The return of protest pop

2012-05-05 18:10

Wouter Basson has a song named after him and Floyd Shivambu features on backing vocals on a feisty album released this week by Kalahari Surfers titled Agitprop.

Repeatedly banned during apartheid, the electronic folk outfit have decided it’s time to raise their voices again to take on political figures who anger them.

“I was obsessed with Wouter Basson ducking and diving charges with clever legal defences, getting away with it like the Nazis did,” says front man Warrick Sony.

The result is a plaintive acoustic track titled The Lost Soul of Dr Basson, which includes lyrics like: “What’s going on with Dr Basson? / I heard his soul had gone / left his body like a prisoner thrown from a plane / into clouds of cocaine, ecstasy and chemical rain.”

Basson, dubbed Dr Death by the media, headed the apartheid government’s biological and chemical weapons programme. He allegedly manufactured Mandrax and Ecstasy to sedate South African Defence Force prisoners, but managed to avoid conviction.

And Basson’s not the only one who gets it in the neck. Suspended former ANC Youth League spokesperson Shivambu is heavily quoted in a gritty, bluesy track called Blue Light Brigade, which explores the impunity of government figures and their violent motor cavalcades.

Sony has sampled Shivambu off a confrontational interview that he conducted with a journalist. When asked why he was nervous, Shivambu responded, “F**k you, man”, and then proceeds to litter an entire verse with expletives.

Sony wrote the song because he was “struck by the violence of the language politicians are using. We’re all battered verbally and physically in this country. The outrage of the people is met with violence from government.”

Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema share the chorus on the track with their renditions of “Dubula iBhunu” (Kill the Boer).

In fact, it’s Malema who has ushered in a new wave of political protest pop.

In the 90s, Brenda Fassie sang about her Black President, Vusi Mahlasela headlined activist rallies and the Voëlvry movement rose in anger.

But protest pop died with democracy, despite sporadic releases like Arthur’s angry kwaito onslaught, Kaffir, and Mbongeni Ngema’s controversial criticism of Indian businessmen, AmaNdiya.

Sampling sound bites came back with a bang when right-winger André Visagie was confronted by a political commentator live on TV and Touch Me On My Studio was released online – and then remixed and played on dance floors.

Producers had a field day when Julius Malema booted BBC journalist Jonah Fisher from a press briefing and the phrase “bloody agent” hit pop culture. Malema’s sampled voice offered such memorable verses as “Bastard! Don’t come here with that white tendency!”

But it was pro-Zuma maskandi group Izingane Zoma that achieved even greater fame.

Their single uMalema took on the former Youth League president for criticising the ANC leadership. The group was attacked by the league, banned by the SABC and sold out in record stores across the country.

“It’s time to get our heads out the sand,” says Sony. “I want to inspire youngsters to be critical again. We can’t let ourselves be walked over, we can’t beat homosexuals, we can’t batter women. This stuff starts at the top.”

Of course, the new generation is finding out for itself how perilous political pop can be.

Rapper Slikour has attracted massive criticism for his song Blacks R Fools, despite it being a call for black excellence.

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