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Politics and creativity

Written in memory of her late friend Lorraine Hansberry, “To be young, gifted and black” is a song written by Nina Simone in the time of a generation of African American people battling discrimination, segregation and immense violence as a result of their race. Her song inspired music to this day and continues to be a motivational legacy for people of African heritage to love themselves for who they are and find strength in their ‘blackness’. “My job”,” she said in an interview, “is to somehow make [black people] curious enough, or persuade them, by hook or crook, to get them more aware of themselves and where they came from and what they are into and what is already there, and just bring it out. This is what compels me to compel them. And I will do it by whatever means is necessary.” The key message behind the piece was to make black people all over the world feel good about themselves forever. She became the voice of African Americans with inextricable power in her music (Garza 2015).

Nina played her first concert when she was twelve. This performance was a classical recital where she played the piano to a mixed audience. She later claimed that during that performance, her parents who had taken seats in the front row were forced to move to the back of the hall to make room for white people. Nina then refused to play until her parents were returned to the front. This incident announced the beginning of her involvement in the civil rights movement.

The song topped the R&B charts in 1969 and was declared the black national anthem by the Congress of Racial Equality: “Oh what a lovely precious dream / To be young, gifted and black.” The piece itself is extremely socially engaged and locks in entirely with a socialist ideology. Simone and her peers were all significant members of civil rights activities and joining in the development of black people becoming aware of politics surrounding them. The source of Simone’s song came from Hansberry’s unfinished play “To be Young, Gifted and Black” while it was later adopted as an anthem for the NAACP, showing further how it was so influential-to be associated with such an organisation was brave in itself but to have a song produced by you as the theme for an association for the advancement of coloured people was a political accomplishment that would impact all creative pieces she produced but also the ideologies of people.

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At the time, there was many black musicians producing music to politically motivate African Americans into becoming more conscious of the politics around them and the way in which it affected them, leading these creative pieces to be the source of people uniting, recognising their heritage and building a sense of community (Fouche 2006). The connection between music and politics, particularly political expression in song, has been seen in many cultures. Although music influences political movements and rituals, it is clear from Simone to what extent general audiences relate to music on a political level. Music about being black and proud and finding the beauty in black exists even today – just last month, rapper Santandave released a song called “Black” based on what it means to be black in the world today. He included lyrics such as:

Look, black is beautiful, black is excellent

Black is pain, black is joy, black is evident

It’s workin’ twice as hard as the people you know you’re better than

‘Cause you need to do double what they do so you can level them

Black is so much deeper than just African-American

The London rapper has one of the most interesting voices and has successfully turned his hand to political commentary, as seen in a track called “Question Time” (named after the BBC news show). He talks about issues in Syria “The irony is, we have no business in Syria / but kids are getting killed for all the business in Syria”. He talks clearly about his frustration : “I just find it fucked that the government is struggling / to care for a person that cares for a person” where he is talking about the NHS and how they are not being taken care of as employees. He particularly aims for the largely wealthy and upper class of parliament, talking about how weird it is that the country is run by “people who can’t ever understand what it’s like to live life like you and me.” This leads, importantly onto a description of the problems with different classes highlighted by the Grenfell Tower fire, where he highlights clearly how the Prime Minister failed to go and see the victims. “At Grenfell Tower your response was ridiculous / You hid like a coward behind your five million / Dodged responsibility and acted like you’re innocent.” This is just one other example of politically motivated music by a black person that is showing the general public about wealthy white generations in the upper class who do not care about those beneath them but also ensuring that black people are proud of who they are and where they come from “But black is all I know, there ain’t a thing that I would change in it” (Dave, Black, 2019)

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Creativity in music especially has a big effect on politics. Another example like Dave can be seen in Akala – a rapper, talented poet, and activist − has used his platform to address polarising issues like racism, capitalism and whitewashing of history. And now, the socially-conscious artist has revealed that he would “never say never” to a career in politics.

Creativity and politics has always been an interesting mix but looking at the way in which politics can be understood through creative pieces is amazing – through music especially. They help to carry a strong message while also reaching out to large audiences. The intersection of arts and political activism are two fields defined by a shared focus of creating engagement that shifts boundaries, changes relationships and creates new paradigms. (Blum, 2017). Within music, the above examples demonstrate clearly the way in which it is so important to continue to power through years of problems and obstacles with new ideas and programs including creativity to bring people together to understand politics through social cohesion.

Creativity presents features of life where it can highlight injustices or trends of the time helping us to understand the insight in Dada poet Hugo Ball’s claim that: “For us, art is not an end in itself … but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.” (Harris, 2017). As well as talking about injustices, creativity can lead to the formation of new political ideas in addition to solutions. This was seen particularly in the run up to Trump’s election and since November.

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