Turunesh Wants to Push East African Women's Freedom of Expression

The Tanzanian singer is releasing taarab and unyago-inspired music that challenges traditional narratives.

There's a delicateness to Turunesh's music that is only comparable to the whispered intimacy of a prayer — although the 24-year-old Tanzanian singer would prefer to describe herself as a "Swahili sex symbol." Take her latest single "Cigarette," for example. In it, Turunesh's voice floats above intricate guitar riffs to communicate the urgency and ease of a passionate embrace. The sinfully-sweet anthem is an ode to Black girls who "want to keep the freaky shit private" but be loud about their sexuality.

Turunesh is empowered. As a leading voice within East Africa's alternative music scene, she's courageously forging a clear-cut path of taarab and unyago-inspired music to challenge traditional narratives of "African music." Dubbed the "conjurer of worlds," her music harkens back to taarab's coastal roots, with Bi Kidude being one of her biggest musical influences. "I can only dream of emulating her essence. I call upon her spirit in hopes of writing sex-positive music." She may not be a traditional taarab singer but to the curious ear, her heroines anoint her voice through inflections and melodic choice, even when she's singing in English.

"I consider myself a vessel for music," Turunesh shares. For her, Singing was not a product of happenstance, or a force of habit spurned into luck, it was a call to action. "I make music for people to heal and to discover the truest version of themselves. It's my duty to make these songs and put them out into the world."

Our conversation with Turunesh reveals the importance of celebrating and demystifying East African women's freedom of expression.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Song / Beating Heart.

Watch Tanzanian Up-and-Comer Mike Song's New Video For 'Temptation'

Video Premiere: "This song is my real story, this is me. I am the kid hustling on the streets, life is hard fighting all day, every day just to get by," says the rising artist Mike Song.

Mike Song's story is a compelling one.

At 17, he was living homeless in Dar Es Salaam, when he saw an ad for a music production workshop in Zanzibar. Mike managed to borrow enough money to make his way over and it was at that workshop that he met Beating Heart Project production team Saronde.

"Temptation" was born during those days at the workshop, as "Mike stepped up to the mic and proceeded to enchant the room with the sweetness and sincerity of his voice," Beating Heart mentions. "When he was asked what the song was about, Mike spoke about how his father had died when he was young, he was looking after his mother and younger sister and was tempted to give up pursuing his dreams of music to get a normal job."

"This song is my real story, this is me. I am the kid hustling on the streets, life is hard fighting all day, every day just to get by," Mike Song tells OkayAfrica. "My creative struggle is real; my friends support me but I often feel the temptation to quit—I also hear the voice of my father telling me not to give up. My passion is singing and know deep down that life is going to be OK because I have my friends and family, but for now I have to focus on my dreams of being a successful performer."

Watch out music video premiere for "Temptation" below, the song is out today on Beating Heart.

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