Music has long been a part of political struggles all over the world. From the use of spirituals for slaves in the Southern US, to the folk songs of Willie Nelson during the Vietnam war, to the songs sung by black protesters in apartheid South Africa.
This music was the turning point for so many events, and really did a huge amount to keep the spirit of the struggle alive. Protest music all over the world has encouraged activism and been a major source of morale for those people in the struggle. Without it, I have to say that I don’t think we would have seen half the successes these actions have created. We have music to thank for more than we realize.
One of the most poignant cheers that the activists during the apartheid-era used was to shout “Amandla!” This is the Xhosa word for power and did a lot to rally the crowds. The word itself, when you hear it being yelled by thousands of people in unison, it can be a insanely moving thing.
In traditional call-and-response style, the crowd would shout back something along the lines of “Awethu“, which is the xhosa word for “To us”.
So basically, the chant became a rallying cry for the people demanding power back from the government that had kept them oppressed for so many years. What is amazing is that this echoes the cries we hear all over the world. Power to the People, in essence.
There is an incredible documentary that was put together covering the role that music had in the struggle against apartheid, and covers some of the biggest names in South African music. Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Vusi Mahlasela, and many others. This film was a huge hit at Sundance, and having seen it I can safely say that it kind of blew my mind.
Check out the trailer below:
I really strongly suggest you find a way to get this film. Rent it, borrow it, whatever. Even buy it by clicking on this link:
Amandla: Revolution in Four Part Harmony (Widescreen)
You definitely won’t regret it.
If that isn’t enough to convince you, listen to this. Walking down the street just yesterday, I managed to catch a glimpse of a guy wearing a sweater that had “Amandla” emblazoned on the back in small white lettering. And we’re nowhere near South Africa, and definitely well beyond the official apartheid years. Really unexpected, but it’s nice to know someone out there is keeping the spirit alive.