South Africa’s protest movements are unique in the way that we demonstrate said protest. No matter what we are protesting against, song forms a huge part of the action. We saw this recently with the Fees Must Fall protests which were accompanied by the likes of Iyoh Solomon and Thetha noBlade.
These songs kept us going when morale was low. They kept the energies up when despondency seemed to get the better of most. This was also the case during the apartheid years. When the political parties were banned, it was the songs that played a vital role in not only keeping the movement going, but in also transmitting important messages and updates on what was happening.
While it was easier to silence this kind of music back then, it is virtually impossible in this day and age where anyone can be a publisher in the digital realm. Case in point, Beyoncé’s Formation. I have no doubt that a number of radio stations will not be adding this song to their playlists due to its nature and due to the nature of the conversation which it aims to spark.
While going down my Twitter timeline during what has become ceremonious nights of insomnia, I came across a tweet sharing Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam and subsequently clicked on the link and played the song. On the night when Bey dropped Formation, someone asked when last an artist as big as Beyoncé made such a black and proud song and I answered with Nina Simone’s Young Gifted and Black which was released in 1969.
Little did I know that Young Gifted and Black has a predecessor in Mississippi Goddam which was released in 1964. This song was Nina’s response to Medgar Evers’ murder in Mississippi as well as the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama in which four black children were killed.
The song was banned after release, many citing the use of the word ‘goddam’ as the reason, but we know better. It is also said that many of the stations returned the single with each record cracked in half.
This seems like the exact mirror image that white America is giving today when it comes to Formation. Beyoncé has been called every name in the book and think pieces have been written (as we expected) on why the song is racist.
The truth of the matter is, they are afraid of our pro blackness because they assume that it seeks to oppress them as their pro whiteness meant anti blackness and thus oppressed us. Unfortunately for them, we are done explaining ourselves.
What we need is for those musicians of our time who take the stand and address these issues in their music, to never become despondent because of their response. They did it to Nina, now they’re doing it to Beyoncé. But the beauty of it all is that here I am in 2016, listening to Mississippi Goddam from 1964 and the message still resonates. No matter how hard they tried to stop it.
Even when the DJ drops a young We Miss You Manelo by Chicco Twala as a throwback within groove today, the message still resonates. No matter how hard they tried to stop it.