Slikour’s not wrong

2012-05-05 13:03

It’s the issues raised in the lyrics, not the title, which should be taken seriously

Slikour has certainly set the cat among the pigeons, sparking an emotionally-charged national debate with his song, Blacks are Fools.

Musicians give their work titles to convey messages and emotions, or the state of a songwriter’s mind at the time of writing, as in Slikour’s song.

Many people, including some respected politicians, have focused narrowly on the song’s title and neglected to analyse the deeper context of its lyrics.

Interestingly, many of those who have misgivings about the title don’t necessarily question the validity of the issues dealt with in the song.

A dispassionate study of the lyrics and a related article, “Black leadership needs to be redefined”, published in City Press a few weeks ago, reveals that this song is actually a wake-up call from a young black person who, like many others, is deeply disturbed by the mediocrity characteristic of contemporary black life.

The song articulates the frustration of being young and black in South Africa, and is forthright about issues such as black poverty, poor education, corruption, inferiority complexes, materialism, poor black leadership, the lack of solidarity among blacks, the farce of BEE, and our narrow grasp of economic freedom.

These themes have been examined before by such illustrious black thinkers such as Booker T Washington, WEB du Bois, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Mangaliso Sobukwe, Pixley ka Seme and Steve Biko in a manner that might have seemed controversial.

To prompt black people into a deeper understanding of the nature of their oppression, Biko employed what could easily be perceived as an insulting characterisation of blacks.

In one of his celebrated essays, “We blacks”, he says: “All in all, the black man has become a shell, a shadow of a man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity”.

In the 70s and early 80s, hip-hop pioneers like The Last Poets, Grandmaster Flash, KRS-One, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Talib Kweli, The Roots and Queen Latifah addressed contentious social issues in the US such as racism, police brutality, black-on-black violence, gender-based violence, drugs, consumerism and media portrayal of black people.

Some sections of the black community in the US reacted disapprovingly to the tone of the message rather than the substance just as some South Africans reacted to Slikour.

In South Africa we also have a tradition of artists using their craft to give voice to the black political and cultural struggle – from Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu and Zim Ngqawana to younger artists such as Thandiswa Mazwai, Simphiwe Dana and Mo Molemi.

These artists, like their American counterparts, are providing not only cultural leadership, but also political and intellectual leadership.

So Slikour didn’t invent the technique of using potentially negative terminology to elicit a positive outcome. Granted, black people in South Africa continue to endure daily doses of contempt from other groups, so it’s understandable that self-respecting black people could find the song title offensive.

However, viewed in the context of lifting the self-esteem of a psychologically defeated people and ridding blacks of that mentality which seeks to blame apartheid even for those things over which they now have control, Slikour’s song is perhaps just what the black community needs right now.

Some of the factors shaping the discourse around the song arise from the fact that, after 1994, blacks in South Africa have been gradually socialised into uncritically imbibing a skewed notion of racial reconciliation, leading to the absurd notion that blacks will jeopardise racial reconciliation simply by reflecting on their own condition.

The dismay of some blacks is driven by the sociological conservatism that expects young African people to have the values and norms of the older generation.

Slikour is not Fanon or Biko, and we should not expect him to articulate the black condition in the same manner and style that they did.

If one looks at the lyrics and not just the title, the song uses “fools” to reflect the collective failure of blacks to realise that despite the political independence of African states, today, as a group, blacks are trapped in a precariously self-destructive social and economic quagmire.

Slikour is guilty of one thing. He’s raised a subject many blacks are afraid to talk about openly.

» Mbele is a writer and social commentator

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.