Antony Adaa Abraham, writing on a website www.allafrica.com , rates Bob Marley as one of the most influential artists in the world with the ability to use the power in his music to bring about change in the world.
An Oscar-winning documentary, Marley, reveals that Marley had the power to influence political decisions to the point that every politician wanted to be friends with the reggae king just to get more votes.
Marley’s universal appeal, impact on music history and role as a social and political prophet is both unique and unparalleled. He is the definitive life story of the musician, revolutionary, and legend, from his early days to his rise to international super-stardom.
Marley’s positive contribution to making the world a better place was not only recording of the song Zimbabwe from his Survival album—released in 1979, which became an anthem for the comrades in the revolution struggle in Zimbabwe—he was also influential in his country when it was infested with gang and political violence.
During South Africa’s apartheid, musicians channeled their anger into positive energy that would not only voice out their tribulations, but also heal the wounds of the system.
Among other contributions of music to the apartheid fight include Paul Simon’s Graceland Concert, Hugh Masekela’s Bring Back Nelson Mandela and Vusi Mahlasela’s When You Come Back.
All Africa reports that Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a Nigerian social commentator and African cultural activist, thought the most important thing for Africans to use in fighting European cultural imperialism was to support traditional African religions and lifestyles.
Kuti was known to be an outspoken supporter of human rights, such that many of his songs are direct attacks against dictatorships, specifically the militaristic governments of Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s.
He was able to bypass editorial censorship in Nigeria’s predominantly state controlled media, and in the 1970s he began buying advertising space in daily and weekly newspapers in order to run outspoken political columns.
In Malawi, Mabala, from Lucius Banda’s debut album, Son of a Poor Man, and his second album Ceasefire, Billy Kaunda’s Alibe Mau, Mlaka Maliro’s Dzanja Lalemba and Evison Matafale’s first two albums of the Kuimba sequel, had the power to influence political and social change.
This was not only because of the genre or instrumentation of the music, but because of the messages therein.
Music that fills radio airwaves today is mostly love songs, or if it is not egoistic-themed songs, then it is praise songs for politicians.
Former president Bakili Muluzi’s proposition for third term prior to 2004 elections attracted a number of songs including Agalatiya which he [Muluzi] jokingly responded to at one of his rallies.
The question that is still tattooed on listeners’ hearts is whether Malawian music has that power to influence decisions.
Music lecturer at fine and performing arts department at Chancellor College, Alinane Mphande, argues that history has it that there is a possibility for Malawian musicians to influence decisions ranging from political to social.
“Musicians have for a long time been involved in passing of HIV/Aids messages through their art as they are able to invoke people’s emotions,” argues Mphande.
She adds that whether the artists are successful or not in influencing their society, they still have the power in their trade.
On his part, Lucius bemoans poor support for musicians as the reason they are not singing political or socially-charged songs that could influence change.
“The people who did that in their countries had fans that could support them. For example, Fella Kuti bought a Royce Royce and used it to carry firewood as a mockery to former Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida who had just purchased a Royce Royce at the expense of poor people. That can only be done by someone who has money,” says the self-styled soldier.
He says experience has taught him that when things go sour for musicians of that calibre, they suffer alone through imprisonment, banning of their songs and several ways of humiliation.
“Yet, no one protests and the lives of our fans continue as usual while we suffer,” he says.
Music enthusiast and Nyimbo Record Company CEO Daud Suleman says Malawian musicians abandon their role as freedom fighters once they align themselves with politicians.
“Once they start dining with the political elite, it becomes difficult for musicians to speak for the man on the street. That is the biggest problem with Malawian musicians, they put their own interests before that of the nation,” he says.
But Suleman advises the artist never to forget who they are and what they represent.
“They are artists first and foremost. And in life, every artist is tasked with the duty of fighting for the less privileged and the disadvantaged. That is how artists make their mark,” says Suleman.