This week we are celebrating the voices of artists with pan-African roots, who are raising their voices in a quest for change. In this time of hate mongering, people in power are using wide sweeping generalizations to erase people’s history and culture. These songs weave history with the present and musical traditions across continents and remind us of painful histories while filling us with hope. Wind up Black History Month with a taste of feminist protest music from the African diaspora.
These songs have been added to Unsweetened: A Playlist for a Feminist Future on Spotify.
Melky Jean, “Better”
In this song commemorating the anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, Haitian-American R&B hip hop artist Melky Jean asks us to look in the mirror and judge ourselves the same way we view people who are different from us. Only then will things get better.
Noisettes, “Don’t Give Up”
The Noisettes, a British duo composed of singer and bassist Shingai Shoniwa and guitarist Dan Smith, switch between and blend together post-punk, blues revival, dance, and rock. Shoniwa, who was born and grew up in South London to parents from Zimbabwe, tells us not to give up, because when the system’s wrong we’ve gotta tear it down.
Big Joanie, “No Scrubs”
Here Big Joanie, a riot grrrl and afro punk trio from London, reimagine TLC’s R&B manifesto as a battle cry, emphasizing consent. “Does she want your number? “NO!” Formed in 2013, these girls are fighting against racism and creating more visibility for black rockers. Check out Chardine’s TED talk, “How Punk music can turn you into a Black Feminist.”
Miriam Mabeka, “Soweto Blues”
Miriam Mabeka (1932-2008) told the New York Times that “she was not a political singer, she became “Mama Africa” with an activist’s tenacity and a musician’s ear.” She began her career during the civil-rights struggles of the United States, performing at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s marches. In “Meadowlands” and “Soweto Blues,” Mabeka denounced apartheid in South Africa. She was banned from her country for using her voice as a form of protest.
Amythyst Kiah, “Pretty Polly”
Based out of Johnson City, Tennessee, Amythyst Kiah is a singer-songwriter, guitarist and banjoist whose music is infused with the Southern Gothic as well as the “old-time” traditional music of Appalachia. In “Pretty Polly,” a murder ballad, Kiah’s perfect harmonies describe a vicious killing of a young woman lured into the forest where she is killed and buried in a shallow grave. Murder ballads, a staple in the Appalachian musical canon, tell us a great deal about violence against women, and offers clues to how much (or how little) our conversations about it have changed over time.
Angelique Kidjo, “Bana”
Born in the small West African country of Benin, now living in Brooklyn, Angelique Kidjo makes the empowerment of women and girls a part of her music and life’s work. The Afro-pop song “Bana” includes the voice of Kidjo’s 87 year-old mother, Yvonne Eve and urges people to value each other over money.
Tati Quebra-Barraco, “Se Liberta”
Tati Quebra-Barraco is a baile funk artist from Rio de Janeiro. As a breakthrough artist in the male-dominated circuit of the genre, Tati Quebra-Barraco is a force to be reckoned with not only in that scene but also in Brazil, where unapologetically embracing blackness is still a radical act.
Asian Dub Foundation, “Truth Hides”
Asian Dub Foundation is a London-based collective that combines their furious hybrid of ragga, jungle, bhangra and punk with political action. In “Truth Hides, they remind us of the people written out of history – the “Black leaders and inventors whose names remain a mystery.”
This song by French-Cuban twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz may give you chills. The Paris-based sisters’ lyrics swap between English and Yoruba, and their swirling beats reveal similar cultural and religious influences. The last thing that’s said in English before the song explodes into an Afro-Cuban beat with a multi-vocal chorus in Yoruba is: “We ain’t nothing without love, without love.”
Bonus track: “Strong girl” by Waje, Omotola Jalade, Yemi Alade, Victoria Kimani and more
Waje Aituaje Iruobe known as Waje (an acronym for “Words aren’t just enough”), is a Nigerian singer whose work in social development projects are seen in her music. “Strong girl,” which features Omotola Jalade, Yemi Alade, Victoria Kimani, was the theme song for ONE’s campaign, Poverty is Sexist, in 2015. Never forget, you are a strong girl.
It was difficult to keep this playlist relatively short. Stay tuned for more great protest from the African diaspora. And if you like these songs, you will love the playlist.