In the week before the downfall of the Tunisian president, 30 plain-clothes police officers arrived at the family home of Hamada Ben-Amor in the coastal city of Sfax and arrested him.
The 22-year-old rapper – known to his fans as The General – was among a number of prominent dissidents and activists targeted by police in a last-ditch attempt to suppress the demands for change that were echoing around the north African country.
His crime: an incendiary single, put out days earlier entitled President, Your People Are Dying, in which he railed against the failure of the authorities to address mounting unemployment and poverty.
Just over a week later, as street protests continued to swell across the country, President Ben Ali abandoned government. Ben-Amor – whose track was adopted by many of the young protesters as their rallying cry – had already been released, an admission by authorities that they were unable to silence the chorus of dissent.
It has become a common complaint among music writers that there's scant evidence of a new generation of politically engaged singers in western music - heirs to Bob Dylan or The Specials who would speak out against the 'war on terror' overseas and the impact of the recession at home.
But the picture in Africa could hardly be more different. Ben-Amor's song is just the most recent example of how the continent's musicians, in a variety of social and cultural contexts, have given voice to a spirit of political change.
"We have to talk about what concerns us, our values, our problems," explained Senegalese rapper Duggy Tee, when I met him in Dakar in 2004. "Through the music, we can pass on the message and attract the attention of the population to certain situations."
He was describing the role played by his former group – Positive Black Soul – in one of the most celebrated examples in West Africa of rap-induced regime change.
In 2000, PBS – the figureheads of the so-called Boul Fale generation (a phrase in the Wolof language and the title of a PBS song, translating roughly as "don't worry") – joined with other rappers to organise a series of concerts in deprived parts of Dakar calling on young people to vote for change in the upcoming elections.
The then President Abdou Diouf had been in power for decades, his last years marked by spiralling unemployment and growing frustration among ordinary Senegalese. The high turnout of youths – mobilised by the rappers – at the polls that year was widely credited with bringing an end to his presidency.
Something similar occurred in Sierra Leone in 2007, when the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party was voted out after popular discontent about the regime coalesced around two anti-corruption protest songs, Ejectment Notice by singer Innocent, and Borbor Bele (Pot-Bellied Boy) by Emerson.
Two years later Emerson registered his dissent on record again, with Yesterday Betteh Pass Tiday (Yesterday Was Better Than Today), an indictment of the current All People's Congress Party government. This time, Innocent responded with the track Leh Wi Gi Dem Chance, urging his countrymen to show patience with the government.
More recently, two of the Ivory Coast's best-known reggae stars – Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly – called on Laurent Gbagbo to relinquish power after being defeated in November's elections, this despite the fact that Alpha Blondy had backed Gbagbo before voting began.
Generalise about the roots and reasons for the political influence of music in Africa and you're in danger of generalising about the continent itself. Nevertheless certain themes recur: high levels of illiteracy give a greater prominence to messages delivered by song, and the weakening of traditional media and civil society through state repression places a particular onus on musicians to express their countrymen's anger.
And African protest music also draws cultural authority from the oral traditions of storytelling and song which have long provided an outlet for social and political commentary in many parts of the continent. InSenegal, today's rappers often invoke the role of traditional West African story-tellers, or griots – a status which gives them licence to raise their voices in a society where youthful outspokenness is frowned upon.
And elsewhere musicians draw inspiration from more recent figures in that story-telling heritage, most notably Fela Kuti, the innovator of the exuberant Afrobeat style and a thorn in the side of Nigeria's military dictatorship until his death in 1997.
Kuti continues to cast the longest shadow across African protest music. An outspoken critic of the government and army, he went as far as to declare his home compound an independent state entitled the Kalakuta Republic. In 1977 it was raided by soldiers, Kuti was severely beaten and his mother received injuries from which she subsequently died - he responded by carrying a replica of her coffin to the military barracks in Lagos.
His legacy is most obviously to be found in current young Nigerian musicians such as Nneka, the German-based hip-hop and soul singer, who writes songs accusing oil companies of exploitation in the Niger delta.
But there's something of his spirit too in the messages being delivered by consciousness-raising musicians across Africa, the reggae of Ivory Coast, the protest rap of Senegal and Tunisia.
All of it is evidence that although western audiences are still waiting for a reflowering of political music to capture the spirit of the times, in Africa it never went away.