Black History: Remembering How Hip Hop Took on Apartheid…
by Davey D
One of the most under appreciated and least talked about collaborative efforts that involved Hip Hop was the Artists United Against Apartheid and the The boycott of Sun City. For those who don’t recall Sun City was this ultra lavish resort in this ‘phony’ country set up by the South African government called Bophuthatswana. This was like a country inside a country kind of like an Indian Reservation of sorts. Sun City was basically South Africa’s version of Las Vegas and was set up to be this place where rich folks could go ‘play and get decadent and then return back to SA proper.
In South Africa under the Apartheid regime there were 4 or 5 of these fake/ reservation like countries called Homelands where Blacks were forced to live in overcrowded miserable conditions. They were moved off their traditional lands onto these ‘independent’ homelands while still being still forced to work amongst Afrikaners and subjected to her harsh Apartheid rules that called for strict racial separation. It was in South Africa that Blacks who were the 75% of the population and native to the land were subjected to all sorts of humiliations including not being allowed to live on any of the good land and having to show a special ID everytime they traveled from one place to another. These rules of racial separations were brutally enforced with the Afrikaner government going all out to crush any and all rebellions.
Many asked how was it that a country where Blacks were the overwhelming majority they could be under such harsh rule.. Sadly the South African Afrikaner government had two staunch prominent allies who stood in solid support. They were the US and Israel. Both these countries supplies weapons, resources and protection. Israel worked with the Afrikaner government to develop nuclear weapons and signed some sort of secret treaty to test them.
Worldwide condemnation picked up at the time President Ronald Regan was in office and he stood firm, vetoing any attempts to smash on Apartheid via the United Nations. He said the US had a constructive engagement policy..which basically meant business as usual..while they would say ‘Apartheid was the most desireable way to govern. At one point he even sent prominent minister Jerry Falwell over to South Africa to insure the Afrikaners the US was behind them. Both Israel and the US justified their stance because they didn’t want SA to get help from the Soviets.
South Africa’s Afrikaner government used Sun City as a way to give the country a nice look and by inviting A-list entertainers and showing them a good time, they would further highlight themselves via these defacto ambassadors. Since Regan wasn’t going to back any attempts to officially boycott South Africa, the music and entertainment industry’s launched their own boycott.. people like Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Sprinstein’s E- Street Band kicked things off and formed the group. He gathered up prominent rock musicians like; Bob Dylan, Bono, Peter Gabriel, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jackson Browne, Ringo Starr Pat Benatar, and Joey Ramone to name a few.. Joining them were legends like Miles Davis, Eddie Kendricks, Bobby Womack, Nona Hendryx, Herbie Hancock, George Clinton, Jimmy Cliff, and David Ruffin.
Rounding out this all-star line up were prominent Hip Hop artists, including pioneers DJ Kool Herc, Africa Bambaataa, Mele-Mel, The Fat Boys, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow and Gil Scott Heron.. Arthur Baker who is best known for producing Planet Rock along with Afrika Bambaataa was also on board.
The overall gist was to shame any entertainer or athlete who defied the UN sanctioned boycott and played Sun City for the large sums of money they offered. For the most part it worked, but there were a few like Queen, golfer Lee Travino, Frank Sinatra, Linda Ronstadt, the O’Jays, Ray Charles and Rod Stewart who had no qualms breaking the boycott and in doing so giving credibility to the South Africa regime.
Here are two land mark songs from the landmark Sun City album where Hip Hop left its footprints.. Props out to the pioneers who really put it down especially Mele-Mel and Kurtis Blow. What I like most about this joint is hearing Gil Scott Heron who was an obvious precursor to modern day rap doing his thing along side them. His commentary underscored everything that was happening. I was impressed with the way he paralled the struggle for equality here in the US along with what was going on in South Africa.
In order to fully appreciate this other cut Revolutionary Situation which is basically sound clips and samples over hard hitting beats is to hear it in full stereo. That wasn’t fully captured during this particular recording. Produced by drummer Keith Leblanc who did the song Malcom X on Tommy Boy record, this the entire songs has sounds coming out of left and right speakers. They range from Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zindi , Bishop Desmond Tutu, Alan Boesak, and Steve Biko and Ronald Regan. You get this sense of urgency that at any minute South Africa is gonna explode if the walls of Apartheid don’t crumble. Hearing Ronald Regan inside this song makes you realize how utterly out of touch and mean-spirited we sounded as a country.. . Sadly it was because of this exposure of Regan’s insensitivity that ‘Sun City’ got limited airplay and PBS refused to air the documentary that went alongside making this album.
Coming off the Sun City album which raised about a million dollars many in Hip Hop kept the message alive. there was the big divestment movement at UC Berkeley. myself and my crew did an anti-Apartheid song that was played during rallies. Others like Afrika Bambaataa who’s pioneering Zulu Nation organization was named after the South African tribe who fearlessly fought the Dutch, took it a step further and started doing concerts overseas where he raised money for the African National Congress. Bam will be the first to tell you that he was inspired after seeing the movie Zulu to form his organization and later adapt certain things including battle strategies from them. Hip Hop had been acknowledging South Africa and her freedom struggle from day one..
Also in that vein was Arrested Development who also donated money to the ANC and if memory serves me correctly performed when Mandela came to Oakland at the conclusion of his Free South Africa tour
One of the most prominent groups to address the issue of Apartheid was Stetsasonic the original Hip Hop band. They did a song that sampled Jesse Jackson who had just come off making a historic run for President. The song was called Free South Africa and was not only a 12 inch single that was promoted and pushed, but had an accompanying video..
Y’all remember this?