Music, as arts in general, is never neutral. It shapes, changes, influences cultures, societies and politics. In some cases, it is used to enforce toxic views on social norms and it can also be instrumentalised by political entrepreneurs. But music can help us to become more aware about political or social problems. The following 15 tracks released in 2020 raise the listeners’ consciousness about important issues.
While the Covid-19 pandemic dominated the news in 2020, African musicians have reminded us about other political and social crises. Tracks by Muthoni Drummer Queen, Kolinga and Star Féminine Band denounce the patriarchal system, highlight female strength and demand gender equity. BANTU encourages Nigerians to get organized and disrupt a political system characterized by corruption and bad governance. In a year that was also shaped by rising Black Lives Matter protests, Lous and the Yakuza, Jennifer Kamikazi and Avit point to the dark legacy of colonialism, racial beauty standards as well as the need to unite in the anti-racism fight. Burna Boy and Made Kuti addresses the police brutality in Nigeria that was highlighted by the End-SARS-protests that shook Nigerian streets in this year. Holy Ten contemplates about the every day struggles of youths in present-day Zimbabwe. Aziza Brahim continues her musical mission to contribute to the liberation of the Sahrawi people. Moonchild Sanelly educates us about the manipulation of religion for economic gains. In a video for one of her tracks, Fena Gitu gives space to a homosexual romance and hereby contributes to the social liberation of a community that still yearns for acceptance. Gaël Faye dedicates a song from his new album to the annual commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
All these tracks help us to acknowledge and analyze past as well as present struggles. They give us hope and inspire us to find ways to end systems of structural violence and to enable each and everyone a life in conformity with human dignity.
1. Muthoni Drummer Queen – ‘Power’
With her track ‘Power‘, Kenyan rap artist Muthoni Drummer Queen provided us with the feminist manifesto of the year 2020. The track denunciates patriarchal societies, portrays female strength and demands gender equality : “Yeah we’ve always been great, for a long time now/ But you always debate, for a long time now/ What a woman should make, what a woman should take“
2. BANTU – ‘Disrupt the Program’
‘Disrupt the Program‘ by the Nigerian Afrofunk collective BANTU is an energetic call to political action. The song challenges Nigerian citizens to voice out their anger about the country’s problems on the streets. It advocates for an active political culture, in which citizens use their democratic right, get organized and aggregate their interests. “Na we get di strength na we get di numbers/ Nothing to fear my brother rise up my sisters/ By vote or by force we must wipe di slate clean”.
3. Kolinga – ‘Nguya Na Ngai’
‘Nguya Na Ngai‘ by the Congolese-French duo Kolinga is a powerful and beautiful ode to the strength and resilience of women. In the lyrics, Rebecca M’Boungou personifies all women – “I am your mother, I am your sister, I am your dearest friend” – and criticizes the unjust social structures that patriarchy imposes on them: “You, man, to whom I gave life, what is mine is less worthy in your eyes”.
4. Burna Boy – ’20 10 20′
The massive police brutality that protesters faced at the Lekki toll gate on the 20th October 2020 shocked many Nigerians. Burna Boy processes this tragedy in ‘20 10 20‘. He holds office holders accountable for the excessive use of violence by the security forces and criticizes the culture of impunity: “The chief of staff, thе commander and the army wey carry order/ Mr President, Mr Governor/ Godfather, gbo gbo ijoba/ All your atrocities/ All of your corner corner/ Make all the dead body disturb you for your dream.”
5. Aziza Brahim – ‘Sahari’
Aziza Brahim‘s music serves as musical and lyrical advocacy work for the cause of the Sahrawi people. In ‘Sahari‘, the artist sings: “You will have your freedom, Dear people, inshallah/ The years have passed, gone by, gone/ And here I am, desperate for my freedom.” The song illustrates the historical and present struggle of the Sahrawi people but also captures the love and passion that Brahim feels for the life in the Sahara desert.
6. Holy Ten – ‘Ndaremerwa’
In the midst of the social-political crisis in Zimbabwe, the rapper Holy Ten dropped ‘Ndaremerwa‘ (I feel burdened), illustrating the hardships that youths go through in his home country. The track speaks about the (in)significance of education in times of economic hardship – “To anybody still in form 2, everything you learn is not true/ If anything you learn has no proof, then everything you learn has no use” – and warns about drug abuse among youths: “Tomorrow if I wake up tired/ Its the weed I smoked aggravated by the meth I took/ Its all about the crystal meth drug/ The grave might as well be dug“
7. Avit – ‘Why Hate Me’
Avit‘s ‘Why Hate Me‘ gives musical impetus to the global Black Lives Matter movement. In the track he points to historical and present forms of racism and confronts racist haters directly with one of the core questions: “Why you gotta hate me so much?” He points to present-day injustices that are rooted in colonialism and racism and encourages all to unite in the fight against racism: “It’s time to reason, Its time to reason/ Let’s all unite/ From every corner let us join the fight“
8. Moonchild Sanelly – ‘Bashiri’
With the amapiano/electro track ‘Bashiri‘, South African artist Moonchild Sanelly dropped a critique of profit-oriented christian preachers, who promise to do wonders while demanding exorbitant amounts of cash. The track is inspired by a authentic woman’s testimony who is member of a church and looked for help because her husband was cheating on her. It’s an important reminder that religion can be instrumentalised for economic gains and that humans shall not put their destiny in hands of manipulative preachers.
9. Made Kuti – ‘Your Enemy’
‘Your Enemy‘ by Made Kuti enlarges the discussion on police brutality in order to ask questions about the structural and psychological factors that cause this type of violence. His questions let listeners think about the overarching system, in which corruption happens and is used as a destructive means to fulfill human needs: “If civilians dey suffer and/ Police sef dey suffer then/ Who dey cause the suffer then“. It’s an important wake up call to engage in the transformation of structures in order to find durable solutions to the problem.
10. Gaël Faye – ‘Kwibuka’ (Feat. Samuel Kamanzi)
On his new album ‘Lundi Méchant‘, Gaël Faye dedicates a song to the annual commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. ‘Kwibuka‘ is Kinyarwanda and means ‘to remember’. In the song he and Samuel Kamanzi succeed to give space to insurmountable pain and grief but likewise find expressions of hope and resilience: “Now we are standing with our hair in the wind/ To ward off the fate that a disaster engulfed/ To say that we are strong, that we come from infinity“
11. Jennifer Kamikazi – ‘Black Skin’
‘Black Skin‘ by rising Folk artist Jennifer Kamikazi is a soulful ode to Black beauty and a critique of Eurocentric conceptions of beauty. The musician deconstructs the dynamics of racial physical standards and highlights that the problem lies within the bias of societies that normalizes toxic concepts of beauty: “I echo glory like the moon to the sun/ I look like God himself, what’s your problem?/ What about the temple makes you quiver in fear/ Got to be you and I’ll be me my dear.“
12. Lous and the Yakuza – ‘Solo’
Lous and the Yakuza‘s tune ‘Solo‘ encourages listeners to educate themselves about (neo)colonialism and its historical and continuous brutality. She criticizes the hypocritical promises of equality and those that silence any form of protest and discontent: “From birth, they promised us the moon and the stars/ As long as we stay quiet, and forget about what really matters/ Who do we ask for help if not the Eternal Father?/ Why isn’t “black” a color of the rainbow?”
13. Fena Gitu – ‘Siri’
By giving same sex relationships space in the video for her track ‘Siri‘, Fena Gitu advocates for the societal acceptance of homosexual romance. The video shows how homosexuality is part of the reality but pushed to the shadows of society because it is not seen as normalcy. By telling the story of a homosexual love affair, Fena Gitu contributes to the social liberation of a community that still yearns for acceptance: “Nobody affi know what we do/ Are we fooling around, are we cheating/ But your forbidden fruit so sweet/ I wanna scream it out loud“
14. Star Féminine Band – ‘Femme Africaine’
Star Féminine Band, a young female band from Natitingou in North-Western Benin, has a bold message for all African girls and women: “You can become President of the republic/ You can become the country’s Prime Minister/ Get up, something has to be done“. ‘Femme Africaine‘ is one of the tracks from their debut album ‘Star Feminine Band‘ and calls African women to believe in their capacities, lead autonomous lives and become leaders in the political sphere.
15. Burna Boy – ‘Monsters’ (Feat. Chris Martin)
‘Monsters You Made‘ by Burna Boy is a furious critique of the unjust and (neo)colonial configuration of the world. Speaking from the perspective of a generation of youths deprived from opportunities, Burna Boy addresses the leaders that benefit from a socio-economic order that is build on structural violence and creates frustration, aggression and “the monsters you made“: “We’re dying as youths/ Come walk a mile in my shoes/ See if you smile at the truth/ See if you digest your food/ That’s when you might have a clue/ Of what the fuck we go through“