Protest Songs

Throughout the history of the world, music has been an integral part of expressing people’s opinions and stands during times of wars and other forms of political unrests. For instance, during the revolutionary war in America, different songs and dances were used to give people hope by keeping their spirits high during the dark hours (Candaele, n.d.). Different continents have experienced varying levels of political struggles and depending on the nature of the society; protest songs are made to arouse the feelings of the people and enlighten the government to take appropriate actions in addressing the needs of the community. Even though the protest songs in different continents may have some common characteristics, they tend to differ in some aspects depending on the nature of the society and the issue being addressed.

In America, the 1960’s was a period marked by evolutional movement and social change. Music during this period was characterized by political undertones as musicians used their art as an avenue for voicing their support for the process of change. Most of the music released during this period became popular among Americans as most people could easily relate to the messages (Lau, 2013). Bob Dylan is one of the influential American artists who used his music to help in addressing the issues of civil rights movement at the time. Having fallen in love with folk music, Dylan integrates the use of a precise communication mechanism that listeners quickly relate to. The music he produced profoundly impacted on the protest movements since people could easily relate to the corrupt nature of the society and the need for change (Lau, 2013).

Additionally, Dylan music was widely accepted due to the appeal it had on the traditional American values making it easy to establish an emotional connection. Such values advocated for by Dylan included the view of all Americans being equal regardless of their social status or ethnic orientation. Through his music, Dylan managed to address contentious issues at the time such as racial segregation (Lau, 2013). The music acted a transition in protest movements as they enlightened the people on the failures of the principles of meritocracy evident in the American society at the time while advocating for the need for social change. For instance, in the song ‘With God on Our Side,’ Dylan gives a critique regarding the traditional way in which the society views justice and war. Dylan criticizes some views of the society that were initially considered to be right (Lau, 2013). Also, Dylan captures the attention of the listeners by addressing the shortcomings in how the history of war is told. He points out that there was a lack of logic in most historical decision making.

On the other hand, South African anti-apartheid period present another political struggle for freedom in which protest songs were primarily used. The anti-apartheid freedom songs are considered to be an expression of the fighting spirit of the people to their liberty from their oppressors. Different policies implemented during the apartheid period limited the use of verbal expression and presented limited mobility for the black population. In the quest to outdo such oppressive policies, music became an essential element in passing messages (Jolaosho, 2014). By Using slightly different melodies and explicit messages, songs were used in protests to express concerns. For example, Vuyisile Mini, a renowned composer freedom songs was sentenced to death through hanging by the apartheid regime after releasing songs such as ‘Izakunyatheli Africa.’ The song gave a message to the prime minister at the time of his foreseen fall under the hands of the Africans (Jolaosho, 2014).  Whereas the some of the songs may have been forceful in condemning the regime, they remained to be an important element in South African protests as they were readily available means of expressing societal concerns.

The protest songs used in both America and South Africa share a lot of similarities regarding their context of use. Because most of the songs were geared towards some form of social change, they both expressed the troubles of the oppressed in the society at that given period in history. For instance, Bob Dylan’s ‘With God on Our Side’ represents the concerns of war while Vuyisile Mini’s ‘Izakunyatheli Africa’ addresses the racial segregation problem during the apartheid (Lau, 2013). Also, in both instances, the songs helped in developing coordinated actions from the society in dealing with societal evils. Conversely, the two continents differ mostly regarding their social setup and political environment. Even though the fight for social change and use of protest songs is eminent in both the American case and the South African case, the political composition and the reason for the fight are not the same.

As can be seen, the use of music for political purposes such as in protests to advocate for rights has been in use over the years in different parts of the world. The messages spread through such music characterize the needs of the society and offer a way through which people can work in one spirit to address the issues affecting them.



Candaele, K. (n.d). The sixties and protest music. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved from

Jolaosho, T. (2014). Anti-Apartheid freedom songs then and now. Folkways Magazine. Retrieved from

Lau, S. (2013). Popular music in evangelical youth culture. Routledge.

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