Yesterday was Prince’s birthday.
A mononym. A master. A maverick.
Today is the day I logged into my emails to find that the letter I wrote to the Military Ombudsman was returned with an “address not found” error message. I was hoping to find, instead, an acknowledgement of my email and request for the ombudsman to take seriously the killing of Collins Khosa.
This is the address that’s been widely circulated on social media and I don’t know if the address was disabled because it received “too many” emails calling for the prosecution of the killers or if it never existed in the first place. What I do know is that the (non)response sunk me to a low place. I feel like I am eye-to-eye with pessimism right now.
And if that’s what happened to me, imagine how the Khosa family feels. Or the feelings of those who love Adane Emmanuel or Petrus Miggels or Sibusiso Amos or any of the people who were killed by the South African police or military during this national lockdown.
What does this have to do with Prince? American IG users were posting Prince tributes well into this South African morning and I was thinking about the ways that Prince was a genius who enjoyed popularity and in it, still found a way to make politically-charged music. And not just as B-sides. You can dance to, well, Dance On and We March and Partyup and New Power Generation and more but, hopefully, you walk off the dancefloor intent on actioning some positive change.
I don’t make music so I’d like to use my platforms to bring some attention to African musicians who are part of Prince’s lineage. I’m specifically talking about songs in popular genres. Songs that are upbeat, even. Simply because we are already feeling all the heavy feelings right now. Songs that lift us up. To quell my pessimism, yes, but also to do what sending emails to authorities can’t: change someone’s trajectory.
I have quite a few personal examples of how songs helped me. To shift a perspective. To find a solution to a problem. To see myself. To feel seen by others. In the past few days, I’ve looked for African songs that have the potential to help others in this specific time. But, I can’t find any that are
- about police brutality and racism and
- actually good.
Wherever people like Prince come from, I think Msaki comes from there too. Her song, Blood, Guns & Revolution, was written in response to the Marikana massacre. It is almost five years old. Even now, as a chart-topping singer-songwriter, she still includes it in goosebump-inducing performances. Fetch Your Life –which Msaki unpacked in my The Writers series – is an award-winning plea to self-actualise. Her latest, with Sun-El Musician, is Ubomi Abumanga and in a time when people have lost jobs and even lives, it’s a reminder your path will be lit again one day. Again,all the songs I’ve mentioned are political, even if they are not all about the government.
It can’t always be on Msaki’s shoulders to make the songs that speak to us, though.
So, who else is making music like this? Protest music. Political music. Good music with a message. Emphasis on good. Link me. In the comments section, point me to the new African music that is making a difference right now. I will do my best to place hypervisibility on it. Let’s get to optimism together.