When musicians lead protests, everybody notices, we can only ask that they use that power for the right reasons.
The same music that reminds you of beauty and happiness can drive to f**k things up.
It’s 1966. Nigeria, barely 6 years old, is swimming in the confusion of its first and second coups and preparing for the general lack of direction that will plague it for the next 50 years… and counting.
Meanwhile, in far-away Chile, a young writer, director and musician by the name, Victor Jara Martinez is using music to drive the government out of office, play by play, concert by concert.
That movement was called Nuevo Cancion, literally ‘a new song’, and while it was established by another musician, Violeta Parra, it was in Jara’s music that dominated the public consciousness.
Jara was a rebel in the same mould as the guerillas that waged wars around South America — but where they used bullets and mass murder, he sang passionately about the issues that mattered — poverty, imperialism, religion and human rights.
His music was deeply rooted in the culture of his people and the stories he told were their own — he made songs with titles like “Plegaria a un Labrador" (meaning “Prayer for the Worker”) and “Angelita Hueneman”, a story about the hands of a poor blanket-maker he met while travelling with his wife.
Sometimes, oppression will seize a people’s voice so hard that what they need the most will be someone who can say the things they are thinking about, loudly and without fear.
Jara sang of their thoughts and their experiences, their pain and their suffering, their desire to get rid of a government that had long overstayed its welcome.
In 1970, when Chile went to the polls, they voted out the incumbent president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, by a landslide.
Nobody really understands why music has the power that it does.
The people who study it will tell you that it has been a part of humanity since the stone age, that it is part of human nature to enjoy anything that sounds good, that music has evolved with humans, from folk songs by the fire to classical compositions where 50 musicians command beauty from metal and wood.
In truth, music is a big part of what makes us human. It is a medium of expression that has never failed its creators and has helped thousands and millions connect in a shared sense of identity and purpose.
Since the beginning of time, there has been a form of music for every circumstance.
In the days at the beginning of recorded history, the men had violent, heavy chants to lift their spirits as they rode into war; later in the Americas, slaves had work songs to ease the burden of hours spent picking cotton in the sun.
Now, in the age of fascist democracies and life presidents, we have the music of protest, of dissatisfaction and anger, the music of Jara, Marley and Fela.
When musicians have risen to challenge the status quo and genuinely demand change, the powers in control take notice — not because secular music is bad for kids, but because with the influence that they command, one musician’s message can very quickly become everyone’s message.
Fela Kuti’s classic "Zombie" was made at a time when the military ruled Nigeria with the butts of guns and leather whips. Playing it in public was a life-threatening risk, but the people still listened to him belittle soldiers because they recognised him and his music as the face of their struggle.
They identified with that disgust, the constant suffering that these armed men caused on a daily basis — the hate that Fela was singing about was their own.
Fela might never have led a nationwide protest in his time — but when he died, a crowd that ran in the hundreds of thousands reportedly followed his body through the streets of Lagos before he was laid to rest.
Last week, Innocent Idibia aka 2face called on Nigerians to stage a nationwide protest against the leadership of President Buhari (who was ironically one of the very people Fela sang against) and the failing economy.
There is a lot that is wrong with our country as things stand; the naira is at its lowest rate, officially and unofficially in the history of Nigeria, more than half of the population is unemployed and we continue to plunge further into darkness while the ruling elite tell us the same stories of subsidies and anti-corruption crusades that we’ve been hearing since Sani Abacha ate an apple.
Nigerians need to get on the streets, set fire to tires, block roads and let the government wake up to our grievances; whoever brings us together, whether 2face or Small Doctor, matters very little at this point.
And therein lies a problem; in our pain, our anger at the state of things, we are ignoring the possibility that our message may be contaminated by the same people who claim to be helping us deliver it.
Many have claimed that 2face does not have the moral capacity to lead a protest because he has 7 children from 3 women. Arguments like that need no response; their lack of substance can fight itself.
The only real question is where 2face’s loyalties lie — with the people he is mobilising to flood the streets on February 6 or with a political class that has repeatedly enriched him.
2face has had many opportunities to stand with the common man at many times when the focus was not on their suffering — at his Dubai wedding where state governments and elected officials literally flexed muscles with the people’s money or on the several occasions when those officials greased his palms and neck with money and jewelry — and he chose not to, every single time.
You cannot take from the people who have put us in this position and summon us to march against them when you think our elastic limit has broken.
But this does not change the fact that we need to stand up and take action.
There is an argument for why 2face should not be at the front of any protest against the government but we cannot wait for a perfect messiah to lead us into the change we need.
We can only ask that whoever is the face of the protest does not come back to tell Nigerians that "they have entered into negotiations" - we do not want another "Occupy Nigeria".
When musicians demand change, everybody takes notice — it is only fair for us to know exactly who and what they are asking us to fight for.