Tag Archives: human rights

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!


Roma Musicians Discuss Inclusion In Larger Czech Community

While festivals often feature live Romani music, mainstream media outlets largely ignore it.

Roma music band Bengas. Photo by Jiří Bernovský, used with permission granted by Migel Milan Horvát.

This article was written by Elmira Lyapina. It was originally published by Global Voices (GB) on July 1st 2021 and is republished here according to the media partnership between GB and Shouts.


While Roma people are the largest ethnic minority in Czechia, comprising about 2.2 percent of its population, they are considered one of the most stigmatized and discriminated minorities in the nation. But even with the discrimination and undue stereotypes, the Roma people continue to have a huge social impact and are extremely prominent in Czechia’s music scene.

This author conversed with representatives of Czechia’s Roma music community about the prejudge and discrimination they face, the latest news of Roma oppression, and the borderless nature of music.

Roma minority and their social exclusion

Anti-Roma discrimination was brought to the forefront last month after a Romany man was killed by the police on June 19. The death triggered a wave of turmoil and protests within the Roma community as some Roma media compared the conflict to the George Floyd murder in the United States. Although it was determined by forensic autopsy examination that the police were not responsible for the man’s death, the case drew attention to tensions between the Czech majority and Roma national and ethnic minority.

These tensions are nothing new, particularly when it comes to Czechia’s social and cultural dynamics. For instance, the Council of Europe (COE) recently noted, that many European school programs fail to acknowledge the Roma people in their curricula and many historical accounts related to the Roma are unobjective or incomplete and fall prey to stereotyping.

In its 2020 report, the COE recommended Czechia address the ongoing discrimination and prejudice against the Roma people by including their history in school textbooks and addressing the issue of propaganda and false information about Roma people on the internet and social media. They also warned Czechia regarding the lack of advancement on its Roma language programs, where elementary and high schools were supposed to offer Roma language classes. These initiatives are part of a 20-year plan to protect Roma people and Travellers and fight against racism, intolerance, and social exclusion.

Results of a June 2021 poll showed that 70 percent of respondents in Czechia expressed antipathy toward the Roma. 

Roma musicians and their social inclusion 

Roma music band Kale. Photo used with permission granted by Emil “Pupa” Miko.

Despite the unpopularity and social exclusion of Roma as people, prevailing public opinion considers them a very musical nation.

Migel Milan Horvát from the band Bengas explains:

We are six musicians. We have no problem with fusion, the whole family plays some instrument. We play not only Romani-Gypsy folklore, but also a lot of Latin music, Balkan music (Kusturica or Bregovič), Russian Gypsy music, Polish songs, funk, soul, and of course such evergreens as Bésame Mucho.

Roma music is favorite among the general public, and world-famous Czech classical composers like Karel Bendl or Antonín Dvořák often included Roma melodies in their work. In recent years, Roma music can be found on almost every radio station, due to the popularity of the French Gypsy Kings or Czech-US band N.O.H.A., which are famous for their Roma-Latin style.

In the Czech pop music scene, there are a solid number of musicians of Roma origin, but they mostly sing mainstream melodies.

Horvát explains:

Czechs are a rock nation. Chinaski, Kabát — these are the leading Czech musicians, which is listened to by almost every Czech. Jan Bendig, musician of Roma origin, is probably the only one who has established himself out of many Roma people.

Emil “Pupa” Miko, a Roma musician and long-term member of the bands Věra Bílá and Kale disagrees:

…on the Czech scene you can hear and see musicians of Roma origin, but they do not sing Roma music, but they rather are musically assimilated with Czech music or taste.

While live festivals throughout the country often feature Roma or Gypsy musicians, they are not included in many mainstream media channels.

Miko reflected on the issue:

We have been officially playing since 1996, when we released our first CD. Since then, we have played not only in the Czech Republic but also abroad, we have toured 36-37 countries. We play our universal music, it’s Roma music, positive, dance, that everyone likes.

Czechs perceive our songs positively, they even sing our songs along with us in our concerts…

However, when we tried to promote our music on radio, even through commercial channels, they refused to play “black music”, due the fear of losing their listeners… In fact, since then did not changed much, they play old songs, for example of Antonin Gondola, or our old songs only if there is some “great” occasion.

Horvát expressed similar opinion:

The Roma are a musical nation, we have a musical tradition for centuries… Our group is called Bengas, translated from Romani as “devils”, since we play such energetic things and as fast as devils…

Czech people invite us a lot, but privately, to their celebrations. We also play a lot at festivals. The Czechs like the way we play, it won’t take even 5 minutes before someone dances. Although, we are called as the “band on which you dance”, however, on the Czech market, in larger scale it is hard to get, and I know it is on the basis of the nationality. Couple of times we were giving an interview to the Czech TV and radio, but none released our music, and they didn’t want to promote us in any way…

Both address the issue of such phenomenon as Gypsy World Music, noting that the recent peak of acceptance and recognition of Roma music in Czechia was around 2004, which was connected with the world-famous band Gypsy Kings visit the country.

Horvát recalled that his band performed as the opening act on the Gypsy Kings concert in the T-Mobile arena in Prague:

We also travel a lot in Europe. There are only 4–5 of us such Roma bands that travel around Europe. We lived in France for a while. Although, we try to avoid the negative thoughts, but when we compare the attitude, in Czechia, at the official level, there is a different relationship with the Roma than, for example, in France or even in neighboring Slovakia. Privately, Czechs, individuals, love us. But political discourse does not always benefit society.

While both musicians shared largely positive experiences of acceptance by the Czech people individually, they both agree that on a wider level discrimination exists, including media discrimination, prejudices, and difficulty finding housing for themselves or work for relatives.

When asked what Roma musicians need to gain to have equality in Czechia, Emil “Pupa” Miko replied:

I think it would take time to change that mood, the mentality and the way people with different skin colors are perceived, as it is in the USA now.

Migel Milan Horvát concluded:

I believe, the future is in the hands of children… What I am most interested in, when we play, is the reactions of the children. If the child is interested in something, it is immediately recognizable. Adults can lie, but children will not. I know that. We played for over 10 years in orphanages. Plus, we’re all in the band around 50 years old now. It is important to stay positive, and Roma music is positive.


The Kuti Clan Protesting Through Music, And Other Nigerians Who Sang Against Apartheid

Femi and Seun Kuti, have kept Fẹlá’s protest music alive.

Orlando Julias’ band (Nigeria). Image by Steve Terrell, September 26, 2015 (CC BY 2.0)

This article was written by Nwachukwu Egbunike and originally published by Global Voices on 31st of March 2022.


Nigerian musicians have been very vocal about social injustice in the country. The term protest music as a genre, which gained popular cultural validity in the 1970s, has continued to date. These songs fought military dictatorship, apartheid in South Africa, and police brutality, as part of the youth-led #EndSARS protests.

The father of Nigerian protest music

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

Fẹlá Aníkúlápò Kútì (1938–1997), the father of protest music in Nigeria, employed his distinctive Afrobeat genre with lyrics that were replete with “sarcastic humor, rebellion against authority, and political consciousness” as a means of fighting social injustice, notes Titilayo Remilekun Osuagwu, a culture scholar in Nigeria’s University of Port Harcourt.

Fẹlá’s genius lied in his conceptualization of the root causes of oppression. That’s why his music has remained — to date — a powerful tool in the “sustenance of ongoing protests,” asserts Olukayode ‘Segun Eesuola, a political science scholar in Nigeria’s University of Lagos. In the course of his over three decades-long musical career, he heightened the political consciousness of generations of Nigerian citizens. However, this attracted brutal visitations from security agents of successive Nigerian governments.

Understandably, most of Fẹlá‘s music was directed against the excesses of successive military governments in the country. Nigeria was under military dictatorship for 29 years (from 1966 to 1979 and 1983 to 1999).

At the time of his death in 1997, Fẹlá fiery musical body of work had earned him a place “in global consciousness as a quintessential ‘political musician,’” asserts Tejumola Olaniyan, professor of African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in his seminal book “Arrest the Music! Fela & His rebel art and politics.”

Femi and Seun Kuti, like father like sons

Fẹlá’s two sons, Femi and Seun, have inherited and “carried forward” their father’s passion for social justice through music.

Femi Kuti, performing at Warszawa Cross Culture Festival. Image by Henryk Kotowski via Wikimedia Commons, 25 September 2011 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Femi Kuti, Fẹlá’s eldest son, is an accomplished Afrobeat musician and saxophonist in his own right. Femi’s songs like “Sorry Sorry“, “What Will Tomorrow Bring” and “’97” — do not spare Nigeria’s corrupt and incompetent rulers. For instance, in “Sorry Sorry”, Femi laments the hypocritical attempt by the ruling elites, who in secret destroy the nation but pretend at finding solutions in public:

“Politicians and soldiers hold meetings/they want to repair our country/ they behave as though/ they don’t know/ that they are the ones who spoilt our country.”

Femi, a multiple Grammy nominee, is as brash and impatient as his late father. In an interview with Vanguard, a Nigeria newspaper, in February 2011, he decimated Nigeria’s corrupt class: “It is very evident that things are very bad in our country; politicians keep stealing money, we don’t have good roads, proper education, and potable water and so on. I can’t accept that. The majority of Nigerians are suffering. I don’t accept this and my father showed us a way to complain through music and that is what I am doing.”

Seun Kuti at the 2008 Marsatac Festival in Marseille, France. Image by Benoît Derrier via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Fẹlá’s youngest son, Seun Kuti is a musician and social justice advocate. Seun was an active participant in the 2012 #OccupyNigeria protests against the gas price hikes. He was also involved in the 2020 #EndSARS protests.

Seun has been described as the “Prince of Afrobeats,” in the footsteps of his father, the king of Afrobeat. Toyin Falola, Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies further asserts that: “Seun’s alignment did not start recently. He showed an early interest in music, especially the type of music his father sings, and he started to perform alongside Fela and the Egypt 80 band when he was just nine years old. It would not be out of place to call that a prodigious act.”

Nigerian voices against Apartheid in South Africa

Cover of Sonny Okosun’s Vinyl record

Critical music against political leadership was not limited to military dictatorship alone.

Nigerian musicians like Sonny Okosun, Majek Fashek, Onyeka Onwenu — and many others — also protested against apartheid in South Africa, calling for the release of Nelson Mandela.

Sonny Okosun (1947—2008), Nigeria’s highlife and reggae star, in “Papa’s Land” (1977) and “Fire in Soweto” (1978) condemned the suppression of black South Africans by their apartheid governments.

Following in Okosun’s footsteps was Nigeria’s guitarist and reggae star, Majek (Majekodunmi) Fashek (1963-2020) dedicated his song “Free Africa, Free Mandela” to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, whom he described as a prisoner of conscience.

Onyeka Onwenu (Image credit from Onyeka Onwenu Facebook Fan Club)

However, one of the most endearing and emotional protest renditions against apartheid came from Nigeria’s singer, actress, and journalist Onyeka Onwenu in her song, “Winnie Mandela.” Onwenu described Winnie Mandela as the “soul of a nation, fighting to be free!”

Onwenu explained that she wrote the song after watching a documentary about the Mandelas, which moved her to tears. She “identified” with Winnie’s “loneliness and some of her pain.” During the sleepless night that followed, the Nigerian musician put her “pain to a song” to “give something back to Winnie for the sacrifice of her life to the Apartheid struggle,” Onwenu wrote in April 2018.

Other Nigerians who sang against the social injustice of apartheid were Victor Essiet and the Mandators in the song “Apartheid.”