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Culture, Music

“They used to call it Freedom Music”

by Andy Davis / 24.09.2009

“Have we lost the plot?” I ask bra Hugh Masekela. “Where is the message in contemporary South African music?”
“People became… I wouldn’t say complacent, for a second they started to bask in the sunshine of the new freedom that we had. And it was a time to enjoy those freedoms. But I think that… they used to call it freedom music but really it’s social consciousness music. And that is going to come back. I also changed my style radically. Because I didn’t think I’d come back home. I didn’t think we’d be allowed back ever. So I spent the last ten years just enjoying being with the people of this country, playing their music, performing for them, and them performing along with us. It’s just been a joy when people sing along, it’s like we’re an accompanying band for the audience. It brought me so much joy, it’s like being able to say to the people, thanks for this gift that you gave me. You know they sustained us where we were throughout the years.”

Hmm, nod, smile, sip coffee.
“But there are a lot of disturbing things that are happening in our country and in Africa as a whole. The wars that are happening and the refusal of so many people who have been in leadership in Africa to step down. The ravaging of the continent. And you know in our country especially women abuse and the rape of children and young girls and women, murder and crime and a major link to that is addiction. Alcohol and substance abuse. And I think our country stands neck and neck with Russia, which is supposed to be the most alcoholic country in the world, and a very violent place too. Most countries that have experienced violence and oppression become alcoholic countries. The reaction to the oppression and frustration varies from country to country. But I think that South Africa and Russia have taken it very badly on the chin and our reaction to it has been violence against each other. And those are all disturbing things. On our album ‘Time’ we’ve got a song that talks about change and how everything must change, and there we talk about the wars and we talk about the old guys who won’t give up power, who don’t want to step down. And we’ve also got a song that says, ‘I want to be there when the people win the battle against Aids. I want to be there when the people triumph over poverty. I want to be there for the alcoholic, for the drug addict, for the victims of violence and abuse’. And I think I am coming back again to start to sing about the things that disturb us. On Zola’s album I wrote a song for him called ‘Shame’ – and it’s about rape, the shame of the rape in this country. And I say what is happening to South Africa? How can we just be standing by, looking on when men are raping babies and little girls. Didn’t we kill discrimination? Come on South Africa it’s time to say: ‘haikona!’ And I think that a lot of artists in Africa have to stop just singing about the beauty of the land and the beauty of our culture and let’s love one another and all that and start to point out a lot of things that are wrong. It’s not going to change the world. Shit if music could change the world Bob Dylan would have changed America long ago and we wouldn’t have had a George Bush. But it keeps people on their toes and it keeps them aware of what is happening. What disturbs me about our present society is that before, at the slightest infringement of our rights we used to take to the streets. Now we just sort of sigh about the rape of a five month old child. And I think something has been deadened in our conscience and that’s what I think musicians should be partly for, to conscientise people on things they have forgotten. Because with freedom comes amnesia, I have noticed all over the world.”

Read part 1 here and part 3 here.

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