5 Non-Western Artists You Should Be Listening To


1. Ana Tijoux, Chile 

Independent I was born, independent I decided,
I don’t walk behind you, I walk alongside here.
— Ana Tijoux, 'Antipatriarca'

Ana Tijoux is a Chilean-French rapper, hip-hop and pop artist. She grew up in France with her parents who were living in political exile during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile.  

Tijoux has been inspired by the liberatory words of Latin American and non-Latin American artists alike, for example Eduardo Galeano, Gabriela Mistral, Simone de Beauvoir or Victor Jara. Tijoux’s work challenges sexism, global capitalism, politics and racism.

For example, her song Antipatriarca (Antipatriarchy) was born both from her desire to protest against insidious sexism in society, and also to give women a voice in revolutionary music. Tijoux said in an interview with DemocracyNow “...you see... Camilo Cienfuegos, Che Guevara, Marti, Simon Bolivar - and where are the women? … so, I decided to make that song called ‘Antipatriarca’.”

Find an English Translation of Antipatriarca here.


2. Rokia Traoré, Mali 

Rokia Traoré is a Malian singer whose music has been credited with helping to break down gender barriers in her home country. Traoré was born into the Bamana ethnic group, which meant that she was discouraged from learning and performing traditional Malian instruments and song. Despite this, Traoré began performing her music as a university student, persevering to find artists and musicians willing to work with a female singer.

Traoré incorporates many traditional Malian instruments as well as non-traditional instruments and sounds into her music. In September 2012 she donated a free download of her song “Manian” from the album Bowmboi (2003) to the campaign “30 Songs/30 Days” in support of a meda project Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which was inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book.

Traoré continues to challenge gender stereotypes and norms through her own career and her music, and addresses other intersectional issues such as the migrant crisis. She wrote the song below, “Be Aware”, for the Aware Migrants Project, and sung in French, English, Arabic, and numerous African languages in an attempt to be as universal as possible.


3. Mashrou’ Leila, Lebanon

Mashrou’ Leila is a Lebanese alternative rock band. The band sings candidly and critically about Lebanese (and Arab) society, sexuality, gender, politics, religion and materialism. The band’s members are vocal in their support of feminism and LGBT+ rights, and thus so is their music. Lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay, and has appeared on the cover of My.Kali, a pan-Arab LGBT+ publication.

Mashrou’ Leila is unafraid of controversy. In 2008 the performed one of their most politically charged songs Al Hajiz (‘The Checkpoint’) before the former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, uncensored. Their song Shim el Yasmine (‘The Smell of Jasmine’) explicitly discussed a six year relationship between two men. The band’s video for Lil Watan (‘for the Motherland’) features a gender-ambiguous belly dancer as a symbol of the Lebanese government, who distracts you from the lyrics of the song. The video is accompanied in the description by the band’s own quote: "Every time you demand change, they make you despair until you sell out all your freedom. They tell you to stop preaching and come dance with them."

Recently, Mashrou’ Leila released their single Roman, which they describe on Youtube as

...self-self-consciously toy[ing] with the intersection of gender with race by celebrating and championing a coalition of Arab and Muslim women, styled to over-articulate their ethnic background, in a manner more typically employed by Western media to victimise them.
This seeks to disturb the dominant global narrative of hyper-secularised (white) feminism, which increasingly positions itself as incompatible with Islam and the Arab world, celebrating the various modalities of middle-eastern feminism… while the lyrics of the verses discuss betrayal, struggle, and conflict, the video revolves around the lyrical pivot in the chorus: ‘aleihum (charge!), treating oppression not as a source of victimhood, but as the fertile ground from which resistance can be weaponised.
— Mashrou' Leila, 'Roman'

English translation here.


4. Thandiswa Mazwai, South Africa

Thandiswa Mazwai is a South African singer from Soweto, Johannesburg. Born in the 1970s, she grew up experiencing apartheid violence. Both of her parents were anti-apartheid activists. Mazwai began her career in music as part of Jack-Knife and Bongo Maffin, groups credited as pioneers of the kwaito movement (a South-African variant of house music that incorporates traditional African beats). Kwaito was famous for pairing socially conscious and thought-provoking lyrics with house beats.

Mazwai is now a solo artist, and has won numerous awards and accolades for her work. Her music often includes traditional Xhosa rhythms, Mbaqangareggaekwaito and funk and jazz sounds, and her lyrics are still preoccupied with revolution. For example in 2016 Mazwai released an album Belede named after her mother, which included nine songs by artists who rebelled against apartheid by singing songs of protest. These include songs by Letta Mbulu and Busi Mhlongo.

Mazwai's song featured in this article is called Nizalwa Ngobani, which can be translated as "who gave birth to you?", and was released in 2007 as part of Mazwai's debut solo album. The song passionately calls the youth of South Africa to remember their country's history, and those who protested and died for their freedom.



5. Shadia Mansour, Palestine

Shadia Mansour is a British Palestinian MC whose Christian Palestinian parents come from Nazareth and Haifa. Mansour raps in Arabic and wears traditional Palestinian clothing when performing, rejecting the over-sexualisation of women in hip-hop and preserving Palestinian identity for the Arab diaspora. She said in an interview with SAMAR, “As Palestinians, and as Arab people we have to preserve everything. Our Arabic language, our clothes… it’s a matter of existence.”

Mansour’s music addresses Middle Eastern politics, and she proclaims her work to be a “musical uprising” against Palestinian occupation. Mansour also takes a stand in Arab gender relations - she refuses to perform to gender-segregated audiences. Mansour’s music is controversial (see her song Al Kufiya Arabiya - ‘The Kufiya is Arab’) but also popular: she has worked with Iraqi rappers Lowkey and Narcy; Palestinian hip-hop group DAM; producer Johnny ‘Juice’ Rosado of Public Enemy; toured with Existence is Resistance; was featured on Chuck D’s website shemovement.com; and is part of the ‘Arab League’ of Hip Hop.

Mansour’s political solidarity through music is not limited to the Middle East, and she in fact collaborated with Ana Tijoux in 2014 for Somos Sur (‘We are the South’), an anthem of independence and empowerment for the Global South.

English translations here.


Article by Mairi Lubelska