6 Musicians Who Have Been Arrested for Their Political Beliefs

  1. Fela Kuti


Fela Kuti was a Nigerian musician and human rights activist responsible for pioneering the Afrobeat genre. His music is influenced by the Black Power movement, which he discovered during a brief stay in Los Angeles. After returning to Nigeria, Kuti created a band called the Afrika ’70 as well as a commune, recording studio, and home for people and musicians who identified with his cause called the Kalakuta Republic. Kuti called for Africans to return to their roots and he supported the observance of traditional Yoruban ceremonies. Overall, he called for Africans to embrace traditional African values over the version of society that was handed to them by European colonialists.


Kuti’s militant and black power ideals spread through his incredibly popular music, which gained him unfavorable attention from the Nigerian government. After being first arrested in 1974, Kuti declared that the Kalakuta Republic was not a part of the Nigerian state and people living there weren’t subject to Nigerian law. Kuti aimed to create a society based on African traditions rather than the colonialist Western model. His music protested against government corruption, military brutality, and neocolonialism. After 1974, he was arrested by the Nigerian government numerous times and in 1977 one thousand Nigerian soldiers stormed Kalakuta. The soldiers raped women living there, fatally wounded Kuti’s mother, and burned down the commune, after which Kuti and his followers were exiled to Ghana.


“Imagine Che Guevara and Bob Marley rolled into one person and you get a sense of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti,” said the Herald Sun.



  1. Victor Jara


Victor Jara is the most famous member of the Chilean “New Song” folk music movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which closely paralleled the folk music revival of the 1960s in the U.S. The New Song movement supported the socialist president of Chile Salvador Allende, whose political regime was dedicated to socioeconomic change in a country that was dominated by the mineral industry and the U.S. corporations controlling it. Allende promised to bring the country out from under the thumb of the United States and to more evenly distribute wealth among its citizens. Allende owed much of his victory in a three-party election to the artists of the New Song movement including Jara, who advocated on his behalf, according to author Craig A. Lockard.


The Chilean right-wing elites were less than thrilled with Allende’s policies and the U.S. was looking to stamp out any variation of communism anywhere that it could. The Chilean ring-wing backed by the U.S. government staged a military coup on September 11, 1973, during which Allende was killed. An estimated 6,000 supporters of Allende’s government were murdered or disappeared during the coup, and the U.S.-backed military dictatorship that reigned until 1989 saw the burning of books, records, and other subversive art materials.


Since Jara had spoken on in support of Allende on numerous occasions, he was arrested, tortured, and ultimately murdered as the right-wing-sponsored military dictatorship took over Chile. Jara was publicly executed in a sports stadium in Santiago but remained defiant until the end, singing his last song moments before he was killed, according to Victor’s biographer and window Joan Jara.


  1. Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot is an all-female group of political activists and punk rock band from Russia. The group is known for protesting against Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay and anti-democratic laws. Members of the group were arrested for “hooliganism inspired by religious hatred” after performing a song entitled “Punk Prayer — Mother of God Chase Putin Away,” which they sang inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The performance was to protest the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Putin. After those arrests, the group began to gain a considerable amount of international attention. Many in the West were outraged by Putin’s attempt to suppress free speech and famous musicians including Madonna, Sting, and Paul McCartney have come out in support of the group.


Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina served 21 month sentences and were released from Russian prison at the end of last year. The women believe that part of the reason Putin chose to release them was in order to gain some favorable press for the country in advance of the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi. “We don’t think it was a very successful political stunt. We don’t think it improved the image of Russia, so maybe Putin made a mistake and he should just throw us back in jail,” Tolokonnikova said in an interview with Stephen Colbert.


“When the whole country sees completely innocent people being jailed, and authorities make it very clear that this can happen to absolutely anyone, that of course is going to make a lot of people become more silent,” Tolokonnikova said in an interview with the New York Times. “But not everybody agrees to be silent, and right now our task is to unite those people once again.”