The planet observes International Women's Day every March 8, and the theme for 2007 is "Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls." The day provides a great excuse to talk about women in world music--and not just any women, but those who have used their music for the greater good of their people, their gender, their nation, and the globe.
Miriam Makeba (South Africa) is one of the best known African artists ever. She began her career in the 1950s, and has since found success as a singer/songwriter, political activist, author, actor, great-grandmother and UN ambassador, selling more than five million albums along the way. Of course, she also had to deal with three decades of exile from her homeland during the years of apartheid. Her adopted home of Guinea appointed her as ambassador to the United Nations, and more recently she served as served as Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, founded the Makeba Rehabilitation Centre for Girls, and has worked on HIV and AIDS programs.
Oumou Sangare (Mali) is known for her powerful voice both musically, and socially as she speaks up for women's rights in West Africa. "She's assertive and speaks about important issues, specifically in Mali, but it also resonates in America," offered ethnomusicologist Jon Kertzer in a Global Village Idiot article. He noted that she sings specifically about "the place of women in Islamic society, and how men treat women."
Natacha Atlas (UK/Egypt) also served as a Goodwill Ambassador at the 2001 UN Conference Against Racism, and is herself an embodiment of the cultural links between Europe and North Africa. In 2004 Atlas joined 16 other women in recording the song "On en a marre" [mp3] for Amnesty International's women's rights program. Her music is also used as the theme song to the CBC TV show "Little Mosque on the Prairie."
Rim Banna (Palestine) was born in Nazarath, where she continues to live with her Ukrainian husband. Her songs are inspired by the Palestinian people’s conscience and sentiments, from their culture, their history and their folklore. She is perhaps best known for her singing of lullabies, and was featured on the cross-cultural collaboration Lullabies from the Axis of Evil.
Mercedes Sosa (Argentina) is a living legend in Latin America. Now serving as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Latin America and the Caribbean, she has long supported progressive causes, a stance for which she was searched and arrested on stage in La Plata in 1979. She was later banned in Argentina and moved to Paris, then Madrid.
Angelique Kidjo (Benin) is not only a musical dynamo fluent in several languages, but also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. She's got a new album called Djin Djin coming out May 1, and will be on tour in the USA, opening for Josh Grobin (!?!). [Angelique Kidjo video]
The world has many other great women musician/activists, of course. Leave a comment with your favorite, or perhaps some lesser-known artists deserving of more attention.