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In his article “Daily Life in Black Africa: Elements for a Critique,” author Paulin Houtondji offers his perceptions of several aspects of life in Africa. His statements are explicit, observant, harsh, and backed up with examples and anecdotes. Many African pop musicians provide similarly critical assessments of various aspects of African life, but they choose to do so in a much subtler way. Houtondji’s criticism of Africa for its serious failure is similar to that of artists like musician E.T. Mensah, who uses upbeat music to lessen the sting of his subversive lyrics. In fact, so deceivingly happy is the sound of the music that missing the entire message of the song is highly possible. His candor and blatancy in expressing his opinion, however, also parallels the work of artists like Fela Kuti, Unsung Heroes, and Prophets of Da City.
Though Houtondji and many musicians share the common goal of improving society, or at least highlighting its flaws, the parties focus on different aspects of society, and probably garner different results. To a Western reader, Houtondji and his writings may seem more serious, scholarly, and even competent, even for such a simple reason as a societal bias towards the written word over the spoken. On the other hand, taking into account the low literacy rates in much of Africa, as well as the aural language, the situation may be the opposite in Africa. The spoken, or sung, word should prove highly effective in addressing social wrongs, suggesting societal change, or calling people to action. Using words as weapons is not uncommon, and they are effective both set to music and written.
A preliminary reading of Houtondji’s article leads to a c...
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Words are often used as effective weapons in written and verbal war. Though seemingly non-violent, these conflicts contain elements of violence, and can thus prove highly painful. In his article “Daily Life in Black Africa: Elements for a Critique,” author Paulin Houtondji criticizes superficial problems in daily life in Africa, while hinting at the issues of the bigger picture. Similar to this approach, E.T. Mensah uses music to soften the blow of his loaded words. Other pop musicians, such as Fela Kuti, choose not to be sensitive to their audiences, and instead assault them with politically charged lyrics, calling them to action and demanding social change. Both approaches and styles are effective, but an audience’s receptiveness and perception may be the most important determining factors of an artist’s success in issuing a call for change.
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