It has been over a month since Rampholo Molefhe penned the article “How the artist relates to party politics” the substance of which was a castigation of a certain Astley Gops for expressing clear support for the BMD to the extent that he produced an album with a couple of songs expressing support for the BMD party. Gops’ position is contrasted by Mr. Molefhe with another position of another local artist by the name of Vee who when asked about his political affiliation his answer is reported as simply: “Kgang eo e bokete, a re e tlogele”. Gops’ straightforward and precise declarations earned him much attacked from Mr. Molefhe while Vee’s prevarications made him a hero, the true artist since “the true artist reserves the right to comment”. Mr. Molefhe, that’s perverse!
In this article I interrogate the subject of political parties and music and argue that music has always been at the heart of politics and why Mr. Molefhe ignores this truth surprises me greatly. Let’s start here: in this country, from independence, music has been at the heart of party politics. Musicians have been employed by various political parties to compose and perform music for political parties. Such music performances have been what in this country is known as dikhwaere. Every constituency has a choir which not only provides entertainment, but also raises funds through concerts and propagates the party message by praising the party’s strength while at the same time ridiculing opposing parties. This is in part how Mr. Gomolemo Motswaledi has been propelled to stardom in the BDP – as a musician of note who rallied the BDP troops to battle to take on the opposition parties. He has since changed. Now when he takes to the BMD podium he starts with that signature tune “Thi-my-my-my-my- Morena o ba etele, bana botlhe ba lefifi lesedi le bachabele ka bophara jwa lefatshe”, it is a tune informed by liberation theology; a tune which fortifies and sets ablaze the BMD faithfuls and builds in them the confidence that their message will reach all the corners of the country. When the BDP campaign is alive and in full force around the country – what you will hear cutting through the dark silent night is the shrill voice of a choir leader singing the praises of Domi and expressing how it will vanquish its opponents. Fact: At the heart of any political campaign is music. The choirs perform at the political rallies tunes composed by the party musicians.
Recently, especially from the 2004 elections, parties recognising the crowd-pulling power of most pop-musicians, they engaged such artists in their campaigns, in particular to help in crowd polling. Two events are particularly important here: first is Mr. Ntuane’s finally campaign featuring South African band Splash which pulled thousands. Recently in Francistown the Splash magic drew close to 15,000 people at a BMD rally in Francistown. The question that Rampholo should deal with is this one: what is the functional role of musicians in political campaigns? Are musicians desirable in such spheres? They are certainly useful to the political parties since they get the people to the rallies. Some of the musicians may not sing the party songs of a specific political party, like the choirs; however by performing at a specific political party’s rally, they are offering such a party support. Vee’s answer that “Kgang eo e bokete, a re e tlogele” is therefore meaningless and gives a false impression that he is unbiased while his performances at BDP rallies indicate his support for the BDP – and I must hasten to point out that there is nothing wrong with such support. Mr. Molefhe has argued that the artist should comment on political matters without becoming a politician. There are at least three problems with this line of argument. First, he ignores those musicians who don’t make any political commentary, but do perform at political rallies. Are their performances not political? They are certainly campaigning for the party since they are drawing crowds to the rallies. Second, what makes a musician, in Molefhe’s view, a politician? It appears to be an obvious praise of a political party in their compositions. In this regard Molefhe’s argument is weakened by ignoring the role of dikhwaere tsa phathi as musical entities and as visible party propaganda tools. Perhaps the dikhwaere musicians are not musicians enough in Molefhe’s judgement. Finally, he fails to demonstrate how musical renditions which are politically charged are artistically inferior to those which are not. He asks “What is an artist and what does he or she have to benefit from sacrificing a part of him or herself to active political activity?” The question is flawed since it presupposes that the subject matter weakens the artistic matter. Is it not possible that the subject matter is ably carried through the art? Has Mr. Molefhe detected a poor chord progression as well as an imperfect harmony and scaling as a consequence of a political subject? Mr. Molefhe also enquires “where does the artist end, permitting the politician to take over?” It is clear through this line of questioning that Mr. Molefhe assumes a false dichotomy between musicianship and politics? The question and such false dichotomies could be asked of any profession or occupation really: “where does the linguist, father, journalist, artist, lecturer, mathematician or cobbler end, permitting the politician to take over?” It is a useless kind of enquiry since it is based on a false premise that the two are in complementary distribution. The question really is, and this may be the subject of a masters or even a PhD thesis, “what is the musician’s functional social role?” It is not for me or Mr. Molefhe to make judgements of whether such roles are appropriate. Our starting point must first be descriptive, characterising where all music is used in our society. Once we start there, we will see clearly that music lies at the heart of political campaigns.