In my school years, back in the old motherland, the teachers made no secret of the fact that the only students worth their time and effort were the future doctors, engineers and potentially wealthy lawyers. The irony of the fact that they were none of those professions was lost on them, as they pushed us to master theorems and formulas that have since been made obsolete by technology and other advancements.
I wasn’t daft in those courses, but I struggled with Physics so badly that both the teacher and I couldn’t wait for my second year in high school, when I was able to say goodbye to velocities and swinging pendulums for good- the man was at his wits end with me and I can’t say I blamed him.
I digress though because this post is not about my struggles in the sciences, but rather of the relative importance of arts over sciences in real life. The art of speaking for instance (which landed me on the noise-maker’s list one too many times) is a skill that has won more wars than the science of shooting bullets. Whether in the form of diplomacy, or a political leader that knows how to create just the right emotions in people using simple words, this has been a skill that should have been taught and developed more, especially in conjunction with its cousin, “listening”. Nelson Mandela is known more for his oratory skills than for what he created in a lab. So are MLK, JFK and more recently BO (sorry Barrack, your initials don’t lend themselves well to abbreviation). They stirred emotions that resulted in the kind of monumental change that may take another Einstein to produce in scientific terms and in most cases, we are the better for it.
However, the art forms that have me even more enthralled are music and drama. Listening to Bob Marley’s music, such as his songs “war”, “redemption song” etc. speaks so clearly to cultural and societal realities than any economist ever could. He was not beholden to prior ideologies when he stated that “until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior, is finally, and permanently, eradicated and abandoned, everywhere is war”, which was a call to colonized African countries to keep fighting for their freedoms then, just as much as it speaks to current efforts by the Black Lives Matter movement.
And who can forget Nina Simone, singing about Governor Wallace’s madness in real time, at such a time when black bodies could disappear without anyone as much as blinking an eye. Even in times when such musicians did not drive change directly, they inspired others by creating rallying cries that could reach more masses than the leaders’ words.
Who can forget Tupac: the one true prophet of my generation (in my humble and completely biased opinion). I still get goosebumps when I listen to “changes” because the underlying feeling then, is one that so many today still feel: “is life worth living should I blast myself?” may sound morbid but it’s an honest question against the backdrop of issues like police brutality for the simple act of “existing while black”. In the same song, he castigated drug dealers who sold to children or used children as potters, an observation that carried more weight coming from an “insider” in the community and I’d like to believe that he may have saved a child’s life.
John Lennon’s “imagine” is perhaps an antidote to the hopelessness that Tupac felt because he creates an image of a time where we do not use god (small g intentional) to justify hate, or a time when we are no longer valued on the basis of possessions, or things but as human beings. Period.
There are so many such lyrical prophets across all musical genres but what I find interesting is that the most gifted ones died way too young, often times under a gunman’s hand or under suspicious circumstances.
Case in point, Hachalu Hundessa from Ethopia was murdered recenty, and while I don’t know his music, his story is no different from all other artists who knowingly or accidentally drove social change. Something about their messages drives those opposed to their ideals so mad that silencing them becomes the only way “out”. And yet that does not in any way diminish their music or art, infact it often amplifies it. I mourn with Ethiopian music lovers for the loss of their poet but also know that in death, Mr. Hundessa has created a generation of believers, perhaps even more than he would have in life; heck I am seeking out his music now, even though I don’t understand the lyrics.
So yes, as a mother raised on the “science is better” mantra, I do have to fight the nagging voice that wants to look down on the arts, which should rightfully be viewed as equal to sciences in terms of real change (yes science, we know penicillin was a life changer thanks to you- no shade intended at all)
As a maturing mother though, I pray that I’ll allow my children to use their voice in whichever way God meant for it to be used. I want to give them the platform they need to hit people’s consciousness with their art because “one good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain”.
RIP Bob Marley, RIP Tupac, RIP Nina Simone, RIP Hachalu Hundessa