Jun 12 2010

Messages and Symbolism Beyond the Obvious in ‘They Don’t Care About Us‘

Category: Humanitarian,Justice,Photos,Quotes About MJ,VideosSeven @ 10:00 pm

Olodum, TDCAU and Michael's Black Power Salute

Olodum in TDCAU and Michael's Black Power Salute!

The Rhythm of the Saints, The Movement of the Jah People, and Pelourhino.

Say what?

The African diaspora. What Bob Marley called ‘The Movement of the Jah People‘. The colors, symbols, and history of Olodum with Michael in ‘They Don’t Care About Us‘, along with the significance of the location in Brazil in which one version of it was filmed.

Michael stated that he was proud of his heritage, proud to be black. For many reasons, one of which was because his skin lightened due to vitiligo, ignorants (some of them even of his own race), doubted his commitment and felt that Michael had somehow betrayed his own people.

But, as we delve deeper into the symbolism and meaning of his songs and videos we find that not only was Michael proud to be black but that he was deeply committed to his race, to fighting the causes of social injustice, and fighting for racial and social equality for people of all races and religions.

As in the video and song ‘Black or White‘, we find messages and symbolism beyond the obvious in ‘They Don’t Care About Us‘, too. If one looks just a little deeper, we find symbolic genius in Michael’s work that he never talked about – but was always there – quietly waiting to be discovered.

Samar Habib did just that. He did a little research and discovered some quite interesting gems about Olodum and the song ‘They Don’t Care About Us‘ as filmed in Largo do Pelourinho, Salvadore, Brazil. For instance, Samar found this:

Jackson’s great dancing, his readily apparent friendliness made all the people in Pelourinho smile with pride. Especially proud were the youths of Olodum, to have had the opportunity to showcase their talent to the world through Jackson’s video. The video was in fact filmed in the “Largo do Pelourinho,” the exact spot where hundreds of years ago slaves were whipped and tortured by their masters, hence the name “Pelourinho” (the Pillory). Olodum purposefully headquarters in Pelourinho to tap into the negative energy caused by the shedding of slave blood precisely to gain strength for their fight for Black equality and power.

-Pravina Shukla, Brazzil.com – ‘The Heartbeat of Bahia

Gabriel Rich, in a column for ‘SoulInterviews.com‘ last year a few weeks following Michael’s death, wrote:

(Michael Jackson) Wrote one of the most kick-ass songs of revolt and raised his fist in a Black Power salute in his “They Don’t Care about Us” video, with everyone wearing red, black and green colors in their t-shirts. . .. Michael broke down racial stereotypes; he didn’t create them, unlike most entertainers today, and truthfully, like hip hop does nowadays.

-Gabriel Rich

And what about those colors?  What do they mean?

Stewart Clegg states in a fascinating paper he wrote all about Olodum called ‘The Rhythm of the Saints‘ (click to download and read – it’s in Adobe PDF format):

Olodum’s imaginative use of symbols expresses itself most symbolically in its colours of green, red, yellow, black and white. Each colour has a symbolic significance: green represents the rain forests of Africa; the deep red is symbolic of the blood of the people, shed in so many centuries of suffering, from the slavery days; golden yellow represents the colours of gold, for prosperity; black is for the colour and the pride of the people, while white is symbolic of world peace. Together, these colours are symbolic of the African diaspora, ‘the movement of Jah people’, as Bob Marley (1977) once put it.

-Stewart Clegg

The Rhythm of the Saints

The Rhythm of the Saints was the title of a best selling record released by Paul Simon in 1990. The opening track introduced a new sound to many ears – recorded in Pelhourino Square, Salvador, Bahia, in Brazil – the sounds of Olodum. A martial, insistent, hypnotically rhythmic beat, the sound of a troupe of drums, percussive and shuffling, behind a typical Paul Simon lyric, ‘The Obvious Child‘. The name of the troupe of drummers was Grupo Olodum. Olodum and Pelhourino have become inseparable since the founding of the former in on April 25th 1979, in Pelhourino, the centre of old Salvador. Olodum means ‘The God of Gods’ or ‘The Supreme God’ in Yorubß. Although music fans may know Olodum as a band, they are, in fact, much more than that. They are a social and a cultural movement. . .

-Stewart Clegg

Samar takes note of a couple of interesting things Michael does in this video:

@2.00 He sings the lines “Black man, blackmail (although this is transcribed as ‘black male’ in the official lyrics – probably for legal reasons)” while giving the Black Power salute

@2.35 He sings “The government don’t wanna see” and gives a Nazi-salute while saying the word ‘government

Sadly, the founder of Olodum, Neguinho do Samba, also left us in 2009 and has now joined Michael in spirit. From Wikipedia:

Neguinho do Samba (? – October 31, 2009), whose real name was Antonio Luis Alves de Souza, was a Brazilian percussionist and musician. Samba was the founder of Olodum, an internationally known cultural group based in Salvador, Brazil.[1] Samba, a resident of Pelourinho, was considered to be the “father” of samba reggae in Bahia.[2]

Neguinho do Samba died of heart failure on October 31, 2009, at the age of 54.[1] Samba was buried in the Jardim da Saudade cemetery in Salvador.[2]

_ _ _

{ Thanks to Samar Habib, who did the majority of research for this piece and was kind enough to share! And, to Monita and Matilde for additional information. -Seven }

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28 Responses to “Messages and Symbolism Beyond the Obvious in ‘They Don’t Care About Us‘”

  1. Justice4MJJ says:

    Wow, I had no idea about the Olodum, or the significance of the location. All I knew beyond the context and the way he was harassed/abused in real life, besides his commitment to racial injustices, and equality, was what I read, about how there was a movie that was inspired after MJ did his short film here, it was on Spike Lee’s website I believe, in a letter written to MJ posthumously. Michael continues to have magical secrets unearthed, I cant wait to discover other treasures in his songs :}

  2. Heidi says:

    If you ever get to see Olodum in concert, DO NOT bypass the opportunity!! As with Michael, to sit in their energy will change your life forever. You will go home a completely different person then when you came. Their music is off the chart, but it’s their energy and message that will grab you, and like Michael, they are here for a very divine purpose.

  3. Seven says:


    Should I ever be so lucky, I won’t miss them! They sound awesome on TDCAU and on Paul Simon’s song. Their energy in TDCAU is astounding. Live, they must be phenomenal.

  4. candy says:

    Thank you Seven,Excellent job as alway on finding the truth and all these interesting information On Michael…A special soul which we all love so dearly.
    Also Thanks for mentioning Bob Marley connection to the symbolism bcuz i am Jamaican and the rasta population in Jamaica use the same colours and the meaning of the colours are the same as this group that Michael was using olodum.
    “Olodum’s imaginative use of symbols expresses itself most symbolically in its colours of green, red, yellow, black and white. Each colour has a symbolic significance: green represents the rain forests of Africa; the deep red is symbolic of the blood of the people, shed in so many centuries of suffering, from the slavery days; golden yellow represents the colours of gold, for prosperity; black is for the colour and the pride of the people, while white is symbolic of world peace. Together, these colours are symbolic of the African diaspora, ‘the movement of Jah people’, as Bob Marley (1977) once put it.” Stewart Clegg

  5. Missy says:

    Seven, Thank you for posting this acticle. Messages and meanings is what Michael wanted us to get. Symbolism is one of those things that takes a keen and devoted observer to see and feel. This video I feel is the most outright of Michael’s to show it. I love the message he sends and wish everyone could understand how proud Michael was of all aspects of his life. Michael shows Them at 1:06 exactly what he thinks of Them(the wall and hand signals tells it all). Spike Lee captured exactly what Michael wanted to express. Love this post Seven.
    Keep the Faith. Peace, Missy

  6. BG says:

    Thanks Seven, another great article. There can be no doubt Michael was proud of his heritage. His music and lyrics confirm his own words.

    He fought against prejudice and suffering everywhere and was and is respected and loved by people of all nations. He was one of us, no matter what race, religion or color we are, we love him just the same. He was truly a great, great man.

  7. Hayat says:

    Just makes me so … ANGRY – thinking of what some of the ‘blacks’ did to Mike.
    They ridiculed him, turned their backs against him, hurt him, claim to be ‘proud blacks’ but didn’t do half for their community and fought like Mike did.
    Although color makes NO difference to me nor to you all, Mike had MORE BLACK POWER in him then all those ‘proud to be black’-yelling jumping up and down screaming nonsense mocking him, ever will have.

    Thank you Seven, I’ve ALWAYS wondered what ‘Olodum’ meant, its been years and years that I had that question unanswered. Until now!
    I’ve always loved this version of the short film. Me being a Marrocan/Belgian lady, I’ve always adored those drums – one just can not sit still on that drilling rhythm – its as if your body just FEELS an immediate connection and just immediately surrenders to it.

    Again, thank you Seven!! (I’m starting to get addicted to this site, courtesy of you 🙂

  8. Fuzzball says:

    Yes, and instead, back in 96, “they” said Michael was a racist- and the song was against jewish -jew me, sue me- (btw I still have the tshirt of Olodum ^^-^^). This song was completely discredited…as usual…same for BorW-And what about Earth song, ecologist nearly 20 years before it was “fashionable”…
    I always knew Michael Jackson, but one day I saw him perform Billie Jean,I was (in french we say- on my ass-) I became a fan and my life changed for ever.For a whole year now, I read tons of blogs, about The Man-The Artist-The Humaniterian…I’m happy and it brings me tears to see how Mj is loved by his devoted fans and how they- You,7 (You’re blog is one of the best, really)- show and explain to the World-the Media-the Music industry- who really is MICHAEL JOSEPH JACKSON??!!! but what an abherration, what a shame, don’t you think to have to do so?
    – a few of us try to understand and to know him while” We Had Him” how lucky we are…
    So I’m sad, sad to see that we have to explain lyrics written 15 years ago now he’s…above..
    To explain that he is a GENIUS-
    In the same time, it has to be done, we have work to do, we need to spread his messages, we are his voice,So…
    Love & Peace- Fuzz
    (Sorry but some times, I get angry ^_^)

  9. Donatella says:

    Thank you Seven,your work is always precious and excellent,as well!I was watching to this version of TDCAU,just yesterday night,and I was lost into the beauty of the colours and into the rythm of the drums….your explanation is very useful because I was discussing about the REAL meaning of this song with some people….thank you,really!


  10. Michelle says:

    Thanks, Seven, for another good article. This one has got some VERY interesting info about his song “They Don’t Care About Us” and it’s one of my favorite angry Michael songs!! Once again: Thank you!

  11. Jeanne says:

    Do you do everything in your life with meaning . Do you make use of every minute of your life in creation of your history knowing one day you leave behind what has been gifted to you to create . Michaels wisdom is far beyond Genius in my book. If you define devine messenger you will see Michael . He often said his work came from God through him. We get that now . Many more should . So the message is Love and Peace . We do not take any material “THING” with us . Things are in abundance in our world . We create things . We do . The money that was so often stolen from Michael , Michael could replace with his gift in a day and he would often give that freely . He knew accumulation of wealth was not his goal . Wealth was his tool . Dance and music his gift to create the tool .You see what was most important . This message through MIchael from God to us. We each have a gift and the mission is to create our history . Again in Michaels song , EVERYDAY CREATE YOUR HISTORY yet Not all know this or use their gifts. If someone slaps you on the cheek , turn the other cheek . Michael lived this . He fought his battles with meaning for meaning , for a purpose , and fought for peace through his art .When you die , and you will , what will you leave behind. The only thing you take with you is the love you share here , the action you take here , It will never be material things as they wither away . It will be the changes you make for peace. It will be the persons hand you take when that person needs you . IT will be that child whos tears cried out for your help and you were there , It will be that elderly one who just needed a friendly smile or a ride to somewhere. This is truth. Michael changed ME . His message made me see clear . Make that change he said . Live with purpose , live as if this is it . Messages and symbols in everything he did for you and I to see .

  12. Jeanne says:

    They Dont Really Care About US , meant to me that we cannot wait for”” them”” to change things , WE have to change things ourselves. People wait for goverment to change things . We have that power weve just been conditioned to think that everything revolves around who has the most money and who has the most money has the most power. People that is wrong . Who has the voice has the power. The more people that come together the louder the voice.

  13. Susan says:

    Hi Seven;

    Probably another reason why his bright soul was extinguished by the powers that be – a black man with that kind of power – the power to move millions – much, much more than any politician; and that in itself would have scared them silly. Michael’s reach was worldwide and the disenfranchised in many of those countries “got him”. He was a true leader in the real sense of the word and did it without raising a weapon – just with truth and giving. War is big business and Michael was a peace warrior, so again, he was the enemy. John Lennon was accused of being paranoid believing he was being watched and followed. Then it turns out to be true. He was being watched, followed and wire-tapped by the FBI. We know Michael was being watched by the FBI for Sneddon’s vendetta, but no doubt, it also had political overtones.

    Thanks Seven for all your information. Every day, I learn more and more what an amazing man Michael truly was, and it make his loss all the more unbearable.

  14. Seven says:

    Spot on Susan. Exactly right. War IS big business. The US spends more on war than all other nations combined. The military-industrial complex rules our government and is the majority of our national budget. Guess what / who uses the most oil and gas in the US? The Department of Defense.

    Naturally they would want any person of peace with as much influence and power as Michael Jackson destroyed.

  15. Ali says:

    Thanks Seven, this is a brilliant piece. I too love the song but I didn’t know about the background to it. it also interesting that this is one of the few videos where you can clearly see Michael’s vitiligo on his chest and arms and he has his shirt open and short sleeves surely deliberately so it can be seen, as he usually covered it up. Here he is proudly displaying it, cannot be coincidence. tho on some shots its been airbrushed out.

    Another thing, i received my copy of the Ebony tribute magazine finally and in it it shows Michael was on the front cover of 15 magazines, and states he always responded to Ebony – a further positive proof that can be cited that he regarded himself as a black man and was proud of it – otherwise if he wanted to distance himself from being black he would have turned Ebony down and certainly not done 15 covers! How can anyone explain that away !

    I don’t have any doubt that if Michael had been white he would not have had half the harrassment and media attacks (and Sneddon of course) that he had. In my opinion the fact that people fixated so much about what colour he was is just racism itself – why obsess about it if it doesn’t matter to you? Why not just accept the man and believe his explanation? why should Michael Jackson NOT have had vitiligo? many people do, so why refuse to believe he had it? doesn”t make any sense unless those disbelievers and harrassers have a different agenda :- that agenda = racism and destruction of a BLACK mega succesful entertainer who influences people.

  16. Rosa Alers says:

    Seven, Congratulation, this is an excellent post.Your work is serious, deep and also very entertaining. Its a resource very educational and entertaining. With a deep commitment to recognize the strengths and capacities of Michael. Keep going 7!!!!!!!!

  17. Miz T says:

    I don’t think I can say it any better than Rosa Alers did.

  18. Kendrick says:

    I am weighing into this topic late, but I had to think about how to phrase this so as not to offend or come off sounding like a racist.

    There is a phrase Michael uses in Black and White which was focused on to the exclusion of almost everything else he had to say. It was “Jew Me”. For those who are Black and Baby Boomers the word has a slightly different meaning than what was applied by the Media and Critics.

    In order to get things done, doors opened, contracts and contacts made there is a list of those in Hollywood who are the must have or known. This world, like A-list Hollywood itself is rather small and closed.

    Hollywood and the Diamond trading industry has something in common, they are both heavily influenced and controlled by the Jewish community. Their power and reach is long.

    Take a look at who are the real power brokers in Hollywood. Now take a look at the business people who populated Michael’s life. The same people who are connected to each other by birth, marriage and business dealings.

    Is it any wonder why Leno was able to get around the gag order, River’s was allowed to lie about having seen an extortion check, Branca is not questioned about Michael’s bogus Will and his ties to Sony; the list goes on and on.

  19. Heather Jones says:

    Thank you Seven for sharing this. I have just found your website and will return again and again.

  20. SerenityLife says:

    Samar is genius for pointing this out.

    Something just popped into my head while reading this. I don’t know if you are aware of the Afro-Brazilian martial arts known as capoeira. If you look at some of Michael’s movements in the video. It appears as if he is even doing some capoeira movements and even samba movements but it is a natural extension of him. I don’t even know if he was taught it or if he knew about it or even if he knew he was doing it.

    What’s more bizarre is that Michael visited Gore Island in Senegal (West Africa) in the 1970s. He was doing some of the SAME movements back then. If you can get your hands on the video watch it and you will see what I mean!

    The African Diaspora is rich, complex and naturally in the rhythm of those who allow God to speak through them. That’s what Michael did.

    Thanks for sharing!

  21. Nancy says:

    Roosevelt: Excerpts from State of the Union Address 1941:

    The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

    Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
    Jobs for those who can work.
    Security for those who need it.
    The ending of special privilege for the few.
    The preservation of civil liberties for all.
    The enjoyment — The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

    ****In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

    *The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

    *The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

    *The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

    *The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

    Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

    This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

    To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

    ++ Norman Rockwell was one of Michael Jackson’s favorite artists.
    See the following prints:
    Four Freedoms
    The Problem We All Live With
    The Golden Rule

  22. Seven says:

    Thanks Nancy. I have one word reading Roosevelt’s SOTU address:


    We’ve failed to live up to our own manifesto as a nation.

    Michael is living and dead proof of it.

  23. ikay says:

    i love Michael that’s all i know!

  24. Adewale fasipe says:

    Again micheal has demonstrated his symbolic prowess. I actually got attracted to d word olodum cos it sounded yoruba and was shocked to discover more astonishing revelations. Its quite incredible that he would vacate his imperial abode and stretch his hand back into history to clutch at what he truly represents! He was indeed a gem. That u cant take away from him

  25. Sean says:

    Im doing a project for school and we need a creative piece and show how it reflects on society.
    This is the only website I could find and I would like to cite the page. If you could, please inform me who wrote this, where at, and when this page was pubished. Thankyou.

  26. kate says:

    Can you tell me what it means when a group of girls cover their faces with their hands at the beginning of the “They Don’t Care About Us” prison version video? This same gesture is seen with the guys during their dance sitting at the table in a prison as well. Thanks.

  27. kate says:

    Do you know what it means when the girls at the very beginning of the video “They Don’t Care About Us” (prison version) means?

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