Speaking about the role of artists in society, the incomparable Nina Simone said: “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I choose to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself.”
Simone’s Mississippi Goddam was inspired by a number of senseless killings of African Americans, including the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“There are issues we live in; I think we should address these things. For me it’s always important to write about my experiences, just to remind someone else who’s also going through the same thing [that] they’re not alone,” Mandisi Dyantyis said in an interview with the SABC last year, speaking about his sophomore album, Cwaka.
Dyantyis will perform this weekend at the Back to Live concert at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg alongside Zoë Modiga, The SN Project, Dumisani Thee DJ and DJ Kenzhero.
Zoë and Dyantyis are part of a crop of South African musicians who make music that accurately speaks to our times. Getting the chance to watch them live seems more than just entertainment, but a service to one’s soul.
South Africa is in the shits. If it isn’t the rampant blackouts by Eskom, it’s the sky rocketing unemployment numbers or the ubiquity of crime on our streets. It seems each waking day we’re hit by worse news of an innocent woman being brutally murdered by a disgruntled lover or murmurings of another coalition breakdown in government. Kubi.
When an artist reflects the times they’re in through their work, it’s a strong indication to their audience that they are in touch with what the people are going through. It’s an act devoid of ignorance. Although some of this art can come off as didactic or too preachy, it has an important role. “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.,” 2Pac once said.
Sometimes, people can’t realise the obvious and need to hear the message from their favourite artist. I’d like to imagine that when an ardent ANC supporter hears Dyantyis’ Ziyafana, they have a light-bulb moment of the paucity of good leadership in the political party. The same can be said of most political parties actually.
Like the messiest and most painful junctures in life, hard times squeeze out the best in us and it is so in art. Dyantyis’ Cwaka is a timely body of work that went into the crevices of South Africans’ realities-be it loss, frustration or dejection – without compromising on his musical genius and authenticity.
While the gent from Gqeberha’s jazz treads on the socio-political and emotive, Zoë’s music is a constant reminder to beautiful Bantu babies of their strength. Her music sits as The Mirror of Erised for darkies, that doesn’t only show black people their heart’s desires, but also calls out the bullshit.
As James Brown’s message on Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud cannot not be misunderstood, so is Zoë’s Abantu. It’s a candid conversation she has with Bantu people- touching on black on black violence, self-image, and poverty but yet the song is mighty reassuring. “This song is dear to my heart because it’s part of all the conversations we’ve been having. It’s a beautiful love letter because it’s a song that puts us in a place of realising that we commit so much violences [sic] amongst ourselves as black bodies and part of that is calling systems into place that have allowed us to think in this way,” Modiga said during one of her live performances a few years ago.
Each time I hear Dyantyis’ Iskhalo, my imagination hastily paints out the pain of those child-headed homes or the cry of a young educated person who can’t access the job market because they are without connections. These are realities that too many South Africans live with.
“It’s a song dedicated to the youth of 1976 and it’s a song that reminds us that young people are always part of watershed moments, we always make big changes,” Zoë explaining her track Intsha to Tha Bravado, a few years ago. The song echoes the zeal and fearlessness of young people.
South Africa is in a crisis and it is music such as this that keeps us going, reminding us that change won’t come until we the people do something about it.
Back To Live is presented by BandaBanda Agency and ticket are available HERE.