Always Remembered 2023- Azagaia, The Tip of the Spear

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Some 206 Zulu readers will be familiar with our Always Remembered series, a tradition we carry each year where we take time to hold space for people within Hip Hop and its peripheral communities who passed on over the course of the preceding year. In the past, this remembrance has taken the form of an annual video episode of our Meeting of the Minds podcast. For 2024, we’ll be sharing these memories in a different way.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be sharing a written commemoration of some of these influential members of our greater community, one at a time. We know that the act of remembrance is a tremendous power we have to keep our predecessors and ancestors alive through our collective voice. In that grain, stay posted for our ongoing series of brief stories looking into the lives of some of the fascinating people that transcended their physical frames in the course of 2023. And if any of these individuals have impacted you in any way, remember, your retelling of these stories will keep them alive in perpetuity. This is Always Remembered…

Edson da Luz aka Azagaia was an emcee, born in his artistry from the same winds that carried the youth of the South Bronx to create Hip Hop as a force for resistance as much as it was a source of entertainment. He died last year after a reported epileptic seizure at the age of 38.

As much as he was an emcee, Azagaia was an activist. In his homeland of Mozambique, a country where public demonstrations critical of President Filipe Nyusi’s government are rare,  Azagaia was unspoken and recalcitrant. His courage to face down power through his music inspired many inside and outside of the Portuguese-speaking Hip Hop scene as he sang about injustice, the climate crisis, mistreatment of people by repressive authorities, poverty, and other social injustices he observed throughout his life.

Azagaia was from Namaacha, a border town not far from the capital Maputo, where the three countries of Mozambique, South Africa, and Eswatini meet. From those crossroads, a growing artist could see a lot. Among other elements of transition and change that could be observed near those borders, the first President of independent Mozambique, Samora Machel, died in a plane crash about 12 miles from Namaacha, in circumstances that have long been debated with suspicion.  Growing up through the phase of newly independent Mozambique that he did, observing first hand the troubles of the recent colonial past and tasting the hope that springs from a return to independence, Azagaia made music urging the people of his country to think about social inequalities and their effects on poor people. He spoke out against imperialism and slavery, but also didn’t hold back on injustice from leaders at home in Mozambique.

The effect he had on his community can be seen through the nationwide demonstrations following his funeral procession that brought thousands out on the streets of Maputo to march on the capital, chanting “resistance” and “power to the people.” Others set up similar marches in almost every other major city in Mozambique the weekend after his death.

”(Azagaia) never sided with any political party because he was the voice of the people,” Tirso Sitoe, an organizer of one of the protest vigils, told The Associated Press. “He showed us that things have not changed since independence (in 1975). The only thing that has changed is the color of (the rulers’) skin.”

On the day of his funeral, the people took to the streets to carry his coffin past the president’s house. Riot police responded with tear gas. Shouts of protest and clouds of lachrymator surrounding the mortal body of a revolutionary on its last journey before returning to the earth, seems appropriate for an artist whose stage name was a reference to a traditional spear. It’s also a powerful symbol of the way artists can live beyond their vessels, through music and organizing, and how the people continue to give them life. In that grain, we remember Azagaia.