Turning up the volume: female genital cutting and music
Three empowered and dynamic voices of today’s music scene have been using the power of their musical talents to reach out to thousands of people and raise awareness about female genital cutting. With unwavering voices, they are calling for international attention and change at the grassroots level. And, with vibrant, popular music on their side, people are listening. We take a look at our top three musical ambassadors for ending FGC.
Sister Fa is a Senegalese hip-hop and urban soul artist and recent recipient of the prestigious ‘Freedom to Create’ Prize. She raises awareness about FGC in Europe and the UK and performs extensively in Senegal in order to engage local young people around this important issue. Her tour ‘Education sans Excision’ (Education without Cutting), is set to begin its third phase when she returns to Senegal this coming May with the support of Orchid Project. Sister Fa and her band will travel across the country – holding concerts, working with local artists, speaking on radio and television shows, and running school workshops. Through these efforts, Sister Fa expects to spread her message to over 15,000 young people.
Herself a cut woman, Sister Fa’s history and music hits a nerve amongst Senegalese youth. Young people not only feel as though they can relate to Sister Fa’s story, but they can also connect with the magnetic sound of her music. Her home village, Thionck Essyl, has now officially abandoned FGC largely thanks to Sister Fa’s previous tours and efforts in Senegal.
Her charisma on and off stage demonstrates the power of musicians to speak out loudly for social change. Sister Fa is a strong, inspiring role model for girls who want to grow up free from FGC. She has been called ‘game-changing, taboo-breaking and inspiring’. It is her vivacity and fearlessness to speak about a unspoken issue to a generation which make Sister Fa the perfect candidate to take on FGC in her home country.
Recently listed as one of the most powerful black women in Europe, jazz singer Caroline Henderson is also raising her elegant voice in support of the cause. A UNICEF Ambassador for Denmark, Henderson strives to raise international awareness about violence against children. After earning critical acclaim in 2007 by winning the Danish Grammy for best recording, Henderson started headlining campaign events. During the ‘Day of the African Child’ celebration in Mozambique in June 2010, Henderson’s voice rang out alongside Mozambique’s top artists in advocating for children’s rights.
Returning to Denmark, Caroline Henderson took the issue of FGC in her stride. “Violence against children can be physical, sexual and emotional, and should be prevented by all means,” Henderson once explained. Working alongside Orchid Project Denmark Association, Henderson headlined a benefit concert in Copenhagen on International Day against female genital cutting this year. The event was attended by over 500 people. The audience were treated to a truly special evening as Caroline Henderson’s rhythmic melodies and powerful lyrics dazzled and inspired. Her voice has found a place in the international arena, and her words have brought much needed attention to the neglected issue.
In our list of motivating musicians, Beninoise singer-songwriter and activist Angelique Kidjo most definitely deserves a place. A UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002, Kidjo has been listed by BBC as one of the African continent’s 50 most iconic figures, and one of the 40 most powerful celebrities in Africa by Forbes magazine. Kidjo is particularly passionate about the rights and wellbeing of women and girls. In 2009, in cooperation with the International Federation of Human Rights, Kidjo launched a campaign entitled ‘Africa for women’s rights.’ Since this time, she has been working to gain support and funding for girls’ education, maternal health, and the end of FGC.
At the Commission on the Status of Women held between February 27th and March 9th in New York City, Angelique Kidjo created a unique concert entitled ‘Raise Your Voice to End Female Genital Mutilation,’ with support from the Italian Mission, UNFPA, and UNICEF. The event was held in the packed United Nations General Assembly Hall at the UN Headquarters, where an estimated 2,500 NGO representatives and delegation members were in attendance.
The General Assembly Hall was never so alive. Hands clapping, audience members raised their voices alongside Kidjo’s, calling for an end to the practice. “What I want to try to do… is to pledge and to convince all nations of the United Nations to sign a resolution to ban the practice of female genital mutilation…We cannot live in a modern society with FGM still around!”Kidjo explained.
Listen to Angelique Kidjo’s concert at the UN Commission on the Status of Women from February 2012.
Music unites people
Music has a way of uniting people. We often feel empowered and motivated through song. Sister Fa, Caroline Henderson, and Angelique Kidjo have not only inspired interest in this critical issue from the grassroots to the international levels, but they have also fostered a sense of solidarity among us. Today, more than ever, we stand united in a common goal: to create a world free from female genital cutting. These three women are helping to make this world possible, and we thank them for that.
And watch this space – we are hotly tipping Malian born Fatoumata Diawara who has raised her voice to speak up against FGC, and just last week were sent this song by Kenyan hip-hop artist MC Kibo – it’s just as vital that men are singing up and speaking out about ending female genital cutting, too.