Tag Archives: black lives matter

Exclusive Video Premiere: Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz by Free Radicals

By Profula – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Karankawa was an indigenous tribe that lived along the coast of the Gulf of México. Along with the Atakapa tribe these indigienous communities thrived for a few thousand years in the area before Spanish people, under the command of royalty and religion, invaded the land, bringing disease and terror.

Today, ancestors of these people live scattered around northern México as well as the greater Houston area. The city of Houston is the fourth most populous city in the US and now considered one of the most diverse cities in the country. According to the 2020 census Hispanic, Latino, African-American and Asian people make up around 70% of the population.

Where some people might see such diversity of ethnicity and cultures as a positive and enriching thing, others find it bothersome and prefer their life in a monotonous bubble. In the whole of the United States clashes have occurred because of race, gender and religious beliefs. In the melting pot that is Houston, one musical group in particular has been at the forefront of protests and marches against racism, against wars, for equality, against police brutality, support Palestine, et cetera. This is the musical genre soup that is Free Radicals.

The band members have throughout their 20 odd year career mostly released instrumental music and used their voices rather at before mentioned marches and protests. But throughout their career the band has collaborated with rappers, singers and spoken word artists who have lent their voices to various projects. In 2020 the band released the critically acclaimed ‘White Power Outage vol. 1’ which, in a very direct way addresses denazification in the US, or rather the lack thereof. Now, two years later, the band is back with vol. 2 and we could not be more excited to premiere one of the singles off of the new album and its corresponding music video.

I’m honored to have had the opportunity to converse with the band via email and I’m stoked to now share the Q and A with the Shouts audience.

Halldór Kristínarson: Can you tell me a bit about the new volume and in particular the song/video we are premiering, ‘Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz’?

Free Radicals: Seven years ago, Free Radicals released the instrumental version of Checkpoint on our breakdance music album Freedom of Movement.  We always knew we wanted to come back to the track and do a rap version, and now finally, the whole project has come together with four powerful and musical voices. We decided we could only do the topic justice if we included rappers from Houston, Palestine, and South Africa. Apparently, having English, Afrikaans, and Arabic lyrics on the same tune is not a normal thing to do, because when we registered the song on YouTube and on streaming services, we could choose to list only one language.

We first invited EQuality, who has been collaborating with Free Radicals since our 2004 album Aerial Bombardment with his insane spoken word piece We All Inhale. He had also joined us to take on Israeli apartheid on Every Wall on our 2012 album The Freedom Fence. He opens up  Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz for his fellow rappers with a bang. When we the got tracks from Prince Alfarra from the Gaza Strip, and Jitsvinger from South Africa, we were completely blown away. 

We knew that this song was going to be everything we had imagined for years, but the icing on the cake was the voice of one of our mentors, Lindi Yeni, a South African who taught dance in Houston for many years. Her theatrical experience kicked in and she improvised a skit between herself and a South African border checkpoint guard during apartheid. Lindi is a legendary figure in Houston, who helped arrange political asylum for South African performers during the apartheid years, and is seen here performing for Nelson Mandela.

To say that this was our dream team would be an understatement!

Exclusive Premiere:
Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz by Free Radicals

HK: Some protest musicians are subtle and poetic, hiding a bit their messages while others tackle issues very openly in their lyrics. What can you tell me about the evolution of your style of protest music, did you consciously reach this point or was it all a natural happening?

FR: Recently, on social media, someone commented about the album cover for White Power Outage Volume 2, saying “What is this? Some kind of subtle attempt to imply that businessmen, judges, police, and politicians are all white supremacists?” We responded, “We weren’t trying to be subtle!” 

We live in a country that has had no reckoning with our history of apartheid and genocide. In Germany, there are zero statues of Nazis that are still standing, they teach the Holocaust, racism, and genocide in school. The United States has only barely ever started the process of denazification. Here, in the South, every attempt to teach real US history in schools is attacked, statues of slave owners and Indian killers abound. There’s no subtlety, and we’re certainly not trying to be subtle when responding to it.

Our political messaging comes from the street protests that we perform at. Our marching band, the Free Rads Street Band, has marched with Palestinians protesting Israeli oppression, Muslims and other groups fighting against Muslim ban laws in India, janitors demanding a living wage, anti-war protests, anti-corporate greed protests, students demanding gun control, people for women’s rights, etc. 

Sometimes, journalists have mentioned that we were talking about border walls in 2012, years before Trump, and oil wars in 1998, years before the 2003 Iraq War, as if that was somehow prophetic. But there was nothing prophetic about it at all. There were protests against border walls in Texas and Palestine all the way back to the 90s, and of course, there were protests against the earlier Iraq war in 1990. Protests in the streets have been shouting about these issues for decades, and we just try to amplify those messages.

HK: How important is it for you to be able to use your art as a vessel for political activism?

FR: Our albums have always had political themes. Our first release, The Rising Tide Sinks all in 1998 was the beginning of a long collaboration between our musicians, social movements, and visual artist John Kitses. However, 99% of the shows that we’ve played have been just instrumental music, and we don’t make political speeches from the bandstand. We play at parties and clubs, weddings and funerals, street protests and break dance competitions. So, we’re used to just focusing on instrumental music most of the time, with politics only really coming in at the street protests, and when we release an album.

HK: How is the scene in Houston, when it comes to socially conscious music and art? Are there many artists who use their talents to raise awareness or promote a positive message of change?

FR: With the most diverse neighborhoods in the entire world, the Greater Houston area has all kinds of pockets of resistance and art. There are incredible LatinX, Black, Asian, indigenous, African, Muslim, and white musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, dancers, and comedians who wouldn’t even be capable of leaving off political themes from their arts, it’s too much a part of them.

Just to mention some of the Houston artists who have participated in the White Power Outage albums with us…  Swatara Olushola fought to expose the scandal of the Sugar Land 95. Obidike Kamau was the long time host of Self Determination on KPFT, and is an activist for reparations. Marlon ‘Marley’ Lizama teaches writing to incarcerated youth. Jason Jackson teaches music to refugees and kids in shelters with Nameless Sound. Zack Hamburg blogs about cars and climate change. Henry ‘Hennessy’ Alvarez is part of the local chapter of the Brown BeretsKarina NistalMichele ThibeauxEQuality, 200 Texas Poet Laureate Lupe MendezDeniz ‘deecolonize’ Lopez, and Nosaprise all make music about social justice. Brian Is Ze has an intersectional take on gender and health care issues. Akua Holt is the host of Pan African Journal on KPFT.

We didn’t just invite rappers, singers, comedians, and spoken word artists who we like listening to, we focused on connecting with artists who are also activists!

HK: What do you hope to achieve with your latest album?

FR: We hope that the album will be the soundtrack for dismantling white supremacy, corporate capitalism, the military industrial complex, and environmental destruction! Or, if we fail, we hope the album can be an elegy for the dream of a sustainable and equitable world.

HK: What is on the horizon for you?

FR: White Power Outage vol. 2 features 66+ voices of all ages, and right now, we are especially looking forward to our June 7 concert with living legend Harry Sheppard, our 94 year old mentor, band member, and friend.

HK: Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

FR: On the two volumes of White Power Outage you will hear the beautful voices of the kids from Peace Camp Houston chanting these:

Down Down with Deportation!
Up Up with Liberation!
No Hate! No Fear!
Immigrants Are Welcome Here!
¡Racista, escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!
Freedom for All! No Cages, No Walls!


Banned Songs From Nigeria And Uganda Which Represent The Voices Of The People

These songs challenged governments and oppression alike

Fela Kuti Birthday Tribute” Image by Lucy Anne, October 15, 2010 (CC BY-ND 2.0).

This article was originally published by Global Voices on 21st of March 2022 and is republished here with permission of the authors, Richard Wanjohi and Nwachukwu Egbunike.


A little over 6o years ago, African states gained independence from their colonial masters. It was assumed the wind of change would bring with it a new sense of nationalism, common good, and identity. However many of the heads of state and governments almost immediately broke their promise to promote a different form of governance.

Music has always been integral to Africa’s liberation and freedom struggles. In South Africa, anti-apartheid music faced significant censorship Similarly, in Nigeria, musicians stood in solidarity with South Africans, calling for the release of Nelson Mandela or calling out police brutality, while being the voices of protests. These African musicians felt they could not go on dancing when everything around them was not worth celebrating.

They felt a responsibility to use their voice to speak to the times they were living. In the same vein, many countries found their voices with popular groups and musicians, though initially accepted by the authorities, they ended up being sanctioned and/or banned altogether.

In this two-part series, we go into the history of various musicians around the continent whose music was deemed too political and explore why their music was considered so ‘dangerous’ by their governments.

Nigeria

In his lifetime, the late Afrobeat legend, Fẹlá Aníkúlápò Kútì witnessed quite a number of sanctions, court cases, police brutality, and a radio ban on his revolutionary music. Despite the state pressure, he never ceased to dish out the melodies that many Nigerians and Africans all over the world relate to.

In the then military era of Nigeria, it was forbidden for any radio station to play Kútì’s songs and any citizen seen associating with the revolutionary musician either in person or through his songs was deemed an enemy of the state. Once upon a time, Fẹlá’s residence, in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, known as the Kalakuta Republic was attacked by a thousand soldiers, who committed various wicked acts like raping, stealing, and beating citizens. During the assault, his elderly mother was thrown from a tall building, an incident that led to a broken leg and eventually her death. After that military invasion of his house, Fẹlá released “Zombie” and “Unknown Soldier” in 1981, both songs, dedicated to the soldiers that invaded his house. 

An artistic representation of Fẹlá Aníkúlápò Kútì. Image by Danny PiG uploaded to Flickr on September 11, 2012. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2004, former Nigerian president, Olúṣẹ́gun Ọbasanjọ́ banned the popular themed song of the poverty-stricken nation titled “Jàgà-jágá.” In Jàgà-jágá, a song that went viral even outside Nigeria, Eedris Abdulkareem sang in anger, lamenting the state of the suffering of Nigerians and also the social ills that ensued as a means of survival in the face of abject poverty. The controversial album led to the ban of the song on radio and television, it secured him an invitation to the presidential villa (Aso Rock) in the Federal Capital Territory where the president warned him to desist from releasing songs that ridicule the country and place it in a bad light to the outside world. The artist remained obstinate and aired the president’s request in another song titled “Letter to Mr. President” released the following year.  

Uganda

In 2017, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu also known as Bobi Wine while serving as a Member of Parliament in Uganda’s Parliament released a song titled “Freedom.” Using his platform as a local leader and influence among the urban youth in the country, Bobi’s song sought to address the country’s challenges of overstaying leaders. He mentioned Uganda’s Bush War of the 1980s that saw current president Yoweri Museveni oust Milton Obote. He asked why Museveni is practicing what he fought against — comparing the current government to slavery and the tension to South Africa’s apartheid system.

Bobi Wine by Mbowasport is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 

Bobi also questioned the purpose of the Ugandan constitution which he calls the country’s last hope. He mentioned the lack of freedom of expression in the country, urging Ugandans to speak up against injustice with freedom being for all — regardless of age, social class, religion, or education.

One of his more popular songs, “Ghetto,” talks about police brutality against people residing in the slums of Kampala and the inadequate services delivered to them. In April 2019, Bobi Wine under went house arrest, and during this time, he composed another multilingual song about police brutality entitled “Afande,” a Swahili word for an officer.

Since 2018, some of his songs have been banned from being performed, or even played on-air, as state functionaries believed he would use his music for political and promotional purposes. Shortly thereafter, he declared his interest in running for the country’s presidency in elections that took place in early 2021.

Joining him in the elections circuit was another popular musician Joseph Mayanja also known as Jose Chameleone. His entry into politics by declaring his candidacy for the mayoral position of Kampala, saw his concerts canceled. In 2016, the artist turned politician assaulted a journalist and DJ resulting in his music being banned by Trace TV, a French-based music TV channel that airs music across the globe.

Please see part two of this series here.

Find Global Voice’s Spotify playlist highlighting these and other banned songs from around the world here. For more information about banned music, see our special coverage, Striking the Wrong Notes.


Powerful Protest Songs From Kenya And South Africa

Music has been integral to Africa’s liberation and freedom struggles

Anti-apartheid protests in the early ’90s” by Nagarjun is marked with CC BY 2.0.

This article was originally published by Global Voices on 21st of March 2022 and is republished here with permission of the authors, Richard Wanjohi and Nwachukwu Egbunike.


Just as artists in Uganda and Nigeria used their music to challenge governmental and military oppression, so did artists around the continent. This is part two of this two-part series story where we highlight musicians around the continent whose music encouraged activism and dissent. For part one, see here. In this article, we discuss protest music in Kenya and South Africa, and the vital role it played in people’s liberation.

Kenya

Kenya’s music scene has seen great changes since the colonial days, with many local singers finding fame through protest songs. One iconic example is the late Joseph Kamaru, a Kikuyu musician who is believed to have a catalog of over 1,000 songs. Born in central Kenya, he developed a unique blend of Kikuyu traditional melodies, mixed with the guitar, keyboard, and occasionally the accordion. He frequently sang songs relating to social issues, reflecting on the nation’s independence and urbanization.  

However, by 1969 — only six years into independence — Kenya was plunged into political strife following the contentious elections, which pitted the then-ruling party KANU and the opposition KPU. This divided communities, particularly after a popular politician, Tom Mboya, was gunned down in broad daylight. 

In this instance, Joseph Kamaru composed a song, “Aromaka” (“May he be scared”), which sought to praise the ruling party but did not appeal to a larger population due to its perceived bias around the political assassination. 

JM Kariuki Memorial by Mpigapicha is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1975, another popular politician this time from the Central part of Kenya, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, also known as JM Kariuki, was killed a few months after another hotly contested election. The late JM Kariuki, initially pro-Government, had become one of the most prominent critics of the government’s growing tribalism and corruption, coining a phrase, “Kenya was becoming a country of ten millionaires and ten million beggars.” Due to his public criticism, he was prohibited from campaigning and was forced to resort to door-to-door or home visits. Upon Kariuki’s death in 1975, Kamaru sang a song titled “J.M. Kariuki” to mourn the death of the national hero, as well as give tribute to his personal friend.

This particular song was one of his best-selling hits, selling over 75,000 copies within the first week of release. He quickly became a target of the government, and the song was banned on national radio, the Voice of Kenya (now the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation), in June 1975.

Kamaru did not stop there and after the death of the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, he sought out incoming President Daniel arap Moi, who invited him to a foreign trip to Japan. This led to the composition of “Safari ya Japan.” However, it did not take long for him to fall out with the powers-that-be, and he found himself once again voicing criticism. He composed another song laced with ambiguous language and Kikuyu idioms to warn the Moi government of the discontentment and disillusionment among the general populace and Kikuyu in particular. The song was titled “Ni Maitho Tunite” (“We’ve only shifted our Gaze”). This was also banned from the national stations. 

Kamaru’s alliance with the politics of the day did not end there. In 1988, while the country was preparing for another election, he made another song, “Mahoya ma Bururi”(Prayers for the Country), which, though initially with a Kikuyu version, attracted the attention of the state, specifically then-President Daniel Moi. Moi initially perceived the song as an indirect attack at him, with the mention of “guikio irima ta Daniel” translated to “being thrown in the hole/cave like Daniel.”

Kamaru’s explanation suggested the name “Daniel” was a reference to the Biblical Daniel, who was thrown into a cave with the lions for refusing to bow to the King. As a compromise, Moi requested for the song to be translated into the national language, Swahili. Though the song was released by Kamaru, it never enjoyed as much airplay as the Kikuyu version, much to Kamaru’s dismay.

The on-and-off relations of Joseph Kamaru’s songs and the politicians of the day meant that while many politicians attempted to dictate or ban songs, the intersection of creativity, socio-political issues, and common voice of the ills affecting the populace prevailed. The same issues are still resonant with the current state of affairs in Kenya.

South Africa

The Southernmost State of the African continent endured a period of apartheid when the White-minority Boers ruled the country over the Black majority. This was from 1948 to the 1990s. The period saw injustices meted on the latter and a number of their political leaders arrested and locked away for life.


Miriam Makeba 2011.jpg by Tom Beetz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Seeking to become a voice for the voiceless, a number of South African musicians used their trade to draw both national and international attention to the issues of the day. Among them was Miriam Makeba. The musician famous for her different native songs in Xhosa and English had sung a song “Beware, Verwoerd! (Ndodemnyama),” referencing the then-Prime Minister of South Africa Hendrick Verwoerd, who had played a key role in implementing the apartheid regime. The song was banned on national radio due to its anti-apartheid stance.

Makeba had to go into exile in 1960 and was shortly banned from returning to South Africa. She went on to become a global icon in the US and continued to perform and write protest songs that spoke out against apartheid around the world.

Closely following Makeba’s trial, Brenda Fassie drew controversy for the better part of her career. She sang the song “Black President” as a tribute to the then “most famous prisoner,” Nelson Mandela. The song was written by Fassie and Chicco Thwala in 1990. This was at a time when the apartheid government was nearing its end, and Mandela was about to be released. The government had largely banned Fassie songs due to their controversial discussions of sexuality and social ills in South African city townships.

Johnny Clegg & Savuka Third World Child by vinylmeister is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Another South African song “Asimbonanga” sung by Johnny Clegg and the Savuka Band, was banned by the South African apartheid government. The song means “awakening” in Zulu and was released in 1987 in Clegg’s album, “Third World Child.” It invoked both Mandela and Steve Biko who were seen as symbols of the anti-apartheid movement that was seeking justice for native South African communities. Clegg who was born of Scottish-Zimbabwe and Jewish roots had assembled the first multi-racial band in Juluka and later Savuka. He had grown up in parts of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) before his parents immigrated to Johannesburg, South Africa. This brought him face-to-face with the suffering of the minorities in Jo’burg and other major cities. He also learned the local language of Zulu which would become among one of his signatures in his songs.

What most of these songs and musicians signify is the common currency of protest and speaking against societal ills and discrimination irrespective of socio-economic stature. These songs while temporarily off-air, were able to see the day of light and flood our airwaves, allowing audiences across the countries to listen and learn from the musical phenomena.

Find Global Voice’s Spotify playlist highlighting these and other banned songs from around the world here. For more information about banned music, see our special coverage, Striking the Wrong Notes.