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
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 questionable...it *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 "
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,
Interview; November 1980 from the
"Q & A Part 4", Little Steven Online.
Music and Lyric Resources:
Referenced and Related Works:
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)