Black Lives Matter: 6 pro-black songs by black women
On the 25th May 2020, yet another unarmed and innocent black citizen was wrongfully murdered at the hands of the police – an institution who at its very core was established to protect the public. His name was George Floyd. In the wake of ongoing and merciless police brutality, here are 6 songs by black women who harness their musical prowess to highlight the plight of black people, and call for action against institutionalised racism:
Black Rage – Ms Lauryn Hill
‘Black rage’ is a demo track that was released to the world in 2014 following the Ferguson Riots that broke out as a direct response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police offer Darren Wilson. The melody is that of ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music, but Hill reworks the lyrics to suit the narrative she wants to tell. As she lists off the factors that inspire ‘black rage’, it’s harrowing, eery, uncomfortable – and so it should be. We’re given a brief insight into the all-too-common daily and deeply-rooted systemic injustices faced by black people, that ring all too true today as they did when the track was released.
Hell You Talmbout – Janelle Monáe
A powerful protest song through and through. ‘Hell You Talmbout’ needs no clarity nor explanation, it’s pretty obvious what the expectation is on us, as listeners, to take away from this. The track is a demand for justice as Monáe and members of her Wondaland Arts Society collective recount the names of African-American victims killed by unwarranted police force. It’s grounding in its request to “say his name!”, “say her name!”, lest we forget. The drums are anthemic, and the gospel-like vocals are formidable, reiterating that there is strength in numbers.
Freedom – Beyoncé ft Kendrick Lamar
‘Lemonade’ is an album paying homage to the strength and power of black women everywhere, and ‘Freedom’ is a standout in its impact. Throughout the song, Beyoncé is empowered, confident, reassuring of the change that will one day come and the means of achieving it – “I’mma riot through your borders”. Kendrick’s verse touches upon institutional racism, racial profiling, and conveys the types of interactions with the police that black people, particularly black men, face on the regular. The duo encourage action and solidarity in this passionate demand for “freedom”, and dismantling long-embedded societal racism.
Brown Girl Blues – Princess Nokia
‘Brown Girl Blues’ is reminiscent of the 1920s blues scene, with its melancholic guitar riffs and effortlessly cool-running bassline. Princess Nokia enters with hard-hitting spoken words, simply yet powerfully narrating the predicament of black people in an almost staccato-like manner for extra clarity – there is no excuse for not picking up what is said. The singer repeats “KKK live as police” four times to reaffirm her message and make certain we understand; you can be free but not have freedom. It’s a somber, but pertinent, reminder of what’s happening in the world around us and the need to acknowledge this whilst reevaluating our own understandings of society and the privileges that come with this from a non-black perspective.
Blk Girl Soldier – Jamila Woods
Jamila is both unapologetic and angelic in her vocals as she unveils the distressing truth of life as a black woman: “they want us in kitchen, kill our sons with lynchings, we get loud about it, oh now we’re the bitches”. The track serves as an uplifting homage to the activism of black women today and throughout history as the third verse references historical black female revolutionaries, from Rosa Parks to Audre Lorde, exuding sisterhood solidarity and a declaration that “black girl lives matter”.
My Power – Tierra Whack, Beyoncé, Moonchild Sanelly, Busiswa, Nija, DJ Lag, Yemi Alade
‘My Power’ is energising, persistent, and proud as Nija repeats the hook “you’ll never take my power” as a mantra. Featuring as a single on the soundtrack for the 2019 Lion King remake, the song champions black pride: “ebony and ebonics, black people win” and defies the typical avoid-all-controversies approach of Disney songs in stating “look at what they did to my sisters, last century, last week” – outlining the multi-generational trauma that has and continues to affect black women. The track manages to highlight racial injustices whilst simultaneously celebrating and uplifting black women.
Of course, for there to be any hope of justice for George Floyd’s murder and, in the long-term, more wide-scale systemic changes in society’s attitude and behaviour towards people of colour, action needs to be taken by every single one of us.
So how can you help?
You can donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund here. The MFF is a grassroots organisation that seeks to use donations to bail out those who have been arrested as part of recent protests for justice in Floyd’s name, and to supply medical aid to those on the field.
You can sign the petition here that seeks justice from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey in the conviction of the police officers responsible for George Floyd’s death.
Rest in Power.
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