Urban music, which includes Rap, Dancehall and Afro beat, is the most popular music genre, inspiring Africa’s young people to emulate American rappers. Criticised for its vanity, sexually loaded lyrics and profanity, the genre is mutating into a weapon African youth are using to speak out against governments.
“Most rappers try to avoid talking about politics for their safety. A politically charged song would not get airplay and airplay on radio is the oxygen to your art. At the same time, party songs and summer hits are what they look for,” explains Hip Hop analyst Taurai Seletine Tinofireyi on why few urban music artists take to protest music.
The courageous few who do talk about politics are harassed, beaten or forced into exile either by governments or ruling party supporters. Uganda’s outspoken MP Bobi Wine is a dancehall artist who was beaten and arrested for singing songs against the government. Artists use creativity to veil attacks and leave it to the listener to interpret the songs, instead of calling out government officials.
The advent of social media and the opening up of the media landscape has created an opportunity for a variety of views to be expressed in song and for fans to engage directly with creators of music and most importantly loosen the grip that the state has on the media.