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Music is the Message

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains truths which transcend borders, nationalities, and the words we use to communicate. The issue of human rights moves people to act, to wake up, and connect with others. “Much like music” I thought as I “jit jived” to Rise Kagona, the first act of a great night of afro beats in Glasgow last week.

The Lake of Stars Festival (celebrated in Malawi for the past 10 years) came to Glasgow as the City of Stars launch event for the Malawi Arts Festival. It was a tremendous evening with superb performances by Zimbabwean Rise Kagona (of the Bhundu Boys), Bwani Junction, poet Dr John Lwanda and the mesmerising Auntie Flo.

A Livingston Bicentenary event, City of Stars celebrated the close relationship Scotland has with Malawi and I was pleased to hear from the Scotland Malawi Partnership that current projects address everything from gender equality to environmental sustainability, food security, and health crises including AIDS. The Lake of Stars Festival is itself a powerful catalyst for change, bringing together artists local and global to meet, inspire, create, and contribute to Malawi’s economy.

Sub-Saharan Africa has long been known for a shocking number of human rights abuses. While the situation in Malawi seems to be improving under President Joyce Banda, neighbouring Zimbabwe is a source of great concern and a campaign focus for Amnesty International, particularly as an election is set for August. In a region of so much political strife, it’s heartening to see the transformative power of music in action.

Dr. John Lwanda and DJs Brian D'Souza (Auntie Flo) and Esa Williams recently discussed the many different parts that music has played in African political struggles. 

The Malawi Police Orchestra’s Sapota, for example, was recorded when Malawi was still a one-party state and uses a football metaphor as a veiled call for multi-party democracy (“freedom to support a football team of your choice”).  While The Special AKA’s Free Nelson Mandela was a blatant political anthem, Williams remembers the advent of Chicago and Detroit house music in South Africa: “People would stand up to the government by having illegal parties. They used the parties to set up meetings and talk about how to change things.  Then, if the police came, they would think it was just a party and break it up.”

D’Souza maintains “the music precedes the message.”

The transcendent human connection comes before the words.

Dr. Lwanda demonstrated this beautifully in his City of Stars performance. To finish, he acted out a poem. Most of the English-speaking audience couldn’t understand the words, but his spirited acting and dancing and the rhythmic accompaniment conveyed the message of music waking, connecting him to all of us in the room.


About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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