Music and Politics Series: When Politicians Attack

Music and politics often go hand-in-hand. Since the beginning of time, musicians have been voicing their concerns musically; lending voice to a public who may otherwise go unheard. It’s no wonder that the main focus of music and political discourse generally focuses on songs of protest. Despite the many musicians who gained local and worldwide fame because of their politically and socially charged lyrics, little attention is paid to the musicians who have suffered political backlash because of their artistry. Although the list of musicians who have been blacklisted is potentially endless, here are a few musicians who risked their lives to speak out against political injustices:


  • John Lennon, the former Beatle, was subject to political backlash in 1972. Under the Nixon Administration’s “strategic counter-measure” against Lennon’s anti-war activities, the administration began a four year plot to deport the singer. The measure began as the singer applied for – but was subsequently denied – permanent residency in the US. The immigration battle ended in 1975, after 281 pages of files from the US government were discovered. The files revealed that Lennon’s immigration status was being undermined by government officials conspiring to deport and silence the singer.
  • Fela Kuti, a Nigerian singer, was arrested in 1984 for currency smuggling by Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s government. Amnesty International denounced the arrest, saying it was politically motivated, and Kuti was released 20 months later.
  •   Gilberto Vil and Caetarno Veloso, Brazilian guitarists and singers, were arrested in early 1969 after televising a satirical version of the Brazilian national anthem in December 1968. They were arrested by the Brazilian military government, but were not told their charges. The musicians spent three months in prison and four months under house arrest. They were freed after agreeing to leave the country; the singers thereafter lived in exile in London, England.
  • Kurt Weill, German-Jewish composer, left Germany in 1933. The composer lived in exile in Paris, London and ultimately New York. Weill was a notable composer in Germany, but was denounced for his socialist views and populist sentiments. Prior to fleeing the country, Nazi authorities criticized his work and interfered with his stage performances.
  • Tashi Dhondup, a Tibetan singer, was arrested at gunpoint by four police officers, in 2008, for releasing songs with counter revolutionary content and for lyrics abut the suffering of Tibetans under Chinese rule. Following the arrest, the singer lived in hiding in the Xinig, Qinghad province after his album was banned. In December 2009, he was arrested again for releasing an album containing “subversive songs”. In January 2010, he was sentenced to 15 months of reeducation through labor. The singer was released from a hard labor camp in February 2011.
  • The Blue Notes, a mixed race South African music group made up of Dudu Pukana, Chris McGregor, Mongezi Feza, Nickele Moyake, Johnny Dyani and Louis Mohol. As mixed race groups were illegal under apartheid regimes, the group suffered harassment by authorities. The group eventually moved to Europe in 1964 to avoid harassment.

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