For some musicians, making music isn’t just about entertainment. Over the years, there have been numerous reported instances musicians have had to pay a price for taking a stance against the powers that be. THOMAS MATIKO explores those who’ve gone through this road less travelled.
Recently, the trending topic in the region, if not Africa and the world at large, is the incident involving the Ugandan dancehall musician turned politician against the government of Uganda.
Bobi, who can barely walk without the help of crunches after he was clobbered by security agents, will have to seek treatment following his arrest a fortnight ago.
Having made a name for himself as a popular dancehall musician before joining politics last year, and winning the Kyadondo East parliamentary seat by a land slide, Bobi has been one of the most vocal critics of President Yoweri Museveni and his government. He was arrested alongside other opposition legislators after a campaign rally in Arua constituency turned violent.
The incident left the singer’s driver dead by shooting while the president’s motorcade attacked. Museveni blamed Bobi for the incident terming him “an indisciplined grandson” and the youthful MP is currently facing treason charges.
The 34-year-old Zambian aka Pilato has been forced to live in exile a couple of times. In September, last year, he was jailed on trumped up charges connected to his participation in a peaceful protest with other activists.
In January 2017, he left Zambia for South Africa, where he lived for four months, after receiving threats about his song “Koswe Mumpoto” (rat in the pot) which criticised President Edgar Lungu and his government of corruption.
Fela, who died in 1997 aged 59, was harassed, imprisoned and his music censored for singing truth to power. But today he is celebrated as the greatest and most influential musician to have lived in Nigeria.
A courageous campaigner, he spent much of his life furiously attacking his country’s successive military regimes for oppressing the people, as well as on matters corruption.
Fela’s record of arrest by different regimes in the 39 years of his musical career stands at over 200; but it is the current Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, who kept him in jail the longest during his first command after the Major General came to power through a military coup in December 1983.
He had Fela sentenced by a military tribunal to five years’ imprisonment for “attempting to export £1,600 in foreign currency” which Fela said he had earned, quite legally, abroad. He was released a year and a half into his sentence.
Fela is remembered for his famous nickname “President of Kalakuta Republic” a commune he established where his family and band lived, as well as where his record studio was set up. The Kalakuta Republic was dismantled after it was attacked by the military and had women raped, houses burnt, residents beaten up and Fela’s mother thrown out of the second floor window of her house. She later succumbed to the injuries.
NAY WA MITEGO
In March, last year, Tanzania’s no-nonsense president John Magufuli ordered the release of the country’s popular rapper Nay Wa Mitego, a day after he was arrested for allegedly mocking his government in his song “Wapo.”
Police had accused Nay of showing disrespect for the presidency in the song. The lyrics of the song do not mention Magufuli or any of his government officials by name but question the infringement of freedom of speech in the country.
The government described the arrest of the musician and the banning of the song by state run art council BASATA as “drastic measures.”
After Nay’s release without charge, the rapper was asked to rework the song to include other social injustices like tax evasion and drug trafficking.
On the same breath, Roma – another famous Swahili rapper – has also faced harassment by Tanzanian government for his continuous attack on it through his music compositions.
Last year, in April, Roma went missing for a couple of days after he was kidnapped by unknown men while in a studio session. The raid came at a time he had just released the track “Viva Roma” in which he heavily criticises Magufuli’s presidency and the government.
Several Tanzania media outlets reported that elements of the state were responsible for the kidnap of the musician and his producer. Days after his release, Roma denied the claims that the government was responsible for the kidnapping.
KARIUKI WA KIARUTARA
Wa Kiarutura had it rough when he decided to take a dig on former President Moi when he released “Waruhiti” (Hyena).
According to a story told, Wa Kiarutura found himself in great trouble with then President Moi after powerful cabinet minister, and Moi’s confidant, JJ Kamotho hinted to the president that the song was aimed at him.
It was said the song hit at Moi’s tyrannical rule and biased policies that seemed to target the Kikuyu Community for being opposed to his administration.
The song basically portrayed him as a “heartless dictator” who had set out to destroy Central Kenya’s economy. The song was immediately banned and it was illegal to be found listening to it in any public place. Wa Kiarutura was subsequently banned from releasing any more songs.
He, however, released “Utheri Riu Nimwoneku” which loosely translates to “Light at last” immediately President Mwai Kibaki took over.