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namibiaProlonged contact with record traders in the former East Bloc countries has led me to amass a small collection of political propaganda records, usually in the form of pleasant but sterile pop or operatic tunes about the greatness of the Party, the Leader, and the Homeland. Since receiving my first commie agit-prop vinyl from a friend in Bulgaria about a dozen years ago, I’ve found similar recordings from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, India, and elsewhere. I tend to prefer these non-European political recordings, as the state orchestras that dominate the catalogues of labels like Balkanton and Melodiya are a bit too reserved and bland for my taste.

Political music from Africa, however, is another matter. There are the big names like Fela Kuti and Thomas Mapfumo who certainly paid dearly for their boldness in addressing political topics, and made wonderful, vital and energetic music in the process. There are also a plethora of other recordings connected to various specific political movements, particularly during the period of decolonization of Africa that arguably ended in the 1990s. The first successful decolonization movement of that decade on African soil led to the liberation of the southern African country of Namibia, which won its independence from apartheid-ruled South Africa on March 21, 1990 following the end of the 22-year long Namibian War of Independence in 1988.

The belligerent on the Namibian side of the conflict was a guerrilla organization known as the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO), formed in 1966 after decades of Namibian resistance organized around the Lutheran Church (brought to Namibia by the country’s original colonial occupier, Germany). A choir composed of SWAPO partisans is heard on today’s recording, taken from a 4-song EP called Freedom Songs of Namibia released in Belgium. According to the back sleeve, the songs on this EP were recorded in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and used as the soundtrack to the film SWAPO Fights to Liberate Namibia (Politifilm, Brussels). Searching Google for that title brings up several SWAPO posters from 1974-1975 bearing that slogan, so I’m guessing these recordings were probably made around that time.

As in the case of other former guerrilla organizations in Africa (like the MPLA in Angola or the EPRDF in Ethiopia), since independence SWAPO has transformed into the country’s dominant political party.

SWAPO- Freedom Songs of Namibia (Agitat, date unknown)