Musicians are generally known to enjoy an amiable relationship with politicians. The two rarely quarrel. When fights occur, it always involves money. Otherwise, musicians rarely criticise politicians so as to stay safe in business.
Music is business. I am told politicians pay good money for it. But not every musician subscribes to this wisdom. This act of self preservation has fostered assumptions for a long time about the role of music in politics.
Many people assume that a musician must be hired only to entertain the masses. But the rise of Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, as a formidable Opposition political figure, challenges our assumptions on the topic. Bobi Wine has forced us to think more critically about our music and the way it informs public opinion.
Many Ugandans receive their education from the kind of music they listen to. The knowledge we acquire through music stays with us for a long time. Modern history is rich with examples of politicians who battled for control to inform public opinion with the people who work in music.
In his book titled Goebbels (Penguin Random House, 2015), Peter Longerich observes: “Dr Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister for propaganda, who was appointed on March 14, 1933, used his position to punish conscious artistes, who were unsympathetic to the Nazi ideology and aided those artistes who were prepared to toe the line.”
Nazi ideas are well known. Artistes in the Third Reich were required to glorify the racial purity of the Aryan culture; and heroism of war to prepare the population for conflict to expand upon those lands lost after a humiliating defeat in World War I.
Musicians who were critical of Nazi racial profiling lost their jobs. This include Richard Strauss, the first president of the Reich Cultural Chamber for music. Hitler believed that music was the art form close to the German soul.
Beginning in the 16th Century, the internationally acknowledged importance of German classical composers, conductors and musicians was an enormous source of pride. The modernist trends in the arts of the inter-war period were felt, in some quarters, to be an effect of the general collapse of German values after a devastating defeat in World War I.
The prominence of Jewish composers like Arnold Schoenberg, gave strength to the false allegations that Jews were perverting Germany’s cultural heritage. Goebbels, in his quest to purify Germany’s cultural life, initiated a system of chambers that required Aryan status for employment.
Musicians whose careers were ended chose exile. The artistes who stayed behind joined the Nazi party to produce compositions celebrating Hitler and the glorious future of the Nazi party.
In Uganda, politicians rely on musicians to get the people more involved in politics for voting purposes. The musicians are happy to align themselves with politicians who provide good business by virtue of their proximity to the corridors of power.
Smarter musicians who understand that music cannot thrive in a crisis environment choose to advocate change by influencing their listeners to think more critically.
Bobi Wine, who also serves as a Member of Parliament for Kyadondo East Constituency, has become a poster child of conscious music in Uganda. He began his music career in the early 2000s, and adapted the stage name Bobi Wine.
He, alongside other artistes like Bebe Cool, founded the Fire Base Crew in order to maximise their talents. His debut singles like Akagoma, Funtula and Sunda brought him instant success on the local music scene.
Some people have intimated that Bobi Wines’ support for Opposition interests is a result of his long-standing feud with the Gagamel boss, Bebe Cool.
That is not true. Bobi Wine has spent more than a decade singing about politics. He released his first political song Ghetto in 2005. Ghetto sound tracked the 2006 elections for Opposition leaders alongside Ronald Mayinga’s Tuli Kubunkenke.
Bobi Wine’s musical activism should be credited to Bob Marley’s liberation reggae and Fela Kuti’s Afrobeats. Bob Marley died in 1980. Fela Kuti died in 1997. But the legacy of Bob Marley and Fela Kuti lives on to this day.
They inspired a generation of artistes who followed their footsteps to record conscious music, ie music which promotes resistance against injustice, oppression, censorship and corruption. So, the dichotomy between Tubonga Naawe versus Tuliyambala Egule is a result of an old battle for control of public opinion between politicians and the people in the music industry.
Mr Makumbi is advocate licensed to practice law
in Uganda. [email protected]