No to dictators … but not Bob

2011-09-17 00:00

PLAYWRIGHT and musician Mbongeni Ngema is appealing to Africans to take a stand against dictatorships (except Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe).

Ngema’s latest musical offering is entitled Ingoma yobumbano (Song of Unity), and he says his timing is impeccable given that Africa is alive with revolution.

“We look at the Arab world with Napoleon-like leaders being overthrown by those willing to sacrifice their very lives for freedom, it’s enough to inspire an old struggle artist like me,” he said. Asked whether Ingoma yobumbano would be relevant to someone like Mugabe, however, he trod carefully.

“If Zimbabweans keep voting him in, then they must see something in the old man, who are we to judge?” he asked. He said, however, that one has to wonder why anyone would choose to be a president all his life.

Touching on the “Shoot the Boer” saga, Ngema vehemently condemned the banning of the song by the Equality Court this week. “I can’t see why [Julius] Malema has been banned from singing the very song that gave us strength to fight our oppressors in the trenches,” he said.

“People need to remember that when reference is made to the Boer, we are talking about the oppressive system, not the farmer — it isn’t a personal vendetta.”

The creator of a string of powerful protest works, both on stage and film, such as Asinamali, Sarafina, Township Fever, 1906 Bhambada The Freedom Fighter, Lion of the East and many other works, Ngema was not popular among the Indian community when he released the controversial song Amandiya.

His lyrics described the country’s Indian population as abusive to black people, and more racist than whites.

“It is a fact that many Africans believe Indians are oppressive toward them,” I was simply creating debate. “I have many Indian friends, and it’s something we discuss to this day, so therein lies my point,” he said.

The song struck the wrong musical note with the country’s leading politicians and human rights activists, who were wary that it could provoke racial hatred, and it was banned from public radio.

“With Ingoma yobumbano I’m saying we need to look beyond the temptations of greed”, says Ngema, who goes on to paraphrase the opening lyrics of his new song: “The time has come for self-introspection, for us to face the reality: the continent, forever riddled with greed, is fighting the wars of tribalism.

“Why have we allowed ourselves to be led by people with greed, why have we allowed the dictators to lead our countries? As Africans together we can stand up and say no more dictators.”

Through his song, Ngema strongly exhorts people to unite and work together for the future, opposing dictatorships and the resultant disempowerment of millions throughout Africa.

“There was a time when everything was going wrong for the continent, when wars were all over our land. With the music we shall conquer. I give you the song of unity. Hear the music, hear the music of unity,” he quoted the lyrics.

Ngema cited political leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill, both of whom stepped down timeously from office, as examples of leaders who selflessly stood for the good of their people.

Asked whether his music had a place in the commercial world, he brought up the iconic Bob Marley.

“When Marley wrote he expressed a burning issue and to this day it has a place in society and he may have not personally seen the financial rewards, but there are billions generated from his music — such is the power of a sincere song, and that is what I aspire to, I may starve in the interim,” he quipped.

But that is unlikely. For his most recent theatrical offering, he was paid R22 million by the Mpumalanga provincial government and almost R3 million by KwaZulu-Natal to stage a four-hour musical about a potato boycott against white farmers in the former Eastern Transvaal — Lion of the East.

Ngema’s Ingoma yobumbano is to be launched nationwide on September 22, 2011, as part of South Africa’s Heritage Month celebrations.

Issued both as a self-standing single, and as part of Mbongeni Ngema … the very best of, a two-CD compilation album with a complimentary DVD, the release of Ingoma yobumbano coincides with the release a related music video, also produced by KZN Music House.

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