Friday, March 31, 2017

Prison: Famous Prisoners Set

Songwriters are often concerned with issues related to social justice, so it’s no surprise that they have taken up the causes of those who were wrongly imprisoned. In this set, we can hear some of the great music that can result, and we can see both the power and the limits of the power that music has to bring about change.

Peter Gabriel: Biko


By the time Peter Gabriel recorded Biko, it was already too late for the song’s subject. Stephen Biko was an anti-Apartheid protestor in South Africa, and the government had already silenced him. Gabriel, in writing the song, hoped to highlight the case as a protest against Apartheid. By itself, the song did not end Apartheid, but it helped keep the memory of Stephen Biko alive.

Special AKA: Nelson Mandela


By the same token, this Special AKA song did not achieve its goal by itself, but it served as a rallying call as the protests against Apartheid worldwide became more effective. The story of Nelson Mandela had a happier ending than that of Stephen Biko; Mandela was freed when Apartheid ended, and he became the country’s first president of the post-Apartheid era.

Bob Dylan: Hurricane


All of these songs are about racism in some way. Here in the United States, we like to think that we have conquered this evil, but that certainly was not true when Bob Dylan wrote this one to highlight the case of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. This song was probably the most successful of the three presented here, in that it brought the spotlight to a case that was eventually retried, and Carter was freed. Dylan’s song did not cause that in a vacuum, but it probably had more to do with the outcome than the other songs presented here. Still, cases like this one still happen now, but the victims are generally not as well known.

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