Music has historically played a very important role across countries throughout Africa and has contributed significantly to some of the most relevant social movements in the continent. The history of Africa is vast and old and music has always been there manifesting itself through time, joy, and struggle. Most recently, after the colonization of African countries had already been in place for a few decades, music came back powerfully as a means to empower people and bring them together in some common collective demands.
Many are the countries that can be an example of the importance and relevance music has had in the way political and cultural events evolved in the African continent. The power of music has been well recorded in some of the most proliferate social movements in countries such as Zimbabwe (Thomas Tafirenyika Mapfumo), Mali (Salif Keita), South Africa (Miriam Makeba), and Argelia (Lounès Matoub) just to mention a few of them.
Dozens of cinematographic adaptations have been made to represent some of the difficult and most controversial episodes of African history and its peoples. Seldom times the movie screen can be enough to uncover the truths, stories, and power of what has already happened in a given location. Music in the other hand acts immediately and plays a vital role when serving as a collective voice for the oppressed or the individually restricted.
A well-documented example of music making its way through social struggle was The apartheid regime in South Africa which began in 1948 and lasted until 1994. It involved a system of institutionalized racial segregation and white supremacy and placed all political power in the hands of a white minority. Music played a large role in the movement against apartheid within South Africa, as well as in international opposition. The impacts of songs opposing apartheid included raising awareness, generating support for the movement against apartheid, building unity within this movement, and "presenting an alternative vision of culture in a future democratic South Africa.
Songs like Senzenina became an iconic symbol of an entire country and documentaries like Amandla present a wonderfully well documented way to learn about the role music had during those times of social upheaval in southern Africa. Musicians from other countries also participated in the resistance to apartheid, both by releasing music critical of the South African government and by participating in a cultural boycott of South Africa from 1980 onward. Examples included "Biko" by Peter Gabriel, "Sun City" by Artists United Against Apartheid, and a concert in honor of Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. Prominent South African musicians such as Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, forced into exile, also released music critical of apartheid, and this music had a significant impact on Western popular culture, contributing to the "moral outrage" over apartheid. Scholars have stated that anti-apartheid music within South Africa, although it received less attention worldwide, played an equally important role in putting pressure on the South African government.
In times of popular social and cultural revendication and political struggle, music is not just a loud exiting exercise by which people bother authorities. Music is a way for people to create or remember identity, it’s a way to legitimize their defended values and most importantly a way to make people feel they belong and once one gets that, the struggle becomes his/her own and the causes for which the events are happening acquire a new, personal and refresh significance.
A huge lot more could be said about the social movements in Africa and this small brushstroke of information is intended to just awake a sense of curiosity that pushes a desire to learn more and in that way create more empathy towards those who oftentimes have only their individual and collective voices to demand what they considered just and novel.