As It Happens

After the Tiananmen Square massacre, a Chinese dissident asked to sing a pro-democracy song on As It Happens

This episode of As It Happened: The Archive Edition is all about protests. You'll meet a Chinese dissident who sang a pro-democracy song over the radio and the leader of a South African choir who used music to challenge the country's apartheid system.

'I can't find my audience here,' singer Ho Dejong told host Michael Enright in 1990

A student displays a banner with one of the slogans chanted by the crowd of some 200,000 who poured into Tiananmen Square on April 22, 1989 in Beijing. (AFP via Getty Images)

The theme for this episode of our summer series As It Happened: The Archive Edition is "Protests."

This collection of stories introduces you to protesters occupying every corner of the As It Happens archives, united in their willingness to take a stand, and answer our call about their call to action.

You'll meet a doctor who explains why protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality are necessary and vital to public health, despite the risks posed of COVID-19

You'll find out why a British zoo had to implement a fragrance-free policy to keep the animals from running wild, and why Iceland's president threatened to ban pineapple as a pizza topping.

You'll also explore the powerful relationship between protest and music. Here are some of the highlights from this episode.

'Let's open our wings and fly'

In 1990, As It Happens spoke with Ho Dejong, after he risked his life singing songs of protest.

After the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese dissident continued his fight in song. Former host Michael Enright spoke with Ho Dejong about a pro-democracy song he sang in the middle of a Communist Party dinner. 

"I'll sing the song on the telephone. Is it possible? Because I can't find my audience here, so I can only sing to you," Ho Dejong said.

"The lyrics are like this: My friend, who loves freedom, let's open our wings and fly ... My friend, who is marching for democracy, let's put our powerful will together."

After the Tiananmen Square massacre, Chinese dissident Ho Dejong continued protesting through music and asked to share a song on As It Happens. (Arthur Tsang/Reuters)

Striking a chord

Like Ho Dejong, George Mxadana knows firsthand the power of song to mobilize and move people.

In 1998, guest host Jennifer Westaway spoke with the South African choir leader about his group — the Imilonji Kantu Choir — and how they combined music and politics in their struggle against the apartheid system.

"Doing and saying the sort of things that politicians could not say. Because, if it's done in music, then I think it's slightly different. And we were able to articulate those views in choral music," Mxadana said.

"Most of the music that was relevant to the struggle of our people was banned by the government. In other words, that music was not allowed to be sung. And we decided, as another form of protest, just to go against the government and reintroduce that music and sing it to our people."

In 1998, choir leader George Mxadana told Jennifer Westaway how he used choral music to fight against South Africa's apartheid system. (AFP via Getty Images)

Music is the message

Throughout her career, Buffy Sainte-Marie has shown that music is a powerful medium to send a message.

In 2017, the singer-songwriter and activist received a humanitarian award at the Junos for her work with and for Indigenous people. 

Guest host Helen Mann spoke with Sainte-Marie about the award and why she thinks protesting through song is so powerful.

"I'm with the people. I know we can make good changes, not only within our own communities, but beyond our communities, where help is really needed in understanding the tangle of colonialism," Sainte-Marie said.

"I'm delivering information that has been there all along but hasn't been presenting in a three-minute song."

Singer-songwriter and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie is known for her humanitarian work and for writing powerful songs of protest. (CBC Still Photo collection)

You can hear these stories and more on the "Protests" episode of As it Happened: The Archive Edition