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Culture, Reality

Shouting in the wind

by Max Sleaze / 27.03.2010

Shout – Danny K and Kabelo’s much publicised anti crime initiative is picking up momentum across the media, ironically at nowhere near the pace of the dodgy pro crime rhymes of their not so wholesome pop cousins Die Antwoord. (Yes I said pop, our pseudo Zef brothers are as pop as Lady Gaga). And even though I am loathe to rain on the slick orchestrated PR parade from well meaning SA musos, the packaging leaves me feeling kind of uneasy. Like the feeling I used to get as kid after having eating the shell of a chocolate Easter egg only to find the middle is empty.

It is certainly not the song itself, a simplistic yet strong anthemic pop song that would not be out of place in an early U2 stadium set. It was a pretty good call to arms of its time. Remember the mid eighties? Reagan, Thatcher and Apartheid were at their heights – a true axis of evil before the term was even coined. Then there was that little thing called the Cold War and the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation. A time of us against them, it is easy to picture student unions worldwide bellowing the refrain “Shout, shout, let it all out, these are the things I can do without” as they ranted and raved about the injustices of their moment.

Of course over time the students graduated to positions in the bourgeoning tech sectors and moved on to more wholesome, less revolutionary causes, like the environment that only requires flexi-time commitment and fitted nicely into a more holistic and quieter lifestyle – then all that shouting became a little gauche. And anyway the wall came down, Mandela was released and those lads from the original band didn’t have much to cry about from their Italian sports cars did they now? So the song became relegated to one of those late night drunken braai “crank up the hi-fi” sing-along staples, you know the type, simple rememberable chorus and basic enough for even the most tuneless of us to belt it out with gusto.

But what’s wrong with the Shout Against Crime campaign? It is certainly not the performers; for a white boy Danny K does do a mean R’n’B vocal, sure he aint no Jay Kay, but he can hold a tune. To be honest though I have never owned a Danny K track, probably because he reminds me of a Jozi version of the Ken doll. Cute and sassy, but safe enough that you would let your little sister play with it. I do feel for him however, what red blooded male would not feel for the guy who had been dumped by Lee Ann Liebenberg? Actually nowadays what better way to get over a nasty public break up than a good cause. Whereas in the past rock icons used to throw themselves into month long sex and drugs binges, now we find them popping up in obscure places saving obscure species and adopting children.

Again with Kabelo, my one and only connection with the local mega star was being able to run around the streets of Bordeaux shouting: “Benni McCarthy in the area” from his Tkzee hit ‘Shibobo’, after seeing the eponymous fatso in his heyday humiliate the mighty Schmeichel. In short not much to build a relationship on. That said Kabelo seems to be quite accomplished with his band TKzee catapulting Kwaito into the foreground of South African popular culture, although that music genre seems to be on the wane of late. Would it be disingenuous of me to think that this is a good time to get behind a cause? Well it worked for a certain scraggy Irishman.

It is not the production either, a slick, clear sound mirrored with the classy minimalist video which is just the correct balance of edgy fear invoking colours and heart string pulling emotions. (For a second they actually look like they care). It also makes for an enjoyable 10 minute office distraction as you all gather round for a quick game of spot the celeb. Also a nifty insight into the inter-office cultural dynamics as you see who spots who and who doesn’t.

I have no problem with the purpose either. It is axiomatic that crime is horrific, we aren’t just knee deep in the shit, we can barely see out of it. We all know someone who has been a victim of violent crime and you only have to open up a newspaper to see that we live in a country, excluding of course those areas in a 10km radius of all officially endorsed FIFA Wold Cup South Africa 2010© events, that is one of the most dangerous in the world. But if you unpack all the glitzy packaging behind the Shout Initiative, what is it really?

The idea behind a charity song is pretty simply that a bunch of well meaning creative types devote their time and craft a pop ditty for whatever charity is cause du jour. They pop in for a day in the recording studio to assuage their guilt before they return to their lavish lifestyles and heart shaped swimming pools, safe in the knowledge that they have done their bit. Although smacking of self righteousness, at least they raised money for something that seemed deserving. We are the World and Band Aid raised money for famine relief, 46664 for Aids and most recently there have been numerous songs for Haitian earthquake victims. The common dominator is that most of the recipients were NGO’s, dealing with either the complete meltdown of governmental services or a government’s intransigence in the face of a rising epidemic.

So who are the charities that are recipients of the Shout Initiative – Business against Crime and Crime Line, sorry come again? Where is the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak, the sick, you know, the Old Testament qualifiers? These are both corporate enterprises, although nobly self funded.

Then a percentage of money raised goes to the SAPS, funnelled through to so called hot spots. This is the same law enforcement who until recently had gangster’s moll Selebi on the payroll, the same law enforcement that locks up a jogger for 24 hours for zapping the president’s convoy and the same that is now run by some general wannabe who is threatening to turn the community policing service into a military junta. Ineptitude aside, since when did an essential service like policing become a charity? It is funny in a kind of Monty Pythonesque way that we have to rely on handouts to finance our police force, what next telethons for our local police station, golf days for vehicles? The limited resources argument does not hold any merit when you see a country that is obviously awash with money and state money at that. And if even half of the arms deal money rumours are true, we have more than enough to sustain a competent police force.

Who are the SA Musos protesting against? Shout claims they are “Mobilising the citizens of the country for the activation of integrity and responsibility”. Hang about; have we forgotten something? We voted for this government, what are they doing about it? This song and dance is just that, a little heart-warming distraction that lets the government vacillate and do nothing. Who then are they shouting at? Certainly not the criminals let’s face it’s like pissing into the wind.

Protest songs have been around from time immemorial. American and French revolutionaries were always up for a rousing refrain en masse for social change and I am pretty sure old Moses penned a few stirring numbers to keep the Hebrews motivated against Pharaoh’s oppression. Protest songs all seem to have one thing in common; from classics like ‘Eve of Destruction’, through, ‘Fight the Power’, ‘American Idiot’, ‘What’s Going On’ and Gill Scots Herons zeitgeist defining opus ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, they all have an anger directed squarely at the powers that be.

This to me is where Shout for all its slick pretty packaging and Facebook fans falls flat. This “Activating Responsible Citizenship” lip service allows the government to abrogate its fundamental responsibility. Does not the Freedom Charter clearly state “All people shall have the right to live where they choose, be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security”? It gives the government a get-out-of-jail-free-card to ignore the endemic corruption that is rife in its ranks, their almost criminal negligence to address the poverty and the massive inequalities that fuel the crime in the country, and the fact that they continue to overlook the moral decline brought upon the country by their contradictory and self serving leadership.

It is a joke that we need to make a song against crime, though the joke is on us that in the process we have to cosy up to big business and absolve the government of their core responsibility to make the population safe, as opposed to keeping a few chosen ones rich.

Let’s look at the cause not the symptoms and a touchy feely, we all stand together, pop song is not going to change shit. Call me old fashioned, but I like my protest to come with edge, an anger directed at the powers that could really make a difference. It truly is sad that instead of rage against the machine, all our musical fraternity can come up with is to ask the machine over for tea and a chat.

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