rage and upset to scare Boer police into thinking twice about shooting into the crowd. Lyrics now included references to guns and other weapons. An excellent example of this is type of music is Toyi-Toyi (aka Kramat) by Abdullah Ibrahim, or Ingoma Yom Sabalazo (Translated: Song for Struggle).

Toyi-Toyi was more than just music it was a weapon of war. Learned from the Zimbabwean and Zambian soldiers while training with them it was adapted to South African languages and dancing styles and retired riot policemen screaming singing dangerous weapon holding...crowd. Even for the older guys I can assure you were frightened stiff. Toyi-Toyi thusly to them was effective counter military tactic.


In a world where formerly white-only 5FM and black oriented Metro share nice gleaming new complex replete with hair salon and a branch of monolithic burger joint Steers. Where I saw black and white and Asian working together hand-in-hand, and sometimes even holding hands. Where a DJ jokes about being the only white guy at an LL Cool J concert.

Toyi-Toyi has made way for Fat Joe and the American urban 'keeping it real' style which seems to have somehow infected the whole planet including the new brand of Soweto tsotsi and created the Kwaito generation.

Hope for the future may be seen in people like native African Given Andrew, 13, of inner-city Hillbrow who saves up to go on outings to once white only suburban malls so he can play video games and surf the internet. Andrew says I don't feel anything about race, because some of my friends are white," he says. They don't hate us. Apartheid is a history subject in school.



The Civil War a film by Ken Burns, produced by PBS http://www.pbs.org/civilwar/classroom/lesson_music.html
Edsa Revolution
http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/EDSA Revolution
Amandla: Revolution in Four Part Harmony a film by Lee Hirsch produced by: ATO Pictures & HBO
Intercultural communication and anthropology by Coertze, R. D.
Source: South African Journal of Ethnology ; 2000, Vol. 23 Issue 2/3, p116, 17p, 1 chart, 1 diagram, 2 graphs
Generation Born Free , By: Masland, Tom, Newsweek, 00289604, 4/5/2004, Vol. 143, Issue 14
SOUTH AFRICA'S RHYTHM , By: Gaitor, Michael, American Visions, 08849390, Dec97/Jan98, Vol. 12, Issue 6
Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom. Abacus, 1995.
Songs of the Night: Isicathamiya Choral Music from KwaZulu Natal by Angela Impey
Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music & Politics in South Africa by Gwen Ansell
Published by Continuum International Publishing, London 2004
Protest music grows as anger rises by EricDanton of The StandardMonday, June 05, 2006
Renny Christopher Springsteen, Diallo, and the NYC Police: An Intersection of Race, Gender, and Class (p159-174)
Amar Almasude Protest Music and Poetry in the Rif (p114-134)
Linda Pertusati The 1990 Mohawk-Oka Conflict: The Importance of Culture in Social Movement Mobilization (p88-106)
Psychedelic Drugs and Religious Experience by Robert S. de Ropp
Cite: from The Master Game: Pathways to Higher Consciousness
Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development by Joe Stuessy (The University of Texas at San Antonio) and Scott Lipscomb (Northwestern University). Published by Prentice Hall copyright 2003
Medicine and Music by Patricia Garrison Boorman (Yale University), published by The National Institute of Health http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/pdf/medicineandmusic.pdf
Frank A. Pattie, Mesmer and Animal Magnetism: A Chapter in the History of Medicine, (Edmonston Publishing, Inc, 1994).
Memoires de Mesmer by Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (original French)
The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas translated by Umberto Eco, Hugh Bredin
The Apartheid Museum webpage
District Six Museum

Mr. Wesley Isacks for Bantu dialect translations
HBO Research Department for book ideas
5FM & Metro for tour of their shared facilities
Copyright June 2008, Mrs. Valerie Feria-Isacks
reposting from MySpace blog http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog&pop=1&indicate=1

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