Did you catch my news artcle about anti-bullying a few weeks ago? If not, you may want to look at it (click here). In that article I talked about someone called Annie Lynn who has written music to say ‘Stop That!’ to bullies.

Well today I want to tell you about more anti-bullying music. When I wrote that article a while ago, I had forgotten just how common music about bullying is. There is literally tons of music about bullying. In fact, it seems that bullying one of the most common themes in music—no kidding!! I think this must be because people who are bullied feel trapped and have no other way to express themselves. As I have said in the anti-bullying aritcle—as well as the Why is Music Important? page—people often use music when their feelings are too strong for words.

So where is all this music about bullying? And what made me realise that bullying is one of the most common themes in music?

Well it was two concerts I went to recently by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO). One was a concert of Symphony No. 4 by Dmitri Shostakovich. And the other was a concert by the jazz artist Hugh Masekela.

On the surface, these concerts were very different. The Shostakovich one was very serious modern classical music. The music sounded harsh, scary, and sad. On the other hand, the Hugh Masekela concert was jazz. Much of the music was enjoyable, inviting and uplifting. It was the complete opposite of Shostakovich’s…

Except what it was all about. The music of both concerts was about bullying. Not the sort of bullying you might see at school—but about bullying by governments—a sort of bullying where you fear for your life.

Shostakovich lived in Russia during a time when the government of Russia was killing lots of people and sending lots of others to prison. It was a very very scary place to be in. Shostakovch himself feared that these things might happen to him. And he wrote his Symphony No. 4 to say what that fear felt like. He described the fear so well that he had to hide this music for 25 years in case the government saw it! It’s no wonder, then, that Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4 is harsh, scary and sad.

Hugh Masekela is a Black South African. He lived during the years of apartheid in South Africa. This was a time when Blacks were bullied by the governemt. They were told where to live, where to walk, where to sit… And many were killed or put in prison for disobeying. However, unlike Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4, Hugh Masekela’s music is not so much about fear. Instead it is about the determination not to be bullied—a determination not to give in and become very sad—and about the longing for freedom.

Shostakovich never lived to see complete freedom in his country. But Hugh Masekela has. Black people are now free from the evil of apartheid. And that really is something to sing about. So when Hugh Masekela and his old friends sang the new South African national anthem, ‘Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika’, one of the old men was crying.

And in that moment I understood more about what it means to be bullied than words could ever say.

I wonder if you too can understand this by watching this video?

‘Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika’ performed by Hugh Masekela and others (including his wife, Miriam Makeba)

Video credits
  1. NKosi Sikeleli Africa (African National Anthem)- With Miriam Makeba, Paul Simon, Black Mambazo, etc. The person who put this on YouTube writes: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (“God Bless Africa” in Xhosa language), is unofficially called the African National Anthem, anthem of the African National Congress (ANC), and has historically been the unofficial national anthem of South Africa during its apartheid era, representing the suffering of the oppressed. There is more information about this one on the video’s YouTube page.