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Remembering Mozambican Rapper Azagaia: Police Crack Down on Protests After Death of Cultural Icon

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Image Credit: Instagram: @manoazagaia

We speak with Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice activist based in Mozambique, about the recent death on March 9 of the popular rapper and cultural icon Azagaia. He was just 38 years old. He inspired many with his music and sang about injustice, including mistreatment of people by the authorities, as well as about poverty and social injustice. Azagaia’s death has sparked protests in Mozambique which authorities have violently suppressed.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Dipti Bhatnagar, I want to ask you about another major story out of Mozambique, the recent death of the popular rapper, the cultural icon, Azagaia, just 38 years old, inspired so many with his music, singing about injustice, about mistreatment of people by authorities, poverty, social injustice, climate change, his death sparking protests in Mozambique, which authorities have violently suppressed. Your piece just came out in ArtsEverywhere, headlined “The Death of a Mozambican Rapper and Revolutionary.” As we go out of this discussion, tell us about Azagaia.

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: Thank you for playing his music. You know, I was at what turned out to be Azagaia’s last public concert in December of 2022 in Maputo City. And, you know, we were talking earlier about Cyclone Freddy and the climate impacts that are already happening. And, of course, there’s multiple interrelated crises that people in Mozambique are facing. Sixty percent of the people do not have access to electricity. The Human Development Index is so low.

In a context like this, someone like Azagaia, a revolutionary, a rapper, uses his love for hip-hop and rap to bring these messages of injustice but also hope to the youth. And, you know, Bill was so beautifully talking about mobilizing older people. What Azagaia has managed to do is to ignite the youth, not just in Mozambique but in the Portuguese-speaking world. And fortunately, all of his music is in Portuguese. But it’s so beautiful, the way that he ignited young minds.

And he passed away less than two weeks ago. But what has happened in Mozambique since then has been an absolute travesty, because what we have seen is the youth being ignited and mourning and coming onto the streets in a place where it isn’t easy to protest on the streets. I’m so glad these protests are happening in D.C., Portland, all over in the U.S. In Mozambique, we do not have the right to just come onto the streets, like in Egypt, Amy, which you spoke about. And, you know, when we were in Egypt at COP27 at the climate negotiations last year, we said no climate justice without human rights. And that rings true in Mozambique today, because there was an authorized march on Saturday where the youth wanted to come on the streets and mourn publicly the loss of their cultural icon, their revolutionary, and the police responded with brutality and tear gas and assaults and arrests. My own partner got hit in the back with a tear gas cartridge.

And why is this important? As the crises deepen, people are going to get more and more incensed. The youth is going to get more and more incensed. And we need cultural icons like Azagaia. We need space. We need constructive ways for people to get involved, to be able to organize, to oppose the injustices that are happening. And the powerful know that. The government elites, the corporate elites across the world, they know that people power is what is going to change things, which is why they come out with this brutality and fight back and hit people and, you know, throw tear gas on people.

But the people of Mozambique, they have shown — the people in Maputo and Beira, which is where Cyclone Idai in 2019 created the most damage, they went on the streets on Saturday, and they mourned their cultural icon’s death. And they showed that people power, even in a place like Mozambique, is going to be strong. And that is what we need if we are going to confront the crises that are coming, because the crises are coming, and the crises are deepening. So, in a place like Mozambique, we need to be prepared, not just how do we stop the crisis, but how are we actually going to deal with it, and how are we going to ignite people, and how are we going to use people power to push back all of these elites and all of this brutality.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much, Dipti Bhatnagar of Friends of the Earth Mozambique, Bill McKibben of and Third Act, and Ben Jealous, now executive director of the Sierra Club. And we’re going to go out with Azagaia. His birth name, Edson da Luz. He took on “Azagaia” after an African speer. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “A Marcha,” “To March,” by Azagaia. He died March 9th in his home country of Mozambique.

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