What Happened to the Political Voice of Music?

The influence of music in our lives is so prevalent, whether you are walking down the road earphones in, or standing next to those large thumping speakers pon de dancefloor it creates an emotion and a particular feeling that is hard to explain. The instant love you have for a new person if they play one of your favourite songs and you both shout ‘This is a bangaaar’. It connects people in ways, which are unexplainable. It’s power is evident, so it is important to question the music that is put in front of us compared to the music that we have to search for. 

The control of radio has changed the course of music it has the power to pluck an artists song out of obscurity and into the realms of mainstream success. There is a desire to control mass behaviour. We have seen many songs be thrust into the limelight, but let’s ask the question what was the last political song you heard on the so called ‘Top 40’. The political voice of artists such as Fela Kuti, John Lennon and Bob Dylan used to be at the forefront of music. This revolutionary spirit has been lost in the digital age of music in which the way we receive and look for the songs and artists is often streamlined or suggested to you by cookies and what’s trending.

The main hope for music with a political message comes from Grime. The fact that Stormzy puts his mum in his video or raps ‘I’m trying to make dark skin sexy again’. Although many may say Stormzy has become a fully-fledged commercial artist, this message in itself is important. Another important artist who asserts that there is a ‘revolution of freedom’ by this he means the internet has allowed many artist to push for their dreams and say what they want by staying independent and not relying on the corporate machine you often need in this day and age to succeed in the music industry. With Novelist at the age of 19, trying to start his own genre and setting up his own label MMMYEAH this is evident. Novelist is an example of the clear political nature of Grime, with his protest songs ‘Fuck David Cameron’ and his joining of the membership of the Labour Party. The fact is that even the establishment are beginning to notice the political nature of Grime and their reach all over the UK. Matt Hancok congratulated Skepta for his Mercury Prize award, however in a further praise to the accuracy of ‘The Thick of It’ he had to turn to his aide to help him when asked what his favourite song was. And yes it was ‘Shutdown’.

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The importance of music in terms of shaping the outlook of a generation is so important. This goes back to the question, what is being promoted to us. Groups such as 67 and Section Boyz although they are on their own journey’s and are doing well in their communities often do not give a positive message and we must assert this point that it is easier for a middle class white kid to not be affected by what they say opposed to an underprivileged kid who looks at these people coming from similar backgrounds as idols. The fact is that the lack of a positive message is holding back many in these communities.

A figure that is relevant in the modern day in terms of his political views is Akala states, ‘Black music can’t fail to be politicised because blackness is politicised in racist societies.’ We must ask ourselves, in all honesty how many people listen to his music as opposed to his talks. The problem today is that music of substance has to be searched for nowadays. There is a hidden community using this thing that we are all glued on the Internet to find artists giving you a message. An example of a prominent artist using there music for political expression is Solange with ‘A Seat at the Table’ this depicts the black struggle with striking visuals and a clear direction and topic running throughout the project. Without the use of the Internet I would not have been suggested or recommended this album. 

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This music still has a voice underground and more needs to be done to set up the right platforms for this type of music to do well. Not all music has to be political, it is just that the power of music is being denigrated in that artists in order to do well are often forced to ‘sell out’ and create other forms of art.

The power of music is evident, Thomas Sankara the ex-President o Burkina Faso, the Land of the Upright People, made a national anthem to inspire his people. His friend, African Revolutionary Fela Kuti stated this, ‘my music is not for entertainment. I’m here to give information to my country.’ The problem is that many states are refuting this radical change in their countries; this fear is evident in the works of Plato as he warns ‘any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state, and ought to be prohibited.’ He asserts that ‘when modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state always change with them.’

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In the aftermath of the July 7th bombing, as a child many media outlets were commenting on terrorism. I will be honest and say I had an ignorant view of the issue, as did many of people, and some still do. Lowkey – Terrorist completely changed my perspective on the matter. I began to look at life from another viewpoint. This was achieved not by being lectured or preached at, it was achieved with a feeling and an appreciation of the message so beautifully linked with the art form of music!

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words by Ayo Fagbemi 

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