Peter Gabriel – Biko

• “Biko” set to a lyrics and story slideshow. Thanks indeed to Steely Ben.

9.4 “Classic Folk Rock / Americana from England”

From his album “Peter Gabriel [1980]” (Charisma CDS-4019), released in 1980.

“It’s better to die for an idea that will live than to live for an idea that will die”

~ Biko

Stephen Bantu Biko (18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977) was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, until his death while in police custody.

On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 and interrogated by the Port Elizabeth security police, including officers Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. The interrogation took place in Police Room 619 of the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth. The 22-hour interrogation included torture and beatings, sending Biko into a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody at the Walmer Police Station in a suburb of Port Elizabeth, and was chained to a window grille for a day.

On 11 September 1977, police loaded him into the back of a Land Rover, naked and manacled, for a 1,100-kilometre (680 mi) drive to Pretoria, where there was a prison that had hospital facilities. He was nearly dead from his injuries, and died shortly after he arrived at the Pretoria prison on 12 September.

No policemen were ever charged with his murder.

Nelson Mandela said of Biko: “They had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid.

What a superb job Peter Gabriel made of this one; he was very well read on the matter and this dignified end-result strengthened Biko’s immortality on a worldwide scale.

The beginning and end of the song were based on traditional South African funeral music (both were sung at Biko’s funeral) and at various points Gabriel sings “yihla moja” (“spirit come down”) in Biko’s native tongue, Xhosa.

The song ends poignantly with a mourning choir; over and over they sing Senzeni na? (What have we done?)

When sung in full the lyrics to this funereal dirge are extremely powerful:

Senzeni na? (What have we done?)
Sono sethu, ubumnyama? (Our sin is that we are black?)
Sono sethu yinyaniso? (Our sin is the truth.)
Sibulawayo. (They are killing us.)
Mayibuye i Africa. (Let Africa return.)

I’m so glad to have finally collected this. Solo Peter Gabriel was two Leagues above Genesis. I forgive him.

Which is more than I can say for racist pigs.

You can check my favoured album reviews from 1980 here.


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