Transforming the Community through Anti-Apartheid Singing Summary
On Tuesday, April 12, 2016 the Desmond Tutu Center, along with the Choral Peacebuilding Project at Butler University, hosted Transforming our Community through Anti-Apartheid Singing. The event was designed by Tutu Fellow, John Perkins and featured Desmond Tutu Center’s Executive Director Allan Boesak and Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Ysaye Barnwell. The evening started with the Hamilton Heights Middle School Choir singing “Freedom is Coming” by Anders Neiberg. Their gentle, yet powerful voices set the stage for an inspiring discussion between Allan Boesak and Ysaye Barnwell.
Boesak began the conversation by posing the question: “How do we keep our spirits alive?” He recalls the importance and significance of Sweet Honey and the Rock’s music in his time during the anti-
apartheid struggle and how unforgettable their songs were for Boesak’s generation. Boesak explained the importanc
e of standing side by side during a march and took the time to unravel the beautiful call of a song as a unifying force. Unlike words he explained, signing in community highlights the collective, where as a speech highlights the man. Boesak said after a pause, “the blood that unites us and the dreams that hold us together are stronger than the ocean that divides us.”
He went on to unpack the effect “struggle music” (songs that convey hope set to music) has on communities and their citizens. “Struggle music” is life affirming and tells you that no matter what struggle you have, there is life, there is something else out there. He shares the risk and fear of not knowing if one will be alive at the end of that day in the face of struggle, but song as the teller of a deeper, undescribable meaning behind a struggle. In Boesak’s case, the peaceful anti-apartheid struggle. Boesak shared an example from Cape Town in the 1980s when students overcame police oppr
ession with freedom music, they sang, “Our songs have been sun all over the world, our struggle is not ours alone, we all share it.”
Next, Boesak handed the discussion over to Ysaye Barnwell, who at the onset, provoked the audience to think. She said, “why have we stopped singing together,
where are the songs?” She brought up the Black Lives Matter movement and asks,
“where are the songs of the civil rights movement? Why aren’t we singing as a community?” In the way only Barnwell could do, she lead the audience in an anti-apartheid song “Senzeni Na,” which Boesak described as a song that translates to “what have we done?” The song is sung to recognize the loss of someone not just in the family, but a loss in the community. It teaches us to not just mourn, but to mobilize and change the situation that caused the death. Barnwell began singing Senzeni Na and the Butler Choir, along with most of the audience, joined her in learning and singing the inspiring song. As a community, we sang.
To end the evening, we heard a little discussion from the panel, starting with composer James Aikman speaking to his original work, ‘Peacemakers,’ dedicated to some of the great peacemakers in history, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, and more. Aikman wants to inspire the audience to listen to his peace and encourage them to learn more about these great peacemakers and follow in their footsteps.
The audience participated in a short question and answer discussion, with one audience member asking, “Does peace mean justice?” to which our panel members answered that peace is not possible without justice. Boesak answere, “those who have struggled learned what peace and justice means when one breath is filled with song and the next is filled with tear gas. That is when you understand pursuit of peace.”
We finished the evening by sending a positive message to the youth in the audience and ultimately the youth in the community, reminding them that even a smile is a charity and looking out for each other is key.
Written by Anna Krukover