Back in the early twentieth century when the unions were first trying to organize workers in the United States to stand up for their rights and fight for safe working conditions and the novel 40 hour work week, they had the problem of trying to educate people of various backgrounds and levels of literacy.
They found that music allowed them to communicate to large numbers of people at one time and they didn't have to worry about whether or not someone could read to be given information.
People like Joe Hill and others would either compose original songs that spelled out the issues or, even better, take old songs whose tunes people were familiar with and give them new lyrics more appropriate to their circumstances and situation. If you've got 20,000 miners standing around in the freezing cold looking to be inspired, it's far better to have some guy get up and sing "Solidarity Forever" then have them listen to some person droning on for five minutes on the same subject.
Not only is it more entertaining to listen to music then speeches, it's more likely listeners will retain the message. Even better is if a song has a chorus that people can sing along with, helping to reinforce the feeling that they were a large number of people speaking with one voice. Physically speaking it's a long way from the silver mines and coal fields of Colorado in the early 1900's to 21st century Mali in Africa, but there's a connection in what's being done with music by some of today's African performers.
Habib Koite has just released his first studio album in six years and this new Cumbancha Records release, Afriki (Africa) hearkens back to those songs from an earlier century as he is using this album to try and awaken people to the challenges facing Africa. This isn't a new role for the musicians of Mali to assume, as it has long been part of their culture to be the storytellers and history keepers of their people, it's not much of a stretch to add teaching to the list.
As this is music for the people of Mali that we have been invited to listen in on, the lyrics are in Bambana, one of the languages of that country. Even though things will sometimes get lost in translation, you can get a good idea of what he is singing about through the English version of the lyrics that's provided in the accompanying booklet.