Music is interwoven within the the fabric of social justice. It is intimately connected to human and women’s rights, personal and collective stories, freedom, and nonviolent movements. Music is also an educational tool to raise public’s awareness around ethnic, political, economical, gender-based violence, and social class issues. It consistently challenge the conventional ways of thinking and the status quo.

In light of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we share with you a Music Monday playlist featuring 16 women singers from around the globe. These women have opened multiple platforms of resistance through their rich sounds and lyrics. Their impassioned voices continue to offer piercing insights to an array of contemporary and past experiences; penetrating right into our collective conscious and human spirit. The selected songs reveal the myriad of obstacles to social justice through the lens of women, while also affirming and celebrating their invaluable role in bringing about change.

1. “Si se calla el cantor” by Mercedes Sosa

Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009) was an Argentinean singer known as the “voice of the voiceless” for her commitment to the poor, the working-class, and indigenous groups. Today we remember her powerful political/feminist views and her socially conscious music which made her an international symbol of freedom. From the song: “If the singer is silenced, life stops, because life, life itself is a song.” More info on the song and “La Negrita” is found here.

2. “Bi Feru” by Oumou Sangare

Oumou Sangare is a Malian singer who sings against early marriage, polygamy, fatherless children, and abuse of wives. Oumou is a loud voice when it comes to fighting for women rights in Mali. Everything about Oumou oozes with integrity and authenticity. Bi Feru, which means “modern marriage” talks about how parents marry their daughters to men with “money,” rather than letting them make a choice.

3. “Milyamba” by Sister Fa

Sister Fa-Sarabath is a Senegalese hip-hop artist who has been fighting Female Genital Mutilation(FGM) through her music and her successful grassroots campaign, “Education without Excision.” A victim of the FGM herself, Sister Fa continues to be an extraordinary voice using her music to challenge cultural practices. To learn more about her work, please watch this.

4. “Yareb” by Malouma

Malouma is a Mauritanian-born in the sixties- singer who has been playing a significant role advocating for the rights of women, children, and discrimination against Afro-Mauritanians. “Music can change mentality and ideas and it can educate society,” says the beautiful singer. For more background on her music, read here.

5. “Kijiti” by Bi Kudude

Known as the songbird of Zanzibar and the Queen of Tarab, Fatima hint Baraka, or Bi Kudude has passed away in April 2013. It is believed she was over a 100 years old. Ki Kudude often “lectured against oppression and sexual abuse.” This featured song, which was her favorite song, is about a ” pregnant woman who was assaulted and killed, and her body thrown on the side of the road”. Please read more here about this legendary singer.

6.”Huria” by Souad Massi

Souad Massi is a talented Paris-based Algerian singer/songwriter/guitarist. She sings in Arabic, Berber, French and occasionally English. As a woman and as a Berber, Massi had her own struggles with religious fundamentalists in Algeria. This has led to her to live in exile in France. Her music is political in a subtle manner, pleading for peace and the end to political persecution, gender inequity, and internal conflicts.

This song, “Huria” (freedom) talks about the beauty of freedom after the independence of Algeria. On the background you also hear the Algerian poet, Moufdi Zakaria, reciting lines from one of his poems. Moufdi also wrote the Algerian national anthem while in prison.

7. “Bledi (my country)” by Badiaa Bouhrizi

Badiaa Bouhrizi (Neysattou) is an underground Tunisian singer committed to justice, human rights and freedom. Her lyrics in the past addressed the corruption of Bin ALi’s regime and police brutality. To learn more about this incredible contemporary singer, click here.

8.”Ya Setti Setti” by May Nasr

May Nasr is a captivating Lebanese folk singer committed to the Palestinian liberation struggle, women rights in the Arab world, and artistic consciousness. May’s listeners are global and loyal. Her songs about the horrors of the Lebanese civil-war often brought her audience to tears.

9. “Eva” by Anelique Kidjo, feat Asa

Is it even possible to talk about music and women/human rights in Africa without mentioning Kidjo? The singer and activist from Benin is part of every worthy fight. To know more about her new album, Eve, which is dedicated to African women, please listen to her wonderful interview with NPR earlier this year.

10. “Shock” by Ana Tijoux

Ana Tijoux is a French-Chilean musician, rapper, feminist, and activist.

“Writing this song, I was inspired by these social movements, writing from my perspective as a mother, musician and citizen. I thought it was important to pay homage to these protesters.” She said in a press statement.

The song, which was also inspired by Naomi Klein’s book “The Shock Doctrine,” is with perennial relevance. From Mexico to Ferguson, the song speaks to the people there. To read more about Tijoux’s new album which highlights indigenous history and rhythm, read here.

11. “Je Veux” (I want) by Zaz

Zaz is a French singer with a raspy voice, who blends different genres(jazz, soul, etc) into her music. She is often being compared to the great Edith Piaf since both starting their music careers as street performers. I chose this song because it is one of my favorite Zaz songs, and it makes me want to dance – as Emma Goldman once said, “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” The song is about embracing oneself, about “Finie l’hypocrisie, Oubliez donc tous vos clichés” and “découvrir ma liberté.”

For the English translation of lyrics, go here.

12.“Zapata Se Queda” (Zapata Says) by Lila Downs

Lila Downs is a fiery Mexican American singer and activist. Her commitment to immigration rights and reforms comes hand in hand with her music and the constant dialogues she has with her audience. Lila utilize her incredible talent to address issues around Mexican history, indigenous rights, borders, Mexico’s corrupt system, and America’s limited understanding of Latin America. Her music manages to perfectly mix Mexican classics and indigenous rhymes into contemporary expressions. Everything about her is original, spiritual, and vibrant. If Frida Kahlo was a singer, she would’ve been Lila Downs.

The song I picked here is about Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. According to NPR, “Downs wrote this song about Mexico’s need for a visionary leader today as the country continues to endure new conflict.” To learn about her journey, music, and what she has learned from women, click here.

13.“Yarim derdini ver bana” by Aynur Doğan

Kurdish singer Aynur Doğan has a nostalgic and striking voice. The singer grew up exposed to the Turkey-PPK conflict, which eventually led her family to seek refuge in Istanbul in 1992. Growing up in a society that criminalized Kurds did not stop Aynur from singing in her mother-tongue. That in itself is a political act.

14. “La Carta” (the letter) by Violeta Parra

Violeta Parra (1917-1967) was a legendary Chilean singer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist, visual artist and social activist. She was also known as the “mother of new song.” Violeta’s personal commitment to the struggles of the poor and justice is profoundly reflected in her songs. La Carta is written from the perspective of a sister whose brother was imprisoned by the government. In the letter Violeta condemns the militia and their brutal treatment of people. To read the lyrics in English, click here.

15. “Hasta Siempre Comandante” by Joan Baez

Joan Baez is an American folk singer/songwriter and social activist. She was one of the leading singing voices during the civil rights movement. Her song “We Shall Overcome” which she performed at the 1963 March organized by Dr Martin Luther King, has since become an anthem for civil rights folks. Her life and music continues to inspire and open minds.

16. “Horizontalidad” by Krudas Cubans

Krudas Cubensi is a Cuban hip hop duo. To learn more about this fresh, hard-hitting and frank group, click here.

Featured image: Lila Downs screenshot from “Zapata se queda”  YouTube video.

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