Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony

Wow, two reviews in one day!

This is a DVD I picked up in Texas. It is a documentary about the South African liberation struggle and the role that music played in this struggle. Under Apartheid music and song were used as a conduit for uniting the liberation struggle, for disseminating information about the struggle and as a tool of education. It was incredibly subversive, and helped spread the message far and wide, beyond the literate and educated classes and the leaders, beyond even the borders of South Africa, helping to build the international anti-Apartheid movement.

Music has often been used for the purposes of consciousness raising (while many popular musicians today are apolitical, there are many politically conscious groups that successfully combine their political message with their music), as well as for propaganda purposes and general subversion of the status quo. Notably many, if not all, of our nursey school rhymes stem from political songs from centuries ago, when blatant free speech and political criticism was illegal and thus took the form of song; much as the did the liberation movement in South Africa.

In Bermuda, and the Caribbean region as well as North America, music has also been influential in our political development. Calypso for example originated from slavery when the slaves were actively prevented from speaking with each other due to the slave-masters fears of insurrection. The slaves resorted to song in order to communicate amongst themselves, and pass on information as well as create a sense of community in the face of oppression. Following emancipation calypso often served both as a means of information sharing amongst large illiterate populations, as well as a means of political criticism. Eventually the colonial authorities sought to censor the songs, but calypso remained a political force. Even today calypso is used for political and social criticism. Reggae, most famously in the forms of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, was also quite explicitly political. This blogs primary name ‘Catch a Fire’ originates from one of the most politically influential albums by Marley and the Wailers, and the album itself was quite influential in the Grenadian Revo apparently. Rap largely originated as a form of social and political criticism primarily about the ghetto and was critical of the white supremacist capitalist society that created the ghetto and framed much of the lives of black Americans.

Music and song has been influential in many revolutionary situations, from the French and American revos to the Cuban revo, the Portuguese Carnation revo, revolutionary movements throughout the colonial and neo-colonial world.

Music and song is an ideal way to transmit ideology in an easy and effective manner, as well as often circumventing censorhip. Music can be used as a siren song by the system to lull the masses into materialist traps, to reinforce the racist and sexist authoritarian status quo, as is prevalent within much of the ‘popular’ music. But it can also be used to subvert the status quo, to develop revolutionary consciousness and accelerate the struggle. Indeed, despite the prevelance of popular music and the co-optation (‘selling out’) of artists and styles, the most famous and best remembered songs are often the ones that were explictly social and political in nature.

This was sort of the message of the Amandla! film. In addition to this, it is an excellent resource as a brief overview of the liberation struggles history, as well as pointing out that the struggle is not yet over, only passed to a different phase.

Great soundtrack.


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