Musicians must speak out against rot
SEVERAL socio-political disorders that may flush the country down a cesspit as a failed state have attracted the spotlight of news reports, analysis and commentary.
These include the deplorable state of education and health, simmering racial tensions and attitudes, the rising cost of living, the slow pace of transformation or resistance to it, corruption, high rates of jobless youth, crime, the quality of leadership and violent outbursts by citizens against local governments.
As the media continues to play its part in keeping the public informed about all these crucial developments, music has largely been found wanting.
Music is correctly placed with the press and other media under freedom of expression in our Bill of Rights.
It is therefore natural to expect musicians to actively participate in social commentry, through their work, in efforts to build a proud nation while encouraging vigilant and active citizenry.
Prior to the democratic dispensation, ushered in during the 1994 elections, there were large numbers of artists who fearlessly pointed out - through their lyrical content - the ruling elite's shortcomings, faults and crimes while campaigning for positive social change in the land.
Writer Marcel Cobussen reports that musicologists Susan McClary and Richard Leppert advocate - in their book, Music and Society - that musical constructions contribute to the body of ideas within a society and or culture.
"Music is affected by and affects other cultural fields and discourses. Its role is never merely an aesthetical one; it is determined by and determines thoughts on the economy, ethics, politics, religion, and gender as well. To think about the role, position and function of music in contemporary society thus always means to think about reciprocity, about a two-way traffic," argues Leppert and McClary.
One does not get a sense that there's a movement of South African musicians and songwriters who are determined to use their gift and art for the overall betterment of the people and continuous promotion of total freedom.
The music listener has instead been largely subjected to songs that dwell on basically nothingness, a nice time, self-praise, clichés on love or intimate matters of the heart, or mindlessly punt the materialistic and exhibitionist side of life.
A select number of artists, such as Thandiswa Mazwai, Phuz' ekhemisi, Slikour and Simphiwe Dana have risen to the challenge.
Hip-hop artist Slikour has released a song titled Blacks R Fools, that draws attention to what in his view are flaws not only of black people but also the racist tendencies in the corporate world, the shallowness of the media, politicians and opportunistic musicians.
In the song Nimkhonzile, Mazwai challenges voters to ask themselves if they are holding their political representatives accountable and to question the benefits of voting for a particular candidate or party.
A list of excuses often rolls out of the lips, as a form of defence, of those that shy away from using their art and talent to demand the best for and from fellow patriots. There are those who would have us believe there is an unofficial policy or covert operation of intimidation and sanctions - which translates into no gigs - on the opinionated, fault finding and vocal artists.
Most artists are silenced by concerns to get as much bread as possible. However, it is also true that musicians are made to exist in a state of fear and self-censorship.
Not long ago maskandi group Izingane Zoma received a "warning" after releasing their single uMalema, which was critical of axed ANC youth leader Julius Malema.
Media reports quoted the league's secretary, Sindiso Magaqa as saying: "If they release that stupid song, we'll hit them hard."
As musicians gather at the MTN Samas in Sun City, they must remember that SA music has a proud history of fearless socio-political commentary. The onus is on them to continue that legacy even if politicians don't like it.
Mahlangu is a freelance journalist