Thursday, January 10, 2008

Voices of Political Dissent

I wrote this a few years ago as well. I can't remember what got me going but it was probably something like the Ministry of Sound in Taipei saying that they don't have time for boring politics in the middle of an election, which is as inane statement if ever there was one especially if you're from Taiwan.

As much as we try and deny the fact that politics plays a role in our daily lives, it most certainly weaves itself through the very fabric of our existences. It always dismays me how apathetic people are, especially people from our generation. Most of us don't feel the need to get up early on a weekend and go vote, we'd rather just sit around with our friends in a blazing parody of every sitcom ever and moan about how bad things are around us. Now, if we'd all gotten up and said or done something then maybe we wouldn't be looking down the barrel of rich people getting richer, libraries closing, our trash stinking up the roads as we wait for it to be picked up after the service was cut from 5 times a week to once a week. Now why does this happen to us? Fuck knows we're too lazy to change the channel on the TV without getting off our fat asses, why would we get up at 9am and kick the rich silver spoon bandits out on their ears?

Music has always been the voice of the youth. Look at someone like Gil Scott-Heron, an immaculate talent who didn't stop to croon the ladies, but rather used his God-given talents to let the world know that what was happening was wrong and that he just wouldn't tolerate it any longer and neither should we. The self-proclaimed interpreter of the black experience was loud. He was incensed. He stood up to the elite figures on Capitol Hill like Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon by boldly declaring, after Ford had infamously pardoned Nixon for his crimes, "We beg your pardon, because the pardon you gave was not yours to give." His most famous track/political statement was 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised', a soaring statement where he predicted that a silent revolution is on the way, and a revolution that will be for the people and by the people. He's a griot in the truest sense of the word, a storyteller who passes on the message of one generation to another. He is one of the few artists who emit a degree of importance that transcends the social values of their own time and culture.

Rap music has always been one of the core sources to mobilize the youth and to let them know that "Shit is fucked up." Sadly, now it all seems to have degenerated into who can drive the biggest car and get the dirtiest bitches into their videos. Where they once used their musical vehicle to tell the establishment where to get off, they now talk about drinking expensive tipple that 99% of their fan base would never be able to afford. Their 'beefs' are never honest to God calls for someone to slash the
seats, but rather well timed publicity stunts. Take the recent 'clash' between The Game and 50 cent, had you ever heard of the game beyond that he was in G-Unit once upon a time? Well now you know who he is and you've bought his album. Sucker. Gil Scott-Heron was right when he said, "There's a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music. There's not a lot of humour. They use a lot of slang and colloquialisms and you don't really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing."

Obviously there are exceptions to rule and Public Enemy came blazing through in the 80s firing their words like bullets aimed at the heart of conservatism everywhere. Whereas before you had someone like John Lennon protesting nude from the Four Seasons - The Four fucking Seasons! - about how peace should reign and that we should all live in harmony. I'm sorry but
how seriously can take the word of a man holed up in a $1000/night suite with his eccentric Japanese wife? I can hear you grumbling but who makes more of an impact? The naked Brit, or Chuck D and Flavor Flav telling is to 'Fight The Power'? I know whose making me sit up and take notice and it's not the guy that sang about a bloody walrus.

''I don't rhyme for the sake of riddlin'," Chuck boomed on ''Don't Believe the Hype." Rather, Chuck rhymed for the sake of a better world and how one got there was a whole different issue. The songs/statements on 'It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back' are undeniable classics. ''Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" finds Chuck dodging the draft and laughing off the government's attempt to conscript him in the ''army or whatever." Chuck's stern, unadorned flow was perfectly complemented by Flav's twitchy, almost uncertain delivery. They both sounded powerful over the Bomb Squad's beats, layered high with
messy, antsy noise, and funk borrowed from James Brown. This was a record where the beats sounded as troubled as the rhymes. Public Enemy's power was in its ability to convince you that its causes were urgent. Chuck's no-nonsense baritone foretold apocalypse around the corner. Now history has unfortunately revealed to us that they were as full of shit as the people that they attacked on tape. Griff was struck with rumours about his alleged anti-Semitism and Flavor Flav's nagging drug problems and recent forays into reality TV haven't exactly pushed home the message as much as it has diluted it. It seems like Chuck D is the only one prepared to live by the principles that originally governed his output. Nevertheless they left their mark on the political landscape of a generation.

Now being a South African I've obviously experienced my own fair share of political traumas, but I'm not delusional enough to see my view as being anywhere near as bad as what my friends on the other side of the colour divide have had to endure. South Africa's prominent speakers of truth are 'The Prophets Of The City' who formed during the 80s when South Africa was
still in a turbulent chaos. Ready D initially formed the group so that he could make some money. This was the time of 'Rapper's Delight' and Kurtis Blow and all he wanted was to get up on stage and go, "Everybody say Hooo! All the ladies shake your ass!" He then hooked up with another rapper from the Cape Flats, Shaheen, who had entirely different ideas. When they got into the studio that Shaheen's father had organized for them, he started spitting political polemics as Ready D remembers, "Shaheen was talking some other shit that I wasn't with at all. He was like up on some political shit because he was an activist in school. For me I wasn't interested in politics, I wanted people to go 'Hooo', and he was 'No, no. Fuck the government' and all this shit."

P.O.C. with Quincy Jones.

Ready eventually came around to the idea, especially after random, senseless police brutality interfered with his daily existence, "At that time I didn't understand why the cops are smacking me up and down just walking up the street. Eight o'clock. Why are you not in the house? Why are you walking here? They kick you in your chops. Back home and you ask yourself why? I am just going to listen to a new Hip Hop record." Their most famous statement was 'The Age Of Truth' which caused them major headaches. You can imagine a band using Nelson Mandela samples in a time when that was a, "No, fucking no!" and with the youth movement in South Africa by now becoming very militant across the spectrum, with even white students standing up to the pigs in a bid for the bitter hatred to end, P.O.C. became the voice of a generation. You can imagine how uneasy that made the government feel. South Africa is a great blueprint for the rest of the world to see that the young and disenfranchised do have a voice and the ability to force change when required. Obviously everything comes with its teething problems, but if someone had to give me the choice of living in the Old South Africa or The New South Africa, I know what I'd choose.

Music and politics are forever ingrained in each other, and some people do believe that it should never cross and that music should be for enjoyment and that politics should be left for the dull pricks to argue over but with a medium that reaches so many and the opportunity to initiate significant steps for change it is undeniable that when the two collide that they have the ability to speak to the disenfranchised and make the world aware of the lies of social injustices, and for that reason it will always be important to have the two interwoven into one another.

1 comment:

jeffo said...

I enjoyed reading this article very much.

More please!