Earlier on this year, I collaborated with Oualid Khelifi, a friend from Algeria, on a podcast episode of KONJO’s ‘Talking Drum’. In some ways this collaboration brought us to think through the ways music has been seen as both a threat and an asset to the construction of the nation state. In this instance, we spoke about the assassination of esteemed rai artist, Cheb Hasni during Algeria’s civil war.
The episode dropped during the second week of Israel’s most recent escalation of their violent (and illegal) occupation of Palestine; the IOF storming al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, the order to forcibly remove Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, and the subsequent 11 day attack on the Gaza Strip that left over 200 Palestinians dead. That week, Algiers (like many cities elsewhere in the world) erupted with solidarity marches, not just in opposition to Israeli apartheid, but in support of Palestinian resistance. The distinction is important. What does it mean to not just oppose the oppression and ethnic cleansing of a people, but also actively support the resistance of those people?
Working on this episode with Oualid got me to revisit some of the historical connections between Algerian and South African resistance movements. After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, his first international trip was to Algeria to acknowledge their solidarity against apartheid. Granted, the man who walked out of Robben Island was not the same man who went in. The Mandela who got captured in 1962 had quite literally just returned from receiving military training at an Algerian FLN camp in Morocco as the founder of UmKhonto we Sizwe. Some say it was Israel’s Mossad who actually leaked the photographic evidence of this encounter.I haven’t found any evidence backing up this claim, but it is especially interesting given that Israel — who we all know supported the apartheid government with arms — claimed to have Mossad records that detail Israel’s assisting Mandela with resistance military training in Ethiopia in 1962. This information was strategically released a few days after Mandela’s death in 2013. That same year, Ethiopia also provided Mandela with combat training. What I’m interested in here is not just the fact that Mandela was not a pacifist (as many might want us to believe), but also that there existed this intricate network across the African continent and even the African diaspora of active support of each others resistance eﬀorts against the presence and legacies of settler-colonialism.
MK had guerrilla training camps and programmes across Tanzania, Angola, Algeria, Cuba, Egypt and Ethiopia. We also know that MK guerrillas were stationed in Angola to assist the MPLA’s struggle against SADF-backed UNITA. Cuba, arguably the expert in internationalist eﬀorts, also sent troops to support MPLA resistance in the Angolan border war.
Lesser known, (to me anyway) is that along with military soldiers and doctors, Cuba also sent brigades of musicians, brigadas artísticas, to play for Angolan and Cuban troops, but most importantly for Angolan civilians in the hinterland. Indeed, to be an artist is to be engaged in social service. One of the more prominent groups engaged in this work were Cuarteto Los Cañas and Grupo Manguare.
Whilst it’s important to not romanticise some of the activities of MK, many MK training camps held music education and radio as part of their training programmes. It was the muziki wa dansi clubs in Tanzania which held covert political meetings of transnational political organising across southern Africa. Now I’m not big on Bob Marley, but the guy flew himself and The Wailers out to Harare to perform at Zimbabwe’s independence celebration concert…at his own personal cost. Marley’s Survival was the bestselling foreign album in Zimbabwe at the time. It is no revelation for me to say that music and political resistance have always been engaged in an intimate dance.
Today, in response to Israel’s escalation in Palestine, Bethlehem, Amman & Ramallah-based communal internet station, Radio Alhara, has been engaged in “The Sonic Liberation Front”; programming committed to express protest against the occupation’s state, and to stand up for Palestinian lives, dignity and liberation. This programming eﬀort has been met with expressions of sonic solidarity from DJ and radio collectives from around world (from Colombia to South Africa) contributing content towards The Front; a renewed understanding that our freedoms are still inherently linked. The mix I have put together for this issue of HERRI speaks to this fact. Settler-colonialism, and the legacies thereof are not something of the past. Palestine, Guam, Western-Sahara, Puerto-Rico, Reunion Island are all still occupied territories.
There are these historical networks of transnational solidarity and active mobilisation against oppression that seem to be a) forgotten, b), under-documented, and c) under-utilised. Drawing from some of the regions that assisted MK’s training in exile, my mix is a speculative offering that imagines what a transnational sonic liberation front might sound like; energising, serenading, soothing and revitalising in pursuit of meaningful self-determination and freedom beyond the limits of the nation-state.
Aluta do povo ejusta. The people’s struggle is just.
|1.||I haven’t found any evidence backing up this claim, but it is especially interesting given that Israel — who we all know supported the apartheid government with arms — claimed to have Mossad records that detail Israel’s assisting Mandela with resistance military training in Ethiopia in 1962. This information was strategically released a few days after Mandela’s death in 2013.|