An African nation in upheaval, Burundi has birthed some of the most passionate protest music in the world. Musicians, artists and others opposed to the tyrannical rule of President Pierre Nkurunziza write their stories in fear of retribution, but still they create. Here are five acts from Burundi who fight on in verse and harmony.
“Free” is the key trait of Bertrand Ninteretse’s rap alter ego. He is among the hundreds of thousands who have fled Burundi to preserve their artistic livelihoods. His flow and lyrics recall Mos Def and Bob Marley, and his message is pure: All are welcome. He runs an open-door retreat for refugees in Rwanda and collaborates with artists of all genres in the mega-group Melodika, according to NPR.
As the daughter of a diplomat and as a mage of music, Khadja Nin has a warm, healing persona. She rose to prominence in the 1990s, infusing Burundian/Rwandan instruments like the umwironge into seductive, spiritual tempos. Like Kaya-free, Nin is an outspoken protester against President Nkurunziza’s third term. “You can kill us, but you can never kill all of us,” she said in a 2015 Reuters interview.
John Lennon’s influence really is universal. Witness singer Yoya Jamal’s take on the Beatle’s solo classic. Jamal invites his fellow countrymen to lift their voices in search of peace and understanding in the world’s second-poorest nation. His is a mouthpiece of hope and divinity. Jamal releases new songs regularly, including this week’s jubilant “Rukundo.”
Creation is life for this reggae collective, now strewn across the globe. Inspired by Marley and other nonviolent historical figures, these artists translate their quest for peace into rousing tunes. Though the members have sought asylum outside of Burundi (the government continually shut down their concerts), they soldier on in their mission. One of their latest Facebook posts decries Nkurunziza and encourages the restoration of unity of their homeland.
Seeking solace in their faith, Redemption Voice blend tender melodies with exalting vocals. They cite Boyz II Men as a major influence, taking their R&B style to heavenly heights. RV perform frequently across Burundi and Rwanda, incorporating Christian teachings into a lively stage show.
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