When I drive to my mother’s house in Mitchell’s Plain there’s often music playing in the background. I feel the bass of a rap song thumping in my chest, sometimes the windows reverberate as they are hit by the low frequencies. Children and adults in the street dance to the music. And around Christmas time even the speakers and sound systems themselves will be in the street.
The influence of music on our lives is something that has been widely documented. Listening to Elton John’s I’m still standing, during a pandemic may get you through a difficult time in, or 2pac’s Changes may help you realise your humble beginnings as well as Dj Khaled’s remix, All I do is win, I don’t even need to get into this song as it speaks for itself.
But I start to worry when I hear dangerous stereotypes or damaging social messages being perpetuated through music. Just recently I was listening to a new song by a rap duo from Tafelsig, who rap in Afrikaaps and speak about being proudly coloured. My concerns, however, were the lyrical content, the accompanying video and the promotional poster. There were of girls dancing provocatively in the music video, and on the poster were half-naked animated girls.
That may be similar to other mainstream international songs but in the context of South Africa being in the grip of what President Cyril Ramaphosa called the second pandemic of gender-based violence, where women and young girls are being raped, killed, brutalised, why are their bodies still being exploited in mass media.
Does content like this inspire people? Are musicians mindful of the impact of the imagery in their music videos and lyrics?
The song made me uncomfortable. I did not like the content. As a singer and journalist, I believe we need to uplift people through what we do. We need to inspire them, inform them, educate them and we have a responsibility to do so. Being an entertainer does not diminish that responsibility. The next generation are looking at us, to feed off of our energy and the creativity in our songs.
I asked performing artist and singer, Candice Thornton, for her thoughts on the matter. While she respects the artists’ “hustle”, she says, there’s much more to us than throwing money around and using women in music videos, in order to make it in the industry.
She believes the entertainment industry has a major influence on how people treat women and artists therefore have a “responsibility to start calling each other out on these things especially if they are derogatory towards women”.
“It’s as simple as showing violent images on a music video that may influence the younger generation on how to treat women as they get older,” she says.
But, perhaps people who create music with negative messages are just reflecting their own reality. This is the belief of Trevino Isaacs, principal of Mitchell’s Plain Music Academy.
He believes musicians and performers may express their heritage and lived experiences through their work. They will voice the way they feel, as anybody would in their lives.
So, perhaps hidden – or not so hidden – in these confronting lyrics is some insight into the artists’ own hurt, trauma or feelings of marginalisation. And the reality for many young coloured people living in places like Tafelsig, is that they have grown up knowing violence, homelessness and social ills as the norm.
Another contributing factor is a lack of mentorship which could result in young people, young artists expressing themselves “without a filter”. It may not be beneficial to society, but they were only expressing their feelings and experiences, says Mr Isaacs.
Everyone experiences music differently. Some enjoy the melody while others are drawn to the lyrics but as artists, I believe it is important to use music’s influence for good, whatever the tragedy of the artist’s reality may be. Music is a universal language, so let it say something good so that we can all feed from it when the song ends.