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Sep 2009 17

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K’naan’s latest project is a mixtape series paying tribute to three iconic musicians and exemplary human rights activists: Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. They were all true global citiizens; with the common thread between them being their use of music to highlight injustice and cultivate social consciousness (globally) through a message of equality between people. The fact that (regardless of their messages) each was a master of their distinct musical genres means that this tribute series also takes on the role of an enlightening cross-cultural excursion and socio-political education. On another level, the project also asks broader questions about the substance of musical content at large and whether it should be held to a higher (moral) standard or judged purely on entertainment value. These musicians’ stories are enthralling and too expansive to cover in this post or a tribute series but definitely worth researching and/or catching up on. The Messengers series is available for free download from here.

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Fela Anikulapo Kuti – pioneer of Afrobeat music:

“Yes, if you are in England the music can be an instrument for enjoyment, so you can sing about love. You can sing about who you are going to bed with next. My society is underdeveloping because of an alien system on our people now so there is no music for enjoyment. There is nothing like love, there is something like a struggle for people’s existence. So, as an artist, politically, artistically the whole idea about your environment must be represented in the music, in the artist. So I think as far as Africa is concerned music cannot be for enjoyment. Music must be for revolution.” – Fela (Quoted from a skit on The Messengers: Episode 1)

Fela was a voice for,  and people’s champion as well an African ambassador first and foremost. The conditions to which he referred to in the quote above have to do with the still poignant challenges of post-colonial Africa. One primary concern of Fela’s was the reinforcement of the African identity and and the resistance of what he perceived as continued harmful foreign interference after colonialism was said to be over. His music sought to galvanise people into action against what he saw as the vulnerability of his society to manipulation and corruption by its self-serving bourgeoisie and predatory foreign colonial/capitalist interests. Although directed primarily towards an African audience, his music touched on universal social-political subjects including; election rigging and pseudo-democracies, police harassment, prison conditions, multi-national corporations and imperialism.


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Bob Marley:

Everybody that follows music knows something about Bob Marley and can probably quote some lyrics to at least one of his songs. His music and messages are so well documented and have become so much of a fixture in popular culture that it seems redundant to talk about them. His messages of unity, activism and compassion for the less fortunate were so powerfully articulated in his music that they have crossed language boundaries and are known all over the globe. Bob Marley’s influence has also served to help secure Reggae music’s place in global popular culture.

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Bob Dylan:

Like K’naan admits on another skit of The Messengers Vol 3, I too did not realise until recently that Bob Dylan is so well renowned not only for the quality and diversity of his music but also for its content.  As a young man he became outraged with the segregation and institutionalised racsim in America at the time and used his musical ability to encapsulate the emotions of the U.S. civil rights struggle in many anthemic songs like Pawn in their game and Blowin’ in the wind below.


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1 Comment

  1. […] middle, some artists recognise their potential to influence their audience and see themselves as having a social responsibility while others do not. The questions is rather about the appetites of the audiences for truth and […]

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