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Citizenship

Hidden musical gems with a cause

PHOTO: Flickr: Jason Eppink

There are many platforms we can use to be activists and there are many mediums we can do this through. Lately, my colleagues have been writing about activism through art, cleverly dubbed “artvism” (props to my colleague Chelsea for finding this term!). Now, I want to explore activism through music.

Music is an integral part of our everyday lives that comes to create and perpetuate culture. It can also bring people together and lead to social change through activism. There are plenty of very talented musicians who sing for a cause, i.e. Joan Baez or Bob Marley are prime examples of advocating through music. I would like to shed light on some bands or singers you have probably never heard of; they’re the hidden gems with a cause!

1. Sister Fa (Senegal)

Sister Fa is a Senegalese rapper, an activist and an FGM (female genital mutilation) survivor. Sister Fa, or her real name Fatou Diatta, sings in French and in the local Wolof. Growing up, she always wanted to rap. Hip hop that started as protest music, still exists in its pure form in Senegal. Sister Fa views it as her duty to tell the truth and rap about what she witnesses.

As Sister Fa was gaining success, she used her music to engage her audience in causes such as opposing FGM. She now lives in Berlin, Germany, which helps her spread her message to the diaspora community while her music stays focused on issues from her home in Senegal.

In this video, “Milyamba”, Sister Fa raps about the hard lives that women face in the countryside. Do not worry, although she sings in French and Wolof, there is a translation of the lyrics in English if you click through to watch on Youtube under “show more”. Enjoy! (but come back here since there is so many more awesome musicians to discuss)

If she’s become your new idol?! Which, I don’t know why she wouldn’t be. Check out the film Sarabah: Tales from the Flipside of Paradise, that focuses on FGM and follows Sister Fa’s tour “Education Sans Excision” (Education without Cutting). 

2. N.E.D (USA)

N.E.D, No Evidence of Disease, is an American band where members are gynecologic oncology surgeons by day and musicians by night! I’m imagining that they sing during surgery… Yikes, just kidding, they’re too professional to do that.

With that in mind, the band’s mission is education and awareness for women affected by gynecologic cancers. Initially started for fun as a cover band for a medical conference, they realized the potential to reach women through a powerful medium - music. Their music gives the affected women a voice and empowers them to break the silence of their suffering.

3. Grace Weber (USA)

Grace Weber, a Milwaukee-born American based in Brooklyn, NY, recently sang in the cause for safety from gun violence. Back in 2013, following the Newtown massacre, a bill that could have made many safer from gun violence, had been rejected by Congress. Weber sung to retaliate. Her singing voice, which many have described as “a voice that could stop a bullet”, is most definitely fitting  to deliver her powerful message.

4. Mayam Mahmoud (Egypt)

Full song and translated English lyrics.

Mayam Mahmoud, a Muslim Arab from Egypt, is a rapper and women's rights activist. Still in her teens, Mahmoud performed for “Arabs Got Talent” and wowed the audience with her powerful rapping voice and showstopping lyrics. She began rapping at the age of 10 and has since honed her skills and raps on topics related to her ideals. She fights for women’s equality and believes that women should be able to express themselves freely without being stigmatized. Mahmoud speaks out against the harassment and bullying that women in Egypt face everyday.

In one of Mahmoud’s songs, she raps: “Who said that femininity is about dresses? Femininity is about intelligence and intellect.” Now more popular than ever, she aspires to continue to fight for women’s rights and equality. She hopes to continue to inspire others to change the way they think and treat others in Egyptian society. Mahmoud is younger than I am. I marvel at the mediums young people use to advocate for human rights.

Make sure to watch both videos! I know it’s a lot, but it’s necessary. Her Arabs Got Talent audition really shows her spunk and enthusiasm for her ideals. Unfortunately for most of us, it’s all in Arabic and there are no English subtitles… So, the second video has the lyrics in Arabic and English - you might as well learn some Arabic now!

5. Angelique Kidjo (Benin)

Time has dubbed Angelique Kidjo, a singer and activist from Benin, “Africa’s premier diva”. She advocates for a lot of great causes, such as women’s rights, increased access to education, climate change...and the impressively long list goes on. Growing up in Benin, Kodjo had experienced a lot of political turmoil, later having to relocate to Paris where she could work on her music freely. Already an over the top inspiration, Kidjo is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. She continues to empower many through her Beninese music and through collaborations with a plethora of artists and musicians from around the world who have incorporated her messages into mainstream pop culture. The video is a clip of her singing with John Legend at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa - an empowering song with a powerful message. (And… it’s in English! so you won’t have to read the lyrics to the song!)

6. Mihir Joshi (India)

Mihir Joshi’s song “Sorry” says all that he’s advocating for: women’s safety in India. A devoted father to his daughter, he was horrified when he truly saw the inhumane acts and injustices women face in India. Joshi started as a radio jockey interviewing big name musicians and then realized his own growing passion for music. He gathered a few musicians to join him in his band and went straight to work on cover songs, as well as writing new music. Following the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi, mass protests galvanized Joshi to sing for a safer society. Unfortunately, the Indian film censor board, rather than focusing on Joshi’s powerful statements, cracked down on the song and requested he remove the word “Bombay” from the song lyrics. This move only exacerbates the injustices in India and consequently made his song more famous. A Twitter firestorm that ensued and Joshi responded as eloquently as one can in 140 characters. Regardless of whether people want this song censored or not, it has made a huge impact in India and you should watch it for the simple and powerful fact that it shows he is such a caring father.

7. Zebda (France)

For a written English translation of the lyrics click here.

Zebda, a French band known for its political activism, is based in Toulouse (Southern France). The seven members of the band have diverse backgrounds, but all of them advocate for political and social justice. Mainly they focus on the status of immigrants and minorities in France, singing a lot about the injustices that the immigrants face in the French banlieues (a term for suburban ghetto in French, where a good number of immigrants live).

Cleverly, the name of the band Zebda is the Arabic word for butter, which in French is beurre, and in French slang beur means French citizens of Arab origin. Their music, which is very politically progressive, is eclectic in music styles and incorporates the music styles of their origins (mainly North African).


I could not sing if my life depended on it. Funny anecdote: once I was at a karaoke bar in Madagascar, sang a song with a friend and of course we were terrible. Next up, a young Malagasy lady sings a song in English absolutely beautifully. After she finished, I went to compliment her, because I just had to let her know she was amazing. She actually did not speak a word of English. So that really confirmed the fact that I just can’t sing. But I really admire those who can,  and particularly those who choose to use their voice to empower others for a cause. If you’re like me (and can’t do this with a song), you can help by sharing these artists’ works, and supporting activism through art! It is only through sharing that we are able to create a culture of social activism through music.

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Joline Faujour