Africa must wake up, the sleeping sons of Jacob
For what tomorrow may bring, may a better day come
Yesterday we were kings, can you tell me young ones
Who are we today?
It is only befitting for me to begin this piece about the power of music with the lyrics above, written by Nas and Damien Marley in ‘Africa Must Wake Up’. I love this song because it embodies the idea of pan-Africanism: a rich African history and a bright future. The words make me think about Africa’s potential, and the music unfailingly makes me feel that potential. Overall, there is something about music that speaks to the shared human experiences, and something that can easily resonate with people despite their different backgrounds and beliefs. Yet still, irrespective of this power to hold an ideological grasp over masses, I find that music, as a tool and catalyst for change, is underutilized.
Arts in general and music, in particular, play an essential role in the socialization process. To get a bit technical, music often prompts simultaneous intellectual, emotional, physical and sensory responses. This leads to a certain level of self-awareness that might further influence people’s’ mindsets. Owing to this, music has the potential to challenge the dominant cultural, political and philosophical consensus, while reshaping people's behavior and their socio-political engagement. That might explain why mainstream politics uses music as a tool during the election period to woo and appeal to young voters: it is a tool of political engagement and socialization. With this in mind, music deserves more attention from our society, as it can be used so effectively to mobilize and unify people by forming and accentuating their shared experiences. Let us make what I like to call a movement out of music.
Here, allow me a bit of a digression to shed light on what inspired this piece. Recently, The African Union Citizen’s and Diaspora Directorate (AU-CIDO) held an event in collaboration with the US Mission to the African Union on “Creating Social Change through Arts”. The event was led by the DC-based group, Shaolin Jazz, and fell in line with one of the aspirations outlined in Agenda 2063. which calls for enhanced Pan-African cultural assets that can be achieved through celebrating and promoting our heritage, folklore, theater, and MUSIC, among other things. In the two workshops that culminated in a concert, the discussion heavily centered on using music as a tool for dialogue among African citizens within the continent and among the diasporas, to spread the messages of the African Union, the Africa we want, and the Agenda 2063, while unleashing the potential of youth in Africa and among the diasporas.
Attending that event had me thinking that music is very impressionable and it garners attention. It could fill an important niche in the socio-economic and political development of Africa. The continent as a whole has been negatively portrayed by mainstream media as a place of tragedies. Moving forward, we must bear in mind that music can not only decry social issues, but also serve as a manifestation of power and a projection of what we want to make out of Africa and how we want to present her to the world. A number of campaigns such as #TheAfricaWeWant, and documents including treaties, conventions, protocols and charters already exist within the frameworks of the African Union to address this problem, but here we still are, as a continent, barely transforming, barely democratizing.
All of these have brought us to the question, ‘how effectively do these campaigns and documents respond to the needs of the masses, if they do not reach them in the first place?’ Common people lack the channel to make demands because leadership at the top remains generally unaccountable. The truth is that most of these well-intended yet intricate policy documents that grace the archives of well-structured institutions and societies often and sadly just turn into musings of the elites for other elites. They serve little purpose in the course of development as they figuratively and literally sit on shelves with their pages yellowing and gathering dust.
Now, let us consider the effect of communication, demographically and geographically, of the same messages but presented in musical forms. The idea is not to substitute the documents but rather to enhance them with artistic forms that are more easily consumable and that can exert a wider reach. The market of ‘people who read’ and further ‘people who read position papers, project documents and charters’ is relatively small, compared to ‘people who listen to music’. It is about time to start favoring creative space over comprehensive documents because to gain public support is a fundamental step in policy implementation. After all, where words leave off, music begins, or so they say.
That said, the same music that has the power to instill morals also holds the power to derogate them. Remember, music plays a fundamental role in marking the norms and rules of society. If it is not progressive, it will most likely be retrogressive. To elevate the social impact of music, it would be imperative that we do not propagate music devoid of values. The end objective of making a movement out of music would be to promote an educational and social experience that will primarily reach, subsequently shape ideologies, and positively transform lives.
Singing our way to development and change might sound too ideal and a bit far-fetched, but the fact remains that the role of music in socio-economic development is indispensable. The opportunities too, are limitless once the fires of imagination are kindled. Music is more than a funky beat to jiggle to and more than a song. It presents an avenue to represent Africa on a global and cross-cultural stage. Let music be a call to action and a call to service for our continent of Africa. Let us make a movement out of music!
Ndunge Wayua is a self-professed African feminist, Pan-Africanist, and wildlife activist. As a human rights professional, she has had a vibrant career as part of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Addis Ababa), The African Union (Burundi), and The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (Gaza strip). She regularly writes thought pieces on nonviolent conflict resolution, women’s rights, and African development. She invites passionate reformers to engage her, challenge her, and converse with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Ndunge Wayua and published on 19-June-2016