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Music, Pop Culture and Youth Participation Ahead of 2019 ELECTIONS By Ewa Mebiri

In Africa, music plays a vital role in mobilization, sensitization, socialization and cultural transmission. Music’s immense influence was evident in the struggle for independence in most African countries. Rallies, protests, and movements were laced with music and dances; musicians released albums that were filled with contents calling for the emancipation of their countries. More recently, musicians have been promoting youth participation and leading democracy movements.

It is notable that an increasing number of musicians in Africa have shown deep commitment to democratic values in recent years.  Y’en a Marre of Senegal is an illustrative example.  In Burkina Faso, the Balai Citoyen Movement was inspired by Y’en a Marre and others in Senegal. Y’en a Marre in fact worked with fellow rappers in Burkina Faso to help strengthen the Movement.  The recent #GambiaHasDecided campaign benefited from the participation of popular musicians, such as Gee Bala-Gaye and others.  Youth groups in Nigeria have also worked with famous musicians, such as Tuface, M.I. Abaga, Banky W, and others in various campaigns.

Music plays a central role in communicating the needs and interests of the public.  It is a transcendent force that shapes culture and allows musicians’ access to the grassroots, political elites, and the mass public.  Leveraging musician’s ability to span these different terrains can be important for promoting popular youth participation as Nigerians go to the polls in February and March 2019.

Considering that people under the age of 35 constitute about 65% of Nigeria’s population, it is imperative to study the type of music they listen to, the content of such music and the impact it has on their political decisions.

An artist who produces a song tends to pass message (hence ensuring that communication is achieved) to his listeners. Fela Anikulapo Kuti, for instance, was famously known for speaking the truth in his genre of music which he was arrested for severally by the government. Fela in his time started a movement known as the ‘Black Power Movement’. A movement of the people which in one way or the other boosted political participation. Today, Femi Kuti and some other great Nigerian artists have been preaching the good news of good governance and youth participation through their songs.

Artistes are not, and cannot always be politically neutral; their art requires them to speak to and for society lyrically and in ways that can sensitize and mobilize people towards certain goals. The goal for music and popular culture towards the 2019 General Elections would be to increase youth participation. Since 2003, voter turn out has been steadily declining in Nigerian elections. 2019 provides an opportunity to reverse this trend, mobilize especially first time voters and support youth candidates.

As events activities leading up to the 2019 General Elections commence, political parties are leveraging on music and pop culture to promote youth participation and ultimately increase their votes for various candidates. Political party conventions and primaries witnessed performances from artistes and comedians and recently, one candidate during the Osun gubernatorial elections was endorsed by a popular music artiste.

Electoral management bodies Africa, such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria must also take the opportunity that music affords as a tool for mass mobilization and sensitization. As part of efforts aimed at promoting youth participation, music and pop culture should play an integral role in voter education and get-out-the-vote initiatives.

The power of music and pop culture can undoubtedly boost popular youth participation, serve as a watchdog on elected representatives, act as a tool for citizens to communicate with their government and exercise their rights at the ballot.

Music communicates to people in ways that go beyond rational argumentation. It touches their souls, and greatly impacts on their lives. When properly utilized, music can help create an opportunity for society (especially young men and women) to value their participation throughout the electoral cycle.

Ewa is a volunteer in the Youth Program at YIAGA AFRICA.

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