The Discursive Role of Music in African Elections: A Perspective From Zambia

The Discursive Role of Music in African Elections: A Perspective From Zambia

Elastus Mambwe
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7295-4.ch009
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In Africa, music remains the arena where the commingling of political and artistic expressions has thrived, even in countries with high levels of control and censorship. This blend of music and politics is perhaps most evident in the modern era where music is increasingly being used for political messaging during election campaigns. This chapter delves into the discursive role of music in election campaigns from an African perspective, using Zambia as a case study, and more specifically through the lens of the Patriotic Front, the country's largest political party, which effectively used musical lyrics to win the presidency and consolidate its power.
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Music in Africa has become an arena where the sociocultural and the political have been played-out. It is more than just an art form. Over the years, the nature, appeal and impact of its utility and appropriation have grown to become the subject of scholarship and debate. As African democracy evolves, music is increasingly being used in the electoral process to deliver messages about political parties, their candidates and manifestoes, and to attract potential voters. Studies have no doubt engaged with the theoretical and conceptual assumptions on the role that music as a veritable form of art is playing in modern politics.

Music is both a powerful communication medium that expresses human actions and reactions, and a forum that reflects society to enable its members better understand and learn more about life (Titus & Bello, 2012). It takes on added significance as it is the site where free expression has tended to thrive and remains an art form that many on the continent have related to, more than any other. With many an African nation having a track-record of stifled freedom of expression and immense levels of control over the news media, music has continued to grow as the space where expression and art meet, often transcending an array of possible barriers.

Alternative or divergent political or social views that have often been denied time and space in other public forms of communication have found a place in music and other art forms (Allen, 2004; Ogola, Schumann & Olatunji, 2009). Allen (2004, p. 2) argues further that music, like a window, offers a glimpse into African people's experience because many people are influenced by its messages, and “because so many people articulate their ideas, beliefs, and feelings through its creation, performance, or consumption.”

What makes music work, as with other expressive cultural practices such as dance and festivals, is that it remains an important way that people live out their collective identities as they create and sustain social groups (Turino, 2008). As Van Zoonen (2005) argued, it follows then that politicians will seek to appropriate popular music to communicate with constituents that they may assume to be hard to reach, such as youth and ethnic minorities. Music’s power is also drawn from what it does for society, across different cultures. Its attributes make it particularly potent for political communication. These attributes, according to Cross (2012, p. 24), include being “complexly structured, affectively significant, attentionally entraining, and immediately—yet indeterminately—meaningful.”

The use of music in political processes is widespread in southern African countries. For instance, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa engaged the power of song and dance in its political activity throughout its long history (Vershbow, 2010). Similar experiences can be seen in other countries in the region, including Zimbabwe (Nyati, 2005) and Malawi (Chirambo, 2002).

The purpose of this chapter is to provide an outline of the use of music in election campaigns by political parties in Zambia. The chapter considers the usefulness of these songs in selected election cycles, and analyses some of the lyrics to help provide a relevant understanding of the texts and context in which they were used. It also identifies salient aspects of the Zambian scenario in relation to election campaign songs and in the process, discusses the discursive and taken-for-granted functions that music performs.

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