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Biko, by Peter Gabriel

The Power of Protest: A Rhetorical Analysis of the song, Biko, as sung by Peter Gabriel

Chris Hazeltine

on 9 November 2017

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Transcript of Biko, by Peter Gabriel

"And The Eyes Of The World Are Watching Now!"
The Power of Protest: A Rhetorical Analysis of the song
, as sung by Peter Gabriel

Presented by, Chris Hazeltine
Album Title
: Peter Gabriel 3: Melt

Released: 23 May 1980
Length of Album: 45:32
The Music
The Lyrics
, by Peter Gabriel
September '77
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In police room 619
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
-The man is dead (the man is dead)
When I try to sleep at night
I can only dream in red
The outside world is black and white
With only one colour dead
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
-The man is dead (the man is dead)
You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
-The man is dead (the man is dead)
And the eyes of the world are
watching now
watching now
Video: This is a LIVE performance of
, sung on the David Letterman Show by Peter Gabriel (2011) (Credit: © CBS Interactive Music Group) [4]

Special Note
: The use of this version of the song (over the original music video) is to illustrate the power the song,
, still holds for an audience, years after its initial release.
“I think that the third album was quite important for me in terms of really having a defining sound and the band coming through. It was the first record where I was clearly doing something different from what other people were doing.”
-- Peter Gabriel [1]

Peter Gabriel 3: Melt
is Peter Gabriel’s third album since his break-away from the British rock group,
, of which he was a founding member and original lead singer. Always a musical innovator and activist, Peter Gabriel infused
with a strong tone of protest and political awareness. This tone of Gabriel’s social awareness and protest is clearly demonstrated in the last track of the album:
FIG. 1 Peter Gabriel performing in concert (Credit: Getty Images) [2]
What is a Protest Song?
, by its very definition, is one that is associated with a movement for social or political change, or it is one that is directly connected to a current (social) event through commentary.

Protest songs are frequently situational and are understood directly by their significant intellectual context.

In other words, the song (and singer) are engaged in political or social commentary.
The Situation:

The history, crisis, and turmoil that inspired this protest song.

The most potent weapon in the hands
of the oppressor is the mind
of the oppressed.”

–Steve Biko
FIG. 2 Photo of Steve Biko (Credit: Steve Biko Foundation) [5]
Protest Songs are universal!
Photo taken in 1977. in King William’s Town, of several anti-Apartheid militants attending the burial ceremony of Steve Biko. (Credit: STF/AFP/GettyImages) [3]
According to Amnesty International, USA, the word
literally translates to “apartness”
in Afrikaans
A Brief History of Apartheid in South Africa
FIG 3. Photo of the Sharpeville Massacre (1960). This image shows a pivotal moment in the anti-apartheid movement. Protesters peacefully rallied at the Sharpeville police station against the pass-system and segregation laws instituted for black South Africans. In response, white police open-fired on the protesters. In the aftermath, 69 people were killed, including 8 women and 10 children; 178 were wounded [7].
The following video from the
Al Jazeera Media Network
, briefly explains how the Afrikaner party came into power and describes the many Apartheid laws forced upon black South Africans.
Video: Apartheid Explained (Credit: © AJ+ / YouTube) [8]
Steve Biko's role
in the struggle
“Black Consciousness seeks to infuse the black community with a new-found pride in themselves, their efforts, their value systems, their culture, their religion and their outlook to life.”

– Steve Biko
Photo: of Steve Biko: Steve Biko Foundation [9]
Steve Biko was a founding member of the Black People’s Convention, an organization that promoted Black Consciousness.

An empowering, non-violent, political philosophy, Black Consciousness attacked white, oppressive values, arguing that in order to be free, black people of South Africa, not only must they fight for structural political change, they must also change from within -- a psychological transformation in the mind of black people themselves [10].
FIG. 4: Image of the Black Consciousness Flag [11].
"Black Man... you are on your own!"
-- Steve Biko
The following is a rare interview of Steve Biko as he describes how the Vanguard Movement strives for a non-racial, egalitarian society.
Video: Rare interview of Steve Biko. (Credit: YouTube) [12]
As a result of Biko's activism, he was summarily banned by the South African government in 1973 and restricted to his hometown of King William's Town.
This meant he no longer could speak in public, he no longer could meet with more than one person at a time, he no longer could publish his work, and he no longer could travel [13].
FIG. 5 Photo of the Biko Home, Ginsberg Township; King William's Town, South Africa [14] (Imgage Credit: Steve Biko Foundation).
In spite of the government's efforts, these restrictions did not stop Steve Biko from clandestinely advocating Black Consciousness. Biko was secretly able to garner much international support for his political philosophies, often receiving world-wide press coverage of his message and of the conditions and abuses suffered by black South Africans.
In retaliation for his actions,
Steve Biko was arrested and detained in
Pretoria by the Port Elizabeth security police
in August, 1977.
By September, he would
be dead.
FIG 6: Photo of Donald Woods and Steve Biko. During Biko’s exile, he became a strong friend with journalist Donald Woods. As a journalist Woods initially wrote articles against Biko’s political stances; however, upon meeting Biko (in secret), Woods grew to understand the struggles of black South Africans and became an ardent supporter. After Biko’s death, Woods wrote
, as a protest to Biko’s killing and oppression of black
South Africans [15].
FIG7: Image of the South African Police Services Badge [16].
The Death of
Biko and the World’s
“It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.”

– Steve Biko
Photo taken on October 3, 1977 at Biko's
burial ceremony. (Credit Getty Images) [17]
Steve Biko is assassinated:
September 12
The Port Elizabeth security
police force was known throughout
South Africa as being
ruthless and brutal enforcers.

On the morning of October 6, 1977, police records would describe that a “scuffle” occurred between a policeman and Steve Biko. The following investigation, led by Daniel Siebert, would show that Biko:
• Was
• Was
with a hosepipe

• Was
into a wall (whereby he collapsed)
• Was
upright to a security gate, spread-eagle

Was later laid on the floor
in this position for more than 24-hours before a doctor was called .
Photo of Steve Biko's open casket (Credit: Getty Images ) [18.]
Photos of the torturous injuries Biko suffered while incarcerated (Credit: Washington Post ) [19].
Photo of Steve Biko, in his cell, dead (Credit: © Matt Franjola) [21].
"The effect of such widespread and powerful reporting was to establish Biko as the first truly international anti-apartheid martyr, personifying the struggle against apartheid through his name, face, and life.”
-- Michael Drewett, associate professor of Sociology, Popular Music and Culture at Rhodes University, South Africa
The Song
as an
"Its a funny thing about that song... My involvement with Biko's story was partly by chance. I saw a story about his plight in the newspapers and I began following it.

"The thing that shocked me was the fact the he died (in custody) after he received all this publicity.
"I had felt quite comfortable that all that worldwide attention would serve to save him. I felt so empty when he was killed. It showed how vulnerable people are when their freedoms are taken away. That's what moved me to write the song."
-- Peter Gabriel [24]
Photo of Peter Gabriel (Credit: Michele Turriani/Courtesy of the artist ) [23]
The Funeral
Video: This is rare footage of Steve Biko's funeral and burial (1977) (Credit: © Associated Press) [22]
A Toulmin
Developed by the British philosopher, Stephen Toulmin, this argumentation model is most effective for analyzing the song,
There are

primary elements
that comprise the heart of a Toulmin argument:
The Data
: This is the evidence from which an argument is developed.
The Claim:
From the data or evidence, an actual argument may be developed.
The Warrant:
Is the assumption or principle that balances the data to the claim.**
The Data... of
In his song, Peter Gabriel presents select pieces of EVIDENCE in order to create his argument:
In the first verse, Gabriel sings:

September '77
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In police room 619
Not only is this a direct reference to the actual
police room where Steve Biko was killed, but
it also references the violence and "usual"
treatment black South Africans could
expect from a militant,
white police force.
Gabriel follows up with the
self-evident phrase:
The man is dead
In the second verse, Gabriel presents more evidence by singing:
The Data... of
The Data... of
The Data... of
When I try to sleep at night
I can only dream in red
The outside world is black and white
With only one colour dead
This piece of evidence refers to the abuse of power and oppression that a white minority (Afrikaner) had over a black majority. Often this "imbalance" ended with the blood-shed and death of
those in the black majority.
** The difficult thing
about a Warrant is that it is often unstated.
It is
Furthermore, different people may perceive a warrant differently.
The Claim... of
Gabriel overtly states his claim in the last verse:
And the eyes of the world are
watching now
watching now
The implication is that, with the world's awareness of Steve Biko's death, the oppression of Apartheid shall not
remain hidden in the shadows
any longer.
The Warrant... of
As a rule, when a government sanctions oppression, racism, and murder as a means of governing its people, the rest of the civilized
world will hold
that government
The Song as Analysis of Situation
Just knowing the argument of a protest song is not sufficient. To truly understand the power of the protest, the situation --
The Kairos
-- of the song must be analyzed.
What is Kairos?
of a song is the analysis -- the summary-- of the
rhetorical appeals used
in the song.
A Kairos analysis takes into account the three rhetorical appeals used in communication as well as the situation of the song.
A Kairos analysis acknowledges:

• The given place and time.
• The specific context of words
appropriate to the moment
• The audience AND culture.
In other words,
is the knowledge of
when to say what.
It’s the opportune moment
for action!
To fully understand the Kairos analysis of a protest song, it's important to know the appeals used in the situation.
Specifically, they are
is defined as: an appeal to the structure and content of the text
as argument.
It asks the question:
"Can you Prove it... precisely?"
In the song,
, Peter Gabriel structures his lyrics to reflect a description of "everyday" events, moving gradually to a more profound and global call to action.
In this case, the Logos appeal is structured through
facts of the case
and a
reporting of events.
September '77
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was
business as usual
police room 619
man is dead
(the man is dead)
outside world is black and whit
only one colour dead
You can
blow out a candle
But you can't
blow out a fire
Once the
flames begin to catch

wind will blow it higher
Logos is text as argument.

the argument is demonstrated through
"everyday" facts and by
logical responses to events.
is defined as: an appeal to an emotional state of mind, often connected to an audience.
It asks the question:
"How does this apply
to me?"
Clearly, the
audience is us
. However, the lyrical structure of the song implies a need to bring to light a situation previously unknown to the world.
In this case, the Pathos appeal is seen through
key emotionally powerful words and phrases.
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja*
But you can't blow out a fire
And the eyes of the world are
watching now
watching now
Pathos is text as emotion.
A selection of words and phrases intended to evoke an emotional response in the listener.

The power of the emotion is created through the inherent simplicity of the lyrics.
*(A Xhosa phrase meaning,
“Descending Spirit.”
Biko was a native Xhosa speaker)
-The man is dead (the man is dead)
is defined as: an appeal to character, presenting the speaker as a person worthy of trust.
It asks the question:
"Why should I listen to you?"
Obviously, the speaker is Peter Gabriel.
Beyond that... throughout Gabriel's career, he has acted as an agent of social change; an "activist-performer" [25].

Frequently, Gabriel will write songs that creatively combine elements of "culture and politics to facilitate social change" [26].
His popularity as a credible musician, a provocative songwriter, and reliable social activist demonstrate that Peter Gabriel is a speaker of worth.
A Kairos summary of
as a protest song
"Books can be a much better source of social comment than rock songs, and yet rock songs get through to a much bigger audience."
-- Peter Gabriel
On September, 1977, the Black Consciousness activist, Steve Biko, was killed at the hands of the Port Elizabeth police force. As a reaction to this event, Peter Gabriel, a popular, activist-musician, wrote the song,
, both as a protest of his death and as a way to inform a wider audience of the oppression suffered by black South Africans under an apartheid regime.
Gabriel uses simple, but evocative lyrics and strongly profound rhythms to convey a truly horrific event. Furthermore, the song is infused with the challenging, imperative message of political commitment toward not letting injustice go unnoticed nor unrecognized.
Gabriel’s world-wide artistic influence and commercial successes – along with his burgeoning social activism – enabled him to facilitate the opportune moment for creating social change and inspiring political commitment to a broader audience.
The effect of the song,
, was almost immediate.
According to Michael Drewett, the song
"was regarded as a severe attack on the apartheid state which could not be allowed into the homes of South Africans. In particular it was to be kept out of the homes of black South Africans, who were regarded as the likely audience of the song." [27]
Under the administration of Kobus Van Rooyen, Director of the Publications Appeal Board of South Africa, the following statement was made by state censors...
"The song “Biko” is harmful to the security of the State. The Committee’s findings rest on the following considerations: The song is presented – especially concerning the beginning and the end – as typical African music and as a song that will have considerable emotional impact on the average black listener.
"This song, with high emotional impact, is about Biko, and the following facts regarding him are important: Biko is known throughout South Africa. Biko was the President of the banned Black People’s Convention. Biko died in jail and till this day rumours are spread that he was tortured and then killed in jail by the police. Since Biko’s death in 1977, people, both overseas and locally, try to celebrate his death as a martyr. Looking at the previous facts, it is obvious that the subject of Biko is a very sensitive issue with great symbolic power for the black people.
"It is the fire that Biko started that cannot be put out. It is his spirit that has to descend (Yihla Moja), that according to the black man’s belief, has to come and help the black man and has to create a condition, for which the eyes of the world are watching. The Committee therefore decided that the record will contribute to a condition that will be harmful to the security of the State.”

It is ironic that the very act of banning the song,
, in South Africa, resulted in extended air-play in the international market. Repeated performances (both in concert and on radio -- outside of South Africa) firmly established
as an important protest song [29].
Furthermore, many international artists, including:
Robert Wyatt (1984)
Faith Brothers (1985)
Patti and the Dep Band (1986)
Joan Baez (1987)
Simple Minds (1989)
Manu Dibango (1994)
Paul Simon (2010)
Goad (2013)

Have performed covers of the song, virtually guaranteeing the song will be firmly rooted in our collective memory [30].
With the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, the lifting of the ban of the African National Congress, and the orchestration of peaceful elections in 1994, creating a change in power -- Apartheid ended.
Today, there are
certain, select songs that
still resonate in the hearts of black South Africans.
Specifically: the folk song,
Senzeni Na?
(What Have We Done?)
... and...
Nkosi Sikeleli iAfrika
It is appropriate that
Peter Gabriel's song:
be added to that list since it "resembles a soundtrack to Biko's life..." --
In what he stood for,
what he suffered, and
what is his legacy.
The following video excerpt
is from the
Blessed Live in Concert
, performed by the Soweto Gospel Choir (2005).
Here, they perform:
Asimbonanga /
Video: This is a LIVE performance of
, sung by the Soweto Gospel Choirl (2005) (Credit: © Shanachie ) [31]
1. “Peter Gabriel”
Peter Gabriel.com
, Real World Holdings Limited,

2. “Peter Gabriel in Concert.”
Music History #10: Biko
, Mental Floss,
17 Oct. 2012.

3. “Man Protesting in King William's Town.”
20 Years Ago, South Africa
Replaced Apartheid With Freedom
, The Huffington Post, 27 Apr.

4. “Peter Gabriel - Biko (Live on Letterman).”
Peter Gabriel - Biko
(Live on Letterman)
, CBS Webcast, 9 Nov. 2011.

5. Steve Biko. N.d. Steve Biko Foundation.
7 Quotes from Steve Biko
This Is Africa. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.

6. Companion Curriculum to Catch a Fire.
Companion Curriculum to
Catch a Fire
, Amnesty International USA.

Sharpeville Massacre
. N.d. Getty.
50th Anniversary of the Sharpeville
. Wooly Days: The World View from Wooloowin, 24 Mar. 2010.
Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

8. “Apartheid Explained,” YouTube, 17 Dec. 2013.

Steve Biko
. N.d. Steve Biko Foundation.
7 Quotes from Steve Biko
. This Is
Africa. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.

10. "Black Consciousness Movement: Defining Black Consciousness."

South African History Online
. SAHO: South African History Online,
10 June 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.
11. “Black Consciousness Flag.” African Heritage, Word Press, 23 Sept.

12. “Bantu Steve Biko- Architect of Black Consciousness Manifesto-
Rare TV Interview,” YouTube, 21 Sept. 2012

Drewett, Michael. “The Eyes of the World Are Watching Now: The
Political Effectiveness of ‘Biko’ by Peter Gabriel.” Popular Music
and Society, vol. 30, no. 1, Feb. 2007, pp. 39–51. Academia.edu.

14. “The Biko Home.” Steve Biko: The Early Years, Google Arts and

15. “Steve Biko and Donald Woods.”
Rebecca Fjelland Davis
, 2016.
16. “South African Police Service Badge.”
South African Police
Service: Department of Police

17. “Biko's Burial Ceremony.”
, 3 Oct. 1977.

18. “Open Casket of Steve Biko.”
Biko's Death
, Word Press, 13 Nov.

19. “Photographs of Biko's Injuries.”
Steve Biko: The Real Hero of
the South African Apartheid Struggle
, Washington Post Blog,
1 July 2013.

20. “The Death of Stephen Biko.”
South Africa: Overcoming
Apartheid Building Democracy
, African Studies Center:
Michigan State University.
21. Franjola, Matt. “Biko Dead in Cell.”
Contact Press Images.

22. Associated Press, “SYND 26 9 77 FUNERAL OF STEVEN BIKO IN
KING WILLIAM'S TOWN.” YouTube, 24 July 2015.

23. “Peter Gabriel.”
Peter Gabriel's Favorite Artists Remake His Music
From 'Scratch',
National Public Radio, 7 Jan. 2014.

24. Hilburn, Robert. “Peter Gabriel Post-Amnesty.”
Los Angeles
Los Angeles Times, 6 July 1986.

25. Drewett, Michael. “The Eyes of the World Are Watching Now:
The Political Effectiveness of ‘Biko’ by Peter Gabriel.”
Popular Music and Society, vol. 30, no. 1, Feb. 2007,
pp. 39–51. Academia.edu.





31. “Blessed Live in Concert,” YouTube, 5 July 2011.
Full transcript