Songs of a generation - the fight for liberation through music

Musician Blondie Makhene
Musician Blondie Makhene

The apartheid struggle was not fought with guns only but it was also tackled through music, poetry and theatre.

Many musicians around the world and South Africa contributed and fought the struggle through music, composing songs that highlighted the fight against apartheid.

Local musicians like Lucky Dube, Vicky Sampson, Joy, Sipho Mabuse, Blondie Makhene, Chicco Twala are among the artists who produce music that gave people hope.

Vicky Sampson - 'Afrikan Dream'

Sampson’s classic Afrikan Dream remains relevant today as the day it was released 25 years ago.

The inspirational lyrics for the song composed and penned by Mango Groove keyboardist Alan Lazar promises a new tomorrow for Africa on the wake of apartheid ending.

Sampson remembers first hearing the heartfelt song being played on piano in Lazar’s cottage in Westdene, Johannesburg, in early 1995.

After recording the song first in South Africa she then travelled to London to further work with renowned music producer Will Mowat. Sampson spent seven weeks in South London working on the song.

“It was one of the most exciting times of my life. We would work until late at night sometimes and then come back in the morning and continue listening, changing vocals I was not happy with and then adding all the other instrumentation.”

The final version of the song was released in October 1995 and changed Sampson’s life forever.

“The new tomorrow the song speaks about I believe speaks of the longing and desire we all, as a nation, wanted to see, after our history of strife and injustices. I have always been on the mindset that when Alan Lazar composed it, knowing he was about to leave his beloved country for distant lands, he still had a hope and a vision that we could achieve peace, love and prosperity.”

Lucky Dube rode the reggae revolution, adding a dash of home-grown sociopolitical commentary.
Lucky Dube rode the reggae revolution, adding a dash of home-grown sociopolitical commentary.
Image: Darryl Hammond

Lucky Dube- Different Colours/One People

Dube, who was murdered in 2007, wrote songs that addressed inequality, police brutality and political struggle.

His song 'Different Colours, One People' is one of the songs that the legend composed and dedicated to the struggle, looking at racial divisions in the whole world. Lenah Mochoele, who managed Dube until his last days said when the legend composed the song, he wanted to emphasize that human beings may be different in colours but were actually the same. In the song he points that government and politicians were responsible for people’s divisions.

“The youth of today should not forget that although the voices of the youth of 1976 were silenced they sacrificed everything for them to be able to speak without fear. Some lost their lives for a better future for humanity but we are not free without justice and equality,” she said.

Joy-Paradise Road

The song Paradise Road was written by Patric van Blerk with Fransua Roos in 1979. The song was recorded in 1980 by Joy members; Felicia Marion, Thoko Ndlozi, and the late Anneline Malebo.

When the song was released it topped the charts for nine weeks and became an unofficial South African anthem. Thoko Ndlozi one of the surviving member of the group explained that the song addressed the struggle and apartheid issues.

“The song was recorded during a difficult time of apartheid when a lot of things were happening. But at the same time it was giving people hope that apartheid was coming to an end as it says in its  lyrics… Paradise is almost closing down.”

Felicia Marion another member of Joy said a lot of South Africans who were in exile were comforted by the song. “Paradise Road was a big song and it made a huge impact in people’s lives. The song was comforting and gave them hope that things were going to be okay one day.”

Our particular struggle was to free ourselves from apartheid and its legacy, but there is apathy to what was sacrificed

Sipho Mabuse - Burnout

"For us at the time, music was not just influencing the struggle. The struggle also influenced the music, it lit a fire in the youth. Regrettably, I am not sure if youth today are conscious what the struggle was about then or what their role should be. I think they should engage more on the struggles of today - poverty, HIV, unemployment.”

“Our particular struggle was to free ourselves from apartheid and its legacy, but there is apathy to what was sacrificed. I mean Solomon Mahlangu was only 22-years old when he was hanged. He said 'let my blood nourish the soil to nourish the soil and the future of our children."

'Burnout' was more a commercial song with a covert message that one wanted to make about what was happening at the time, in the run-up to the declaration of the State of Emergency. Its message was designed to set the youth on fire, but everything was on fire at the time. I did other songs like Set me Free, and 'Rise' that I'd like to believe were politically conscious at the time, and they were banned. I was personally inspired by people like Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte, people who had a purpose". 

Blondie - Amaqabane

The legend explained that his music was inspired by the situation he and every black person was in. At the age of 14, Makhene with the music group Movers, they toured the country and saw the discrepancies everywhere they went.

“The circumstances of black people were in direct opposition to that of their white counterparts.   Everything was clean and well-taken care of in town. It was another story in townships and rural areas. As a child you ask yourself why?”

His awakening came when he met a matron in Port Elizabeth who played him a song titled Nanku Mandela by Miriam Makeba, and Young, Gifted and Black by Nina Simone.

“She had bought the albums in the UK. Those kinds of songs were banned. I wanted to make statement afterwards, and what I would read in papers about the treatment of Winnie Mandela and her children just strengthened my conviction. That is how the album, Amaqabane came to be.”