Radio Africa

The main focus of this piece talks about the album Radio Africa by popular music group, Freshlyground, bringing attention to the repeated acts of corruption and mismanagement that have plagued South Africa for far too many years. People are able to learn through the medium of music and how it can be used as a social commentary on current issues. This ties in with the theme of education, because as we see from a young age, the aid of a rhythm or beat can make the learning process more worthwhile for some.

Chicken to change? It seems that world famous Afro-Pop band, Freshlyground has hit the nail on the head with their 2010 album titled “Radio Africa” which concisely captures the current socio-economic climate in South Africa today. With hits such as “Vula Amehlo” (open your eyes), “Baby in Silence” and “Working Class”, this album speaks to issues of false unity, domestic violence as well as the daily struggles of not being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, which are all still painfully relevant in today’s South Africa.

With songs ranging from heart-wrenchingly sad anecdotes with lyrics like, “I had your Baby in Silence and never spoke of the violence” to upbeat party-starters like “Big Man” which rhythmically comments on the ills of patriarchy in a South African society, the album is sure to have something for everyone. The highly politicised hit “Chicken to Change” sparked a social media outcry for the manner in which it critically, but brilliantly portrayed a stylized puppet of Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, whom at the time was in the spotlight for running Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground and causing its people to become destitute. The song opens by remembering, “A time when you (Mugabe) were [was] noble. A conqueror. A Supernova.” Which stands in stark contrast to what the man is now, which sounds all too similar our very own beloved President.

Freshlyground, headed by lead singer Zolani Mahola is not a band that is afraid to make rather candid social commentaries, as is made visible with their 2004 smash hit, “Doo be Doo”, with the famous line, “Politicians have agreed to order and obey. They’ll come down and listen to what the people say”, which could not be more a more relevant plea, especially given the current political situation in South Africa.

The group has become famous for its familiar and authentic South African flair. The frequent use of African percussion instruments such as Djembe drums, and flutes on songs like “Waliphalal’igazi” takes on a new form when paired with Western influence in the form of electric guitars and English lyrics on songs like “Fire Is Low”. Thus emerges a refreshing juxtaposition and commentary on the broader view of contemporary South African society, which much like these songs, is built on African roots, but is still wearing the handcuffs of Europe.

This album has incorporated classic South African elements of “Kwela”, which could be understood as paying homage to the black musicians in Sophiatown whom despite racial subjugation still managed to produce music that is listened to today.  This timeless quality means that this album is suited to older generations, and the youth alike, as the subject matter, soul and overall vibe of the album brings a sense of familiarity when paired with Zolani’s angelic voice.

The album can also been seen as a call for unity amongst Africans, as the album, particularly the chorus of the song “Moto” draws inspiration from the band’s lead guitarist’s childhood experience of growing up in Mozambique.

The overall atmosphere of the album is difficult to pinpoint, because of the host of different issues raised, but I think that this in and of itself is an accurate representation of South Africa today. With moments that will shatter your heart, and others that will cause it to overflow with joy it has successfully managed to capture the feeling of what it is like to like in a so called “post-colonial” South Africa, especially as a person of colour or a woman.


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