Musicians, Politics and Constitutional Rights: Navigating Freedom of Expression and Public Perception
Article by Timothy Kuhamba
Music is a powerful tool that has long served as the voice of the voiceless, shaping the narrative of our daily lives and struggles. However, controversies often arise when a musician endorses a specific political party. This raises the question: Shouldn’t musicians be allowed to endorse a political party of their choice? After all, the Constitution of Zimbabwe explicitly protects freedom of assembly and association, guaranteeing every citizen the right to form, join, and participate in the activities of a political party or organization, as well as the right to campaign freely and peacefully. Considering the constitutional provisions, it is worth examining the extent to which musicians are immune to these rights.
Musicians, like many individuals, wear different hats in their lives – as parents at home, as themselves, and as musicians. So why is it perceived as wrong when a musician endorses a political party in their personal capacity, leading to public outcry? Or perhaps there is no such thing as distinct hats, and people expect consistency from musicians.
It is disheartening to witness the kind of insults that musicians face on social media. People often view them as lacking a voice or being incapable of responding after endorsing a certain political party. However, musicians are human beings who can reply and engage in dialogue. Yet, when they do respond, there is often a backlash claiming they said something wrong. Why is society so quick to judge musicians?
In Zimbabwe, we have had political musicians such as Cde Chinx, Tambaoga, Cde Elliot Manyika, Paul Madzore, Reckless and Fearless, Cusman, Brian Muteki, Swerengoma, Andy Brown, and Chief Hwenje, among others. These musicians have expressed their political beliefs and used their platforms to engage with social issues.
The perception that musicians should not engage in politics may stem from a variety of factors and differing opinions. Some arguments against musicians’ involvement in politics include the focus on artistic expression, the risk of alienating audiences, and the potential for diluted messages.
However, it is important to recognize that throughout history, there have been several musicians who have actively participated in politics or used their platform to advocate for political causes. Miriam Makeba, also known as “Mama Africa,” was a South African singer and civil rights activist who used her music to raise awareness about apartheid. Bob Marley, the legendary reggae musician, was an outspoken advocate for social and political change, addressing issues such as poverty and injustice. Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician, was a vocal critic of the government and founded a political party. His son, Femi Kuti, has continued the tradition of addressing political and social issues through music.
It is worth noting that the level and extent of musicians’ involvement in politics can vary. Some may endorse political candidates or parties, while others may actively campaign for specific policies or engage in social activism.
Musicians have the right to endorse political parties and express their opinions. The public’s judgment and expectations should be reconsidered, recognizing that musicians are multifaceted individuals entitled to their own political choices and free expression. It is important to note that these arguments do not imply that musicians should be completely devoid of any political opinions or engagement. Musicians, like any other citizens, have the right to express their views and engage in political activism if they choose to do so. Ultimately, the decision to engage in politics should be a personal choice based on the individual musician’s values, convictions, and understanding of the potential impact on their art and audience. Society’s perception of musicians’ involvement in politics may vary based on cultural, social, and historical contexts.