The Use Of Music in Zambian Elections.
AS Zambia edges closer to the August 11, 2016 general elections, it has become increasingly trendy for politicians to recruit musicians to promote and mobilise for support through music and musicians.
This is owing to the fact that many contestants for elective positions have found music to be an ideal tool for political mobilisation and for spreading across their campaign messages to the electorate or voters on radio, television and other forms of mass media.
Recently, various musicians have identified themselves with political parties such as the ruling PF and opposition UPND contesting the August elections and have their songs used by these political parties for political campaigns.
To many, this has stirred an exciting debate on whether musicians should take sides in the political process such as elections through their music.
Others have argued to the contrary, that musicians, like any other members of society, have the right to participate freely in the social and political process of a country.
Some musicians feel that their music as a social tool can be used by any member of society including politicians and political parties as long as they mutually consent to such use for political campaigns.
Although the conclusion to this debate cannot be entirely arrived at, it is clear that music in Zambia has continued to play a major role in the social and political identity formation in the everyday life of people throughout society.
In Africa, music has for many generations played a big role in expressing, unifying and bringing peaceful co- existence among communities.
According to Nzewi ( 1991), music has always been the most visible attempt employed by Africans to listen to themselves.
African music is a powerful medium of communication, through which human actions and reactions are expressed. It provides a forum to mirror the society so that members can understand things better and learn more about life.
In many instances, African music focuses on the teaching of morality, building restraints into the psyche or minds of people and as a mechanism of conflict resolution in society.
In Zambia, for instance, the fight against colonialisms was catalyzed by music and other forms of popular culture.
An example is the influence of the Mbeni and Kalela music and dances on the Copperbelt in the 1930s and 1950s. Some historical studies have concluded that these songs, music and dances, not only played an instrumental role in sensitizing the urban population to the injustices of colonial rule but also developed an effective medium of nationalist agitation against colonialism.
These popular dances and music thus were historically deployed not only as social entertainment for Africans but to champion the social, economic and political welfare of Africans under colonial rule.
Thus, in southern Africa, popular performances through music played an important role in the expression of resistance to colonial domination and capitalist exploitation.
During the struggle for independence, Zambia’s first President Kenneth Kaunda’s famous ‘ Tiyende pamodzi’ song is another example of how songs were used to mobilize support during the fight against colonialism and white minority rule.
The song was also used by Kenneth Kaunda and other nationalist leaders to unite people after independence.
Tiyende Pamodzi was like an anthem of the nationalist struggle, not only in Zambia but also in southern Africa. It was an energizing song during marches to and from political rallies.
The importance of the song lay in its call for Africans to collectively move forward in a united force and spirit.
Again, towards the campaigns for the re- introduction of multiparty politics in Zambia in the 1990s, musicians and music were seen to be an important feature in the political trajectory from one party to multiparty democracy.
In 1991 in particular, the MMD as a leading opposition political party went on to use songs by popular musicians such as Congolese singer Tshala Muana as a way of mobilizing political support for the October 1991 elections during their campaign rallies.
Other songs by Zambian musicians such as PK Chishala’s ‘ Common man’ were also used by then opposition MMD as a way of expressing the social, economic and political reality and dissatisfaction towards UNIP. Further, in 1999 after the endorsement of the last part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo peace agreement in Lusaka by the remaining rebel faction in the DRC, Congolese rhumba musician Suke Chile put together a commemorative relaunch of his album “ Merci Papa Chiluba” or Thank you Mr Chiluba.
The music album released that year was a glowing tribute to President Chiluba and the Southern African Development Community ( SADC) for their pacific efforts to bring peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Similarly, during the run- up to the 2011 general elections, then opposition Patriotic Front ( PF) party carried its campaign message across using the popular song, ‘ Donchi kubeba ’ sung by a local musician Wesley Chibambo, popularly known as Dandy Crazy.
The song proved so electric and energizing for the PF campaign message that, no doubt, it contributed to the opposition Patriotic Front ( PF) emerging victorious in the September 20, 2011 elections.
It is, therefore, undeniable that music is a great recruiting and mobilizing tool which has been used by various players in the social and political spectrum to transmit ideology and mobilize political support over time.
Therefore, music in Zambia does not only predate colonialism but also links the country’s historical and cultural processes with the present.
Most songs in our society are about social commentary and most of the musicians live in the same social locations as their communities who are their listeners.
Thus, politicians easily associate and identify with the musicians in order to transmit their ideology and mobilize for their social and political support.
However, some political campaign songs lack the social and political context to appeal to the electorate and the voters and mostly border on mockery and other forms of derision.
In the end, whether musicians join political parties and politicians in campaigns, their music should work towards uniting society both during and after the August 2016 elections.
The author is a fourth year student in political science at the University of Zambia.