Friday, November 8, 2013

South African Apartheid and Freedom Songs.•*¨*•.¸¸♬

In 1652, Dutch colonists first came to South Africa, then French, British and colonists from other countries followed, and this is when racial discrimination started in South Africa. The discrimination was between those white colonists, later named themselves the Afrikaaners and the native Africans. In 1948, an Afrikaaner minority party won the election and the system of racial discrimination called “Apartheid” was enforced. The word “Apartheid” means total, complete and deliberate racial segregation. As a result, the Apartheid government passed several laws in the 1950s. For example, the Population Registration Act that classified and registered everyone in South Africa by their racial characteristics; the Group Areas Act that assigned different racial groups to different residential and business areas, and of course, only white people were assigned to the most developed areas; and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act that made the racial segregation of public premises, vehicles and services legal.

All African people were united by the African National Congress (ANC). Nelson Mandela and Vuhisile Mini are two of the main leaders from ANC. Their primary forms of resistance and protests were non-violence marches, and they would sing their freedom songs during these events. They sang when they were marching, they sang at funerals of their comrades. Freedom songs in South Africa functioned like those from the United States during the Civil Rights Movement, but those African songs were often combined with dancing.

Vuhisile Mini

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, the alternative national anthem of South Africa today, was one of the freedom songs. It was composed as a church hymn, but later it was sung during the resistance movements against the apartheid government, as it was the official anthem for the ANC during the apartheid era. When it were sung during the anti-apartheid movement, this hymn was a threatening prayer, which represented the suffering of the oppressed Africans. Teachers taught this song to their students at school, and mother taught their children at home. It went beyond a song. Teachers and parents used this song to teach the children who they were. It's all about their identity as native Africans.

Toyi-toyi was a dance from Zimbabwe. In the anti-apartheid movement, this dance was usually performed when people were marching, especially after the Soweto Uprising, a student demonstration, in which over 700 students were killed by police. The anit-apartheid movement then became more militant, and Toyi-toyi, as a militant dance was danced by Africans in their massive street demonstrations. This dance was a unique way for them to fight against the apartheid government. When Toyi-toyi was performed in the massive street demonstrations, the police did not dare to shoot them, and even tear gas did not stop them. This such a powerful dance that it wiped Africans' fear.

Toyi-Toyi scene from the film 'Stander'

South African freedom songs, as well as freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, expressed the feeling of being oppressed and discriminated. Some of the freedoms songs in both movements were sung to the tunes of folk songs or hymns, which made these songs easy to sing. As mentioned above, South Africans liked to dance to the music, and some South African freedom songs are really militant, which is probably because their resistance movement was militant as well. Just like freedom songs in the Civil Rights movement, South African freedoms songs stayed in the center of their movement. Those songs gave them identity, courage, confidence and solidarity in those days.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Singing Revolution.•*¨*•.¸¸♬

Estonia is small country in North Europe. It is a state in the Baltic region and borders the Gulf of Finland, between Latvia and Russia. Estonia was occupied by many great powers in its history, such as vikings, Danish, Swedish and of course both the Russian Empire and the German Empire. Estonia was an independent country after its War of Independence, but when World War II started, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact secretly, which brought another nightmare to Estonians. As well as Latvia, Lithuania, Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and the Hertza region, Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union.

During Soviet occupation, Estonian government officials were executed or deported to remote areas, and ordinary people were also deported to Siberia and were forced to work there. In 1941, Germany occupied Estonia, but there was no difference between German troops and Soviet troops. Estonians were still suffering. The worst thing was that in 1944, the Soviet Union reconquered Estonia. This time, more people were sent to Soviet labor camps, and thousands people were killed. Citizens of the Soviet Union moved in, which was a great challenge to Estonian culture.

But what the Soviet Union did to Estonia during the occupation did not kill their culture. One reason was that Estonians never stopped singing their songs. Being a small country, the amount of folk songs in Estonia is the largest in the world. Estonians love singing. They does not only have songs, they have a unique song festival (Laulupidu). Usually in the festival, 30 thousand singers on the stage, and over 80 thousand audience. When more than 30 thousand people sing the same song together, whatever they sing would be powerful.

In the documentary the Singing Revolution, many Estonians said that while singing together, they realized that the spirit of Estonia was still there, the culture of Estonia was not killed, and they were still a nation. Their lives changed so much after the occupation: they were forced to speak Russian, their national flags were banned, their home and land were taken, their families were torn apart, and people were killed all the time. The only thing that they could do was singing.

Luckily, they still have the Laulupidu during the occupation. Although they were asked to sing soviet songs, composer Gustav Ernesaks introduced a Estonian song at the Laulupidu in 1947 -- "Land of my father, land that I love". The lyric of this song was taken from a traditional Estonian poem, but miraculously, this song was not banned by the Soviet. Over 30 thousands people sang this song together at the Laulupidu in 1947. This song provided an opportunity for the Estonians to sing their love for their own countries.

English version (non-literal):

My Fatherland is My Love,
to whom I´ve given My Heart.
To You I sing, my greatest happiness,
My flowering Estonia!
Your pain boils in My Heart,
Your Pride and Joy makes me happy,
My Fatherland, My Fatherland!
My Fatherland is My Love,
I shall never leave Him,
even if I must die hundred deaths
because of Him!
Does the foreign envy slander,
You still live in my Heart,
My Fatherland, My Fatherland!
My Fatherland is My Love,
and I want to rest,
to lay down into Your Arms,
My sacred Estonia!
Your Birds will sing Sleep to Me,
flowers will bloom from My Ashes,
My Fatherland, My Fatherland!

In 1985, Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union, and his new policies called perestroika (political and economic restruction)and glasnost (free speech) provided opportunities for the Estonians to assert their independence. The Estonians started to test the new policies. At first they tried to protest mining and succeeded. Then they started to talk about the Soviet Union and their history facts publicly. At the summer festival, people even brought the national flag of Estonia, which was impossible before. More and more social and political organization were established and it was at the Lalupidu one year that different groups stood together to talk about their opinions. The two policies also led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which also helped build the Estonians a road to the real independence. The Estonians also started to think about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It was signed secretly, so the Estonians declared that the pact was illegal, which means that the Soviet occupation was also illegal, thus it is natural for Estonia to be a independent nation.

Finally, Estonians earned their freedom. It was just like a miracle, because the revolution was no involved with violence and military. It was all about singing, and the deepest love that the Estonians have in those years of horror, and I believe that this is a revolution that could only happen in Estonia.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Music in Civil Rights Movement.•*¨*•.¸¸♬

Civil Rights Movement was a powerful movement in American history. The ancestors of African Americans were brought to North America as slaves hundreds of years ago, and they weren't treated as human beings at that time. Although their legal rights were extended after the civil war, and the 14th Amendment states that all persons born in the US were extended equal protection under the laws of the Constitution. The "separate but equal" doctrine and segregation still prevented them from having rights that white people have. Segregation simply divide people into "colored" and "white", and "colored" people had to attend separate schools, drink from separate water fountains, sit at different areas in restaurants and buses. They even had to swear on separate Bibles. However, African Americans did not stop fighting. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Little Rock Nine, from the Greensboro sit-ins to the Freedom Rides, and from the March on Washington to the Freedom Summer, and finally in Selma, they were fighting against segregation and racial discrimination together. Many of them were put in prison, some were killed, and some lost their family members and friends, but finally the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were signed in 1964 and 1965, which brought real civil rights and voting rights to African Americans.

In Civil Rights Movement, music played an important role. African Americans did not use violence in the movement, they used music instead. They took music from black church, as everyone knew the melodies. No matter how old a person was, no matter where he or she came from, everyone can sing. They were singing during the sit-ins, they were singing while marching, they were singing on buses to Washington, they were even singing while arrested. Singing was a unique way of fighting in the movement. Harry Belafonte said that “you can cage the singer but not the song”. Those songs brought them courage when they were beaten and arrested, because they knew that they weren't alone through the songs. 

For example, the key anthem of the movement was a song called “We Shall Overcome”. It was originally a gospel, but lately used as a labor song. Guy Carawan introduced this song to the Civil Right Movement in 1959, and in 1960, over 300 thousand people sang this song at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. Even President Johnson used “we shall overcome” in his speech after “bloody Sunday”. This song was spread to the world later, and brought strength to other people who were fighting for their freedom.

Another song is Go Tell It on the Mountain. It is also an African American spiritual. It was rewritten in 1963 as “Tell It on the Mountain” by the musical team Peter, Paul And Mary. "Let my people go" in the lyrics referred to the Civil Rights Movement, and this song uses Biblical analogies and the story of Moses freeing the Jews from Egypt as an analogy for Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. The original lyrics was:

Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light

Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born

The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo! above the earth
Rang out the angels chorus
That hailed the savior's birth

Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born

Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And god sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn'

Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

During the movement, some musicians used the phrase “Set my people free” instead “Jesus Christ Is Born.”

More Civil Rights songs:

The Civil Rights Movements ended in 1968 and African Americans earned their rights in the end. But musicians do not stop writing and singing because there were still injustice in society and there are still people fighting for opportunities, freedom and justice. Sweet Honey In the Rock is one of the musicians. They use their songs to fight against immigration injustices, congressional greed, racial issues and women's issues. For example, their song “Are We A Nation?” shows their concern to Arizona's controversial immigration law.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Music of Labor.•*¨*•.¸¸♬

Labor music are music written to attract independent laborers to join laborer groups (unions). In order to do so, the songs are usually written to popular tunes, such as hymns and folk songs. As we discussed in class, the lyrics are written to specific purposes, and they are also easy to memorize. According to Michael L. Richmond's article The Music of Labor: From Movement to Culture, from 1960's, the audience of labor music started to shift, there are songs of all kinds of social issue, such as segregation, women rights, and the conflict in Vietnam.

Richmond also wrote in the article that “the unions had their heroes as well”. The union Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies, had their hero, Joe Hill. He was born in Sweden, and came to the United States at the age of 23. He joined the Wobblies around 1910, and wrote political songs for them. The song the Rebel Girl was one of those songs.This song was inspired by a women called Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. She was one of the leaders in Wobblies. She led strikes, gave speeches, and did all kinds of work that a labor leader and an activist usually does. She visited Joe Hill when he was in prison in 1995, and Joe Hill admired her a lot. He wrote this song, “the Rebel Girl”, saying that he was inspired by her, and that he hoped that more and more women could become women like her. He wrote both the lyrics and the music of the song. This song can show that how powerful that women laborers were in the laborer union, at least in the Wobbles.

Labor music still exist after 1960's. An example would be Si Kahn's song “Aragon Mill”. Written in 1974, this song brings its listeners to an abandoned mill in Aragon, Georgia. At that time, the globalization has just started, and the lower price of foreign made goods, and the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) make lots of domestic business enterprises have less profits. Many enterprises had to close shops, which led unemployed workers to increase in society. Kahn wrote in this song that “now I'm too old to work and I'm too young to die”, which expresses the despair of unemployed workers.

The Aragon Mill
Si Kahn
At the east end of town
At the foot of the hill
There's a chimney so tall
It says Aragon Mill.

But there's no smoke at all
Coming out of the stack
For the mill has shut down
And is never coming back.

And the only tune I hear
Is the sound of the wind
As she blows through the town
Weave and spin, weave and spin.

There's no children playing
In the dark narrow streets
And the loom has shut down
It's so quiet I can't sleep.

The mill has shut down
'twas the only life I know
Tell me where will I go
Tell me where will I go.

And the only tune I hear
Is the sound of the wind
As she blows through the town
Weave and spin, weave and spin.

I'm too old to work
And I'm too young to die
Tell me where will I go now
My family and I.

English scholar John Selden said that “More solid things do not shew the complexion of the Times so well, as Ballads and Libels”. It is true in terms of labor music. Although labor music had a long history, each song has their own purpose, and reflects the unique color of that time. Another quote from Andrew Fletcher goes: “If a man were permitted to write all the ballads, he need not care who made the laws of a nation”. Labor music can make real changes in society. They were written to attract laborers to join the union in the first place, and as Richmond points out, that “music provided a powerful tool to recruit new members”, they did success in hard times.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Broadside Ballad.•*¨*•.¸¸♬

I know there is a music genre called "ballad", but "broadside ballad" is a new concept for me. At first I thought broadside ballads are those ballads whose lyrics are used to criticize social and political issues. But broadside ballads are much more than what I have thought. The broadside ballad is the combination of traditional folk song melody and lyrics that comment on current social or political issues. The lyrics of broadside ballads were usually more than one verse, and always printed on one side of a piece of paper with illustrations and are sold for about one penny. Because of the traditional folk song melodies, and current local issues in the lyrics, almost everyone in the community could sing the songs, which made broadside ballads spread rapidly in community. Scottish patriot Andrew Fletcher said that "If a man were permitted to write all the ballads, he need not care who made the laws of a nation." Broadside ballads were newspaper at that time, and they raised public consciousness while when everyone was singing them.

An English broadside ballads

A broadside ballad from New England

The first broadside ballad was from the Great Britain, in the 16th century. Before that, there were only broadside sheets with no music. At the beginning of the  16th century, people in Britain started to replaced lyrics of traditional folk songs with stories on broadside sheets. Broadside ballads were popular in the Great Britain until newspapers replaced them after the 19th century. "The Bonny Bunch of Roses" is one of the British broadside ballads. The tune was first found in 1881, and the lyrics is a conversation between the son of Napoleon Bonaparte and his mother Marie Louise. This broadside ballads shows that the Irish people at that time were pro-Napoleon, because they were ruled by the British at that time, and they believed that Napoleon could change that. The lyrics can be found on wikipedia: 

A clip from 1965 of The Bonny Bunch of Roses

English broadside ballads were introduced to Americans in 17th century, and then they started to compose their own broadside ballads. There were broadside ballads about FDR, The Great Depreseion and the New Deal, as well as many social issues at that time. In 1960s, civil rights movement made broadside ballads popular again. One of the ballads is "The Ballad of Old Monroe." Pete Seeger and Malvina Reynolds wrote its lyric in 1962 for the Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants before the trial of a young African American man Rob Williams, who was facing the charge of kidnapping a white couple in Monroe, North Carolina. The lyrics tell the truth that Rob Williams did not really kidnap the couple but saved them from an angry crowd. The lyrics: 

Broadside ballads raise consciousness in their unique way. Not everyone can read in the past, and messages can get lost if they are only passed orally. But because social and political issues were written as lyrics of familiar songs, people could understand the opinions of writers toward different issues while learning to sing the ballads. The low price made broadside ballads spread widely and rapidly, which also helped raising consciousness widely in the community. However, the lyrics were replaced so rapidly that not every version could remain. I am curious about how many broadside ballads (both from the Great Britain and America) can still be found, and sung today.

Friday, August 30, 2013


My name is Suer, a student from Westminster College, MO. This blog is for the class "Music of Resistance, Revolution, and Liberation". I simply love music. I listen to almost all kinds of music especially Japanese pop music. While listening to those music, I realize that music, whether with lyrics or not, has great power, and music can be much more powerful than words, if used appropriately. So I chose this class to study what music has helped people do in social and political activities.

As for me, resistance music is a type of music that people (especially repressed people) use to support resistances of social or political injustice. Music is one of the tools that people use in the resistance or rebel activities, and it is more like a tool to promote. This is because artists who write these music usually uses simple words and short sentences as lyrics to express their feelings and criticism about different issues. The audience can understand those feelings by listening to the songs. When the audience fully understand the meaning of one song, they can then choose whether to support the resistance or not, and whether to change the perspectives that they had before or not. I believe that this is when music of resistance starts to making changes.

Thomas Mapfumo is one of the resistance musicians. Mapfumo was born in 1945 in Zimbabwe. When he was 16, he joined his first band as the vocalist, which was the starting point of his music career. As Zimbabwe was a colony of Great Britain in his time, Mapfumo preferred to use native language while singing, and he also focus on native musical tradition in his songs, because the British colonist were derogating native culture. Mapfumo's lyrics contains strong political messages, but because of the using of native language in his lyrics, the white government did not realize that for a long time. And when they finally found out the meaning of his lyrics, the records of Mapfumo's music was banned, and he was put into prison. However, his music was so powerful that his records were still played by his supporters. Finally he was released by the government because large demonstration was held in order to protest his arrest. And his music helped a lot in the independence of Zimbabwe. I cannot find his lyrics but here is his famous song "Hokoyo.", which means "watch out!", and was a warning to the white government of Rhodesia today known as Zimbabwe, as written on youtube.

Another resistance musician that I would like to introduce is Fela Kuti. He was born in a middle-class family in Nigeria in 1938. His family members were well-educated, and he was sent to London to study medicine but later he decided to study music instead. First he and his band wrote love songs, but when he went back to Nigeria in 1970s, he started to focusing on social issues. Kuti wrote his lyrics using Pidgin English, which helped spreading his music rapidly across Africa. His famous album "Zombie" used zombie as a metaphor to criticize Nigerian military, and infuriated the government. Kuti himself was severely beaten, his studio called Kalakuta Republic was burnt, his mother was also killed by the government. I found a video on YOUTUBE that provides lyrics of this song:

Kuti's influence was great that in recent years there has been a revitalization of his music. His albums were remastered by Universal Music and different artists.