Heritage month is around the corner, an annual ritual that really relies on the arts to communicate our collective heritage. But nothing comes close to capturing the spirit of the youth of colour, both urban and rural, like ‘Spirit’ by Kwesta featuring U.S rapper Wale.

Spirit, a stimulus of power to strength and strength to power, epitomise the everyday struggles faced by youth of colour in a society that has a strong history of segregation and emphasises the idea that survival is the only way. The title, ‘Spirit’ makes the song even more closely linked with the liberation struggle of South Africa and the resilient spirit of its people. From spinning cars and church scenes to clubs and taxi fares, the visuals depicted in the music video reaffirms its message of pure South Africanness.

It’s an anthem for today’s youth and does not shy away from depicting the current socio-political challenges, of (un)employment, education (Fee Free Quality Education and yes ‘decolonised’ at that), gender and poverty amid race and age discrimination.

The song captures the essence of keeping strong in all adversity, feelings not just reserved for previously disadvantaged but for anyone seeking courage and strength. The collaboration with Wale, also signifies the shared human struggles of black people across the globe. making the song earn its place in the International space of modern storytelling, cultural collaboration, activism and motivation.

According to Patricia F Ransom in her abstract, Message in the Music: Do Lyrics Influence Well-Being? She found that, “Music has long been an effective way to communicate to the masses and lyrics have played a massive role in delivering this communication. Yet the opportunity for research on the role lyrics play in well-being is vastly underutilised.”

Ransom explores the relationship between lyrics and positive psychology and finds that lyrics have the potential to increase two of the five elements of well-being in the PERMA model (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement), representing the five elements coined by Martin Seligman, in what makes up the “good life” for that genuine and sustained happiness and well-being.

The argument goes that you can increase well-being by mindfully listening to meaning-filled lyrics reinforced by music’s ability to influence emotion, bearing in mind the availability and commonality of music.

Years ago, Plato is quoted as having said, “Any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state, and ought to be prohibited” further cautioning “when modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state always change with them.”  More recently, South Africa, has heard of court cases where some liberation struggle songs have been listed as inciting hatred and violence. Generally, there has been a distrust of youth-oriented music and such is effortlessly countered as Kwesta continues with his message addressing the state of a nation desperate to self-inspire, with burning aspirations, the will and the ‘Spirit’:

[Chorus: Kwesta]
Awu mpintshi Spirit
Ungaphel’ umoya saan, ntwana yam
Aw ngisho wena, aw ngisho wena, ntwana yam
Ay wena, aibo, ngisho wena

The chorus is accompanied by metaphors for what ‘Spirit’ means to South Africans. We see the late and iconic Brenda Fassie, who too in her own way captured the hearts and minds of the world. A mother carrying a baby in a skeleton of a house, behind her a fire is burning, Kwesta is seated in what looks like your granny’s house complete with crochet curtains and porcelain dogs.

The video is intercut with a variety of colourful scenes that can only be described as typically South African: kids jumping on a bed, police holding their line against protestors, spaza shops, taxi drivers and a young lady putting on makeup. From one Kasi (township) to another, the scenes move between the unique everyday black heroes who hustle to make ends meet while fire and burning tyres symbolise the oppressive and unjust system within which they live. The video serves as a reminder of the struggles of the past and present and is a reminder of a better South Africa we all want.

Music has the ability to mobilise and organise the masses, it dominates modern culture and social movements, singing or rapping about the realities of the majority. Songs from PRO Kid, Busiswa, Trompies, Amanda Black, Zakwe, Miss Pru, Siphokazi, Duncan and Sjava amongst others use lyrics that evoke familiar environments and cultural traditions thus uniquely expressing the communal identities through their engaging music and videos. Spirit is no different. Through a long history of music that encapsulates our socio-political environment, South African artists like Kwesta just get it right and do us proud.