East African songs for Music Freedom Day

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By Lucy Ilado

The world marks Music Freedom Day and what better way to observe it than to celebrate African musicians who advocate for justice and human rights through music.

Around the world, violations of artistic freedom are varied and include the censorship of songs and banning of live performances, and sometimes go as far as arrests, beatings and even capital punishment.

East Africa has a rich history of change brought about by music activism. During the struggle for independence, civil rights movements recognised the power of songs and utilised them in their quest to attain freedom and democracy.

And today organisations such as Amnesty International, Article 19, the Open Society Initiative, among many others, promote and defend freedom of artistic expression in Africa by funding important initiatives against censorship and artistic persecution.

On Music Freedom Day, our East Africa content editor, Lucy Ilado, has curated a special playlist that features protest songs from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania that touch on topics such as economic justice, good governance and human rights.

'Kenyan Message' by Muthoni Drummer Queen (Kenya)

This song is about the selfishness of Kenya's ruling class. Muthoni points out the daily frustrations of Kenyans, including a lack of medical facilities, the high cost of living, and unemployment.

'Kudu' by Vitali Maembe (Tanzania)

‘Kudu’ is about the misappropriation and theft of public funds in Tanzania. Vitali also goes on to mention a few corruption scandals and the names of the implicated politicians and businessmen who have influence over decision-making process in the country.

'System Volongoto' by Eddy Kenzo (Uganda)

Eddy Kenzo launches a searing attack on the government in 'System Volongoto'. He uses parables to paint a picture of a paralysed and fraudulent government whose corruption has created high levels of poverty. He also highlights the plight of Ugandans who are not seeing any wage growth.

'Wajinga Nyinyi' by King Kaka (Kenya)

Rapper King Kaka refers to both politicians and Kenyan voters as fools: the politicians loot public funds while the voters repeatedly vote them into power.

'Tujiangalie' by Sauti Sol and Nyashinski (Kenya)

This collaborative song contrasts the country’s huge debt with the remarkable potential that could create a better future for all Kenyans. It also makes a call for positive and constructive leadership in the country.

'Acha Nikae Kimya' by Diamond Platnumz (Tanzania)

‘Acha Nikae Kimya’ (Let Me Remain Silent) was released in relation to the arrest of rapper Nay wa Mitego in 2017, with the song making references to the government’s crackdown on Tanzanian artists. The song also calls on all Tanzanians to take responsibility for their actions.

'Jeshi' by WeN_Music (Kenya)

This song speaks to the youth. Even though young people may lack political power, they have the power to generate social actions and reactions. They can also rise up and demand their rights. 

Alisema by Nay wa Mitego (Tanzania)

'Alisema' highlights the depressed state of the formal job market in Tanzania: all the citizens, especially young people, blame the government for their misfortunes. Nay wa Mitego says that unreproachable governments do not exist but insists that the Tanzanian government must create an environment where open criticism can be levelled against its leaders.

Uganda Zukuka by Bobi Wine ft. Nubian Li (Uganda)

‘Uganda Zukuka’ is directed at the government and the people, reminding the latter that they have the right to revolt if the former threatens their safety and stunts development. The message to the government? There’s a rising new opposition movement in Uganda. – Music in Africa.

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