Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel III (Melt), 1980
All tracks written by Peter Gabriel

Music plays a critical role in raising public awareness about social and political movements that promote human rights around the world  This powerful Anti-Apartheid protest song pays tribute to South African activist and martyr Steve Biko. A 1977 article in Newsweek recounts the tragic final days of  Steve Biko's life. "Steven Biko sat naked in a prison cell and waited for nineteen days. When his captors were ready to interrogate him, they chained him in a chair for two days. Freed briefly, he somehow scuffled with the police and probably suffered severe head injuries. Biko's speech was incoherent and his breathing shallow when he was returned to his cell, and he lapsed into a coma that the police shrugged off as a feigned illness. He could not eat, but that was interpreted as a hunger strike, and prison doctors repeatedly failed to diagnose his brain damage. Finally Biko was put naked into the back of a Land-Rover and driven 800 miles from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria, allegedly for medical treatment. But the next day, the 30-year-old leader of South Africa's 'black consciousness' movement dies alone on the floor of his cell."

Appearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997, Daantje Siebert, one of the three officers who had been assigned to interrogate Biko confessed, "At this point, all three of us grabbed Biko and we took him to one corner of the room and ran with him into the wall...His head hit the wall first."

Many music critics and historians consider "Biko" to be one of the most important and influential protest songs of the 1980's. Interestingly, Peter Gabriel downplayed the significance and importance of this song in a 1980 interview, "I suppose; it is useful obviously if it does inform, so that now there are people who are aware of that when otherwise they would not have been. But I was very conscious about being hypocritical about that - because for a white Englishman with a comfortable home to portray something that is going on for a black person in South Africa is *can* be an influence - but I don't [think] that song will have much of an impact, a tangible impact, upon what happens in South Africa. But maybe it's part of a whole number of things which could increase external pressure from other countries on what goes on there...Books can be a much better source of social comment than rock songs, and yet rock songs get through to a much bigger audience..."

The soundtrack for the 1987 movie Cry Freedom, a biographical drama about Steve Biko, includes Gabriel's song. There was also a starship named USS Biko in the televison program StarTrek: The Next Generation (1987-1994).

Little Steven's "Sun City", Artists United Against Apartheid, 1985, is another song that sought to mobilize people and raise awareness about Apartheid. The Liner Notes to Sun City album state, "I would like to especially thank Peter Gabriel for the profound inspiration of his song BIKO which is where my journey to Africa began.."

Responding to a question regarding ways to promote positive change and make a difference in the world Little Steven advised, "Organize. It doesn't have to be a big issue. Focus on local, attainable goals. Keep learning. Keep growing. And never give up hope. There is a lot of us out here who feel the same way about things."

Source(s): Strasser, Steven with Peter Younghusband, "Biko's Last Days", Newsweek, November 28, 1977.
                 Interview; November 1980 from the
Bristol Recorder #2 -  Peter Gabriel - Interviews.
                 "Q & A Part 4", Little Steven Online.

Music and Lyric Resources:

Official Peter Gabriel Web Site

Real World

And Through The Wire - Peter Gabriel



Little Steven

Referenced and Related Works:

Black Consciousness Movement

ANC Freedom Charter

Maya Angelou's Poem, "Still I Rise"

Langston Hughes' "I Dream A World"

Address by President Nelson Mandela

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, "I Have A Dream"

United Nation's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights"

Legend of The Starfish

Constructed Response Activity

Sun City Project      (external link)

Cry Freedom (1987)     (external link)

African National Congress    (external link)

Nelson Mandela Foundation       (external link)

YouTube – “Biko” (external link)

YouTube – “Biko Live” (external link)

YouTube – “Sun City” (external link)

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