By: Nomonde Mohapi
Published on: 17 May 2018
The resistance movement against the apartheid regime cannot be discussed without mention of music concerts, shaping the people of South Africa and bringing down a destructive regime. These concerts were used to mobilize the people and brought a sense of togetherness, brotherhood, pride and national unity towards a common goal; freedom.
On 11 June 1988, the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (BAAM) held an 11-hour rock concert at Wembley Stadium in London to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela on his 70th birthday on 18 July. Peter Gabriel delivered his anti-apartheid anthem, Biko. Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Simple Minds, Eurythmics and Dire Straits also performed. 72,000 people went to the concert and it was broadcast live on BBC-2 to sixty different countries with an estimated audience of a billion people.
It would be an injustice not to applaud the MTN Bushfire Festival for going back to basics. Way back before I was conceived: Music festivals were used as platforms for activism against social injustices, they were a safe space for musicians to mediate, disseminate information and educate people on human rights issues that affect them on a daily basis. And unfortunately that culture died over the years with the rise of capitalism in music. However I am happy to declare that the saying “lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice” has been proven to not hold water by the MTN Bushfire Festival.
As part of the annual Bring Your Fire call to action, MTN Bushfire 2018 will be hosting a diversity of activations in the newly launched and fully interactive, Bring Your Fire Zone. This year a range of themes will be featured at the festival, including environmental sustainability, education, cultural development, human rights, equality for LGBTI people, gender issues, as well as sexual & reproductive health and freedom. And in these activations, there’s going to be interactive activities in the form of slam poetry, open discussions etc.
I will be honest, keyword: “LGBTI” is what caught my attention when I received the email from Lara Preston, the communications officer for MTN Bushfire Festival. I would like to believe that it caught my attention due to my allegiance to the LGBTI community and the fact that I am a human rights activist, in my own right. My heart really melted at the bravery of the MTN Bushfire Festival, together with The Rock of Hope, a Swazi community based organization that advocates for the rights of the LGBTI community in Swaziland.
Swaziland is a despotic monarchy that holds archaic and patriarchal laws in high regard. It has no legislation that recognizes the LGBTI community nor protects the right to a non-heterosexual orientation. Therefore, to start a dialogue that raises visibility, promotes equality and inclusion of the LGBTI community in that country requires a spirit of defiance and that is what music festivals were notorious for back in the days, a defiant spirit. A spirit that is unafraid to give a middle finger to unjust laws.
As if having these insightful activities that will be promoting inclusion were not enough, the MTN Bushfire Festival decided to flex on all of us by inviting multiple award-winning poet, Staceyann Chin on the festival’s line up. Chin is winner of the 2013 American Heritage Award from American Immigration Council, and the 2016 Planned Parenthood Excellence in Media award, she is also a 2017 LGBTQ Humanist Award recipient. She unapologetically identifies as Caribbean and Black, Asian and lesbian, woman and resident of New York City.
I think it is safe to conclude that the impact of music cannot be ignored or separated from the reshaping of people’s minds ,the reinforcement of values and dealing with issues facing marginalized groups. Music is and has always been Africa’s meeting place, it forms a big part our culture: When we are happy we sing, when we are sad we sing, when are mourning we sing, heck when we are drunk we sing. And when we are oppressed we tell our oppressor in song. The gentlest and most beautiful form of protest.