Do you ever listen to a song and find yourself moved so deeply you are almost in tears? Have you ever been to a live performance that turned your worst day into your best? Have you ever heard a song that inspired you?
Music has the power to move us and to change us.
We are reminded of how important music is to us as human beings. Especially over the last year, all of us experienced the impact of Covid-19 in ways we could never imagine. Living in this new reality has challenged the way we live and work, forcing us to adapt and sing to its tune Now that we are talking about tunes we must mention Africa. Africa boasts a rich, varied landscape of musical styles that transcends borders. Some, like Nigerian fuji and Ghanaian highlife, which melded with other influences to create the popular Afrobeat genre, boast complex intersecting rhythms and percussion that can be heard in funk and jazz as well. The expert beating of drums, call and response vocalization, and the meticulous layering of rhythms make people instantly recognize African musical elements in styles from all over the world, from gospel to techno.
African musical influence spans beyond borders and traditional African music. It's been shaping music around the world for centuries. Music is not limited to entertainment, it creates a sense of belonging and participation, uniting and connecting us. It is an antidote to the alienation and isolation we feel as we practise physical distancing. Among the uncertainty, music helps soothe our anxiety while helping us connect with the people. For example, during the dispersion of millions of Africans around the world during the slave trade they took their music with them. Spreading more in the 20th and 21st centuries as people traveled to and from Africa. Now today, as the world gets smaller with the internet and more listeners get exposed to new African artists, the evolution continues. Jazz music, blues music, and gospel music all grew from African roots. Spirituals, work calls, and chants coupled with makeshift instruments morphed into blues rhythms and ragtime. Ragtime paved the way for jazz, and elements from all these styles influenced rock and roll and hip hop music. Without Africa and the African diaspora, music across the globe wouldn't be what it is today.
Nowadays, some musicians are using their talent in hope that their words will inspire change. Some of the most notable ones are:
Known throughout the world, Youssou N’Dour is a musical peacemaker in his native Senegal and lends his words and music to critical campaigns, such as malaria prevention programmes. Oliver Mtukudzi’s music has created awareness and dialogue around HIV and AIDS in his home country Zimbabwe. In Benin, UNICEF goodwill ambassador Angélique Kidjo keeps a strong note of social concern in her lyrics—singing about hunger, homelessness, AIDS and injustice. And some up-and-coming musicians are also lending their voices to protests against crime, human rights violations, xenophobia and much more.
The combination of the right lyrics, rhythm and instruments can build a group identity, stir strong emotions, engage audiences and amass people to take action. This makes music the perfect partner for social change. In Africa a variety of NGOs, bands and activists are trying to make a difference through music.
The Sigauque Project is a band based in Maputo, Mozambique, whose music is all about raising issues and trying to bring about change. Its musical influences include Senegalese mbalak, Nigerian Afro-beat and Mozambican marrabenta. A unique pan-Africanism stems from the band’s use of music originally recorded across Africa, which it performs in its own unique style. The band’s two singers, with full horn section, throbbing bass and rhythmic percussion, create sound, including jazz that keeps audiences grooving all night, while the messages come through loud and clear.
“Now, you see musicians singing about girls, money and fast cars. Not long ago Africa was full of music that made a statement—about government, corruption, things that matter,” says Sigauque Project leader and trumpet player Daniel Walter. “Our music talks about HIV, women’s rights, recovering from a disaster, xenophobia and much more. It’s not just great music, we’re saying something.”