Akanaki Nokunaka

In the late 1990s, my two young sons and I spent a lot of time in the Manitoba Children’s Museum, as we had a membership to it as well as the Manitoba Museum (I recall there was some package deal among museums). We didn’t have much money at the time, so these places were good value for entertainment, learning and fun.

While at the Manitoba Museum complex, we’d go to the Planetarium and would often catch one of the shows under the planetarium dome. I was a shift worker back then, and almost always fell asleep in the dark of the dome theatre during the show.

On one visit to the Children’s Museum gift shop, while the boys looked through the toys and books after I agreed they could buy something with their weekly allowances, I picked up a cassette tape called One World, a Putumayo World Music compilation.

Photo of a cassette tape and case, laying on a blue bandana.
One World cassette tape. Photo © Steve West.

Whenever I’d pick the boys up from school, after-school care or their mom’s, they’d often call out for today’s selection to be played (“the akanaki song”). I can still picture them joyfully bopping in the back seat to the catchy beat. It sounded to us like a happy song, and it was only later when reading the cassette tape notes that I discovered the lyrics “… tell the sad tale of a black home destroyed by the country’s security forces.” We later talked about the meaning of the song as a reminder of how fortunate we were to be living in Canada.

“Abangiyeke mina sengidelile
(Let them leave me alone, I have taken enough)
Kahle’ mfowethu kodwa yini?
(Gently my brother, what is the matter?)
Ubani ongasula izinyembezi
(Who can wipe away the tears)
Ezawela phansi esigodini sakithi?
(That have fallen in our valley district?)
Saswela amandla ngalelolanga
(We had no power left to resist on that day)
Mhla saphela isigodi sakithi
(The day our valley-district was destroyed)
Akanaki nokunaka
(He doesn’t care)
Hawu bheke G.G.
(Just look at G.G.)
Umuzi kababa
(My father’s home)
Wawuthela efusini
(He removes and pours it out into a wasteland)
Wabona ukuthi ngiswela amandla
(He saw I had no power left to resist)”

(“Akanaki Nokunaka,” by Johnny Clegg)

I haven’t made it a habit to reflect world events on my blog, generally. But with this week’s protests and rioting in the United States following the death of a black man while in police custody, I felt that as a privileged white man, I should acknowledge and speak up about the terrible ways that many governments oppress people of colour.

My own country, Canada, has a shameful legacy of ongoing mistreatment of and disrespect for our Indigenous people, as well as the profoundly distressing, continuing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

In my opinion, these issues are all symptoms of a society dominated and diseased by toxic masculinity and greed.

The One World tape’s notes speak of the power of music as a way toward political and social change, and of the idea that we humans are all one family, one world. It doesn’t feel like that right now as multi-billionaires get richer every second of every day, extracting wealth while polluting the earth and exploiting poorly-paid workers. At the same time, many people live in tin shacks and are starving and diseased.

Many people cannot wait for the world to “get back to normal” as the global pandemic begins to recede in many areas (this first wave, anyway). I don’t have a better way in mind, but there has to be a way that all the world’s people can live in harmony, with food, water, shelter and safety for everyone.

But governments in my city of Winnipeg and province of Manitoba have gone in the opposite direction: they’ve let down the most vulnerable in our communities. Both have deeply entrenched themselves in the populist approach of reducing taxes, which really only benefits the affluent. Organizations like the United Nations have roles to play in bettering the world for everyone, creating the one world we often hear of. But they are undermined by inner and external power struggles and the selfish, nationalistic approaches of member countries. Sometimes it’s a challenge to have hope for a better future.

I hadn’t heard today’s song in many, many years, but it came to mind as I thought over world events. Before buying the track in the iTunes Store today, I only had it on cassette, and haven’t used a cassette player more than half a dozen times in the last decade. The cassette also contains songs by other artists including Peter Gabriel, Toni Childs, Bob Marley, and Gipsy Kings, among others.

The South Africa band Juluka’s bandleader and lead singer Johnny Clegg died last summer. A friend and former colleague, who was born and raised in South Africa, was on Facebook sharing her memories of Clegg the day his death was confirmed. My friend and I had a back and forth while I tried to recall the song from a vague memory of it being a protest song, with a fast beat. She sent a few videos as guesses, but we couldn’t find it. I don’t recall how I finally landed on it, or where I dug up the cassette, but in the end, I found a video, the one I’m sharing with you today.

My initial misreading of the song many years ago reminds me that it’s crucial to be open and to look deeper to find the full and accurate story, and to work together to find solutions to problems and conflicts.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thank you for joining me here.

Here’s the audio for the song from the Juluka (topic) YouTube channel:

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