South Africa's Boldest Women in Music on the Ultimate 'Girl Power' Anthems

We asked some of our favourite artists in South Africa what they're listening to this Women’s Month.

Women’s Month is officially underway in South Africa. It’s a time to reflect on the phenomenal, kick-ass women in our lives and throughout history. We asked some of the boldest women in South African music to share their ultimate girl power anthems. Here’s what your favourite artists are listening to this Women’s Month.

Dope Saint Jude

Nicki Minaj – “Did It On Em”

“Naturally, I selected a track by Nicki Minaj. This song is totally subversive. My favourite line is ‘If I had a dick I would pull it out and piss on em.’ I like the way Nicki subverts the masculine hip hop archetype––and you can tell she is being cheeky in her delivery. She flips masculinity on its head and demonstrates the bravado we expect males in hip hop to be spitting. This track makes me feel powerful in a way that is totally unapologetic. When I listen to this, I feel sexy, feminine and like I have zero f*cks to give.”

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne Chaka Chaka – “W(ell) O(rganised) Man (WOMAN)”

"My choice of song is one that I wrote entitled 'W(ell) O(rganised) Man (WOMAN).' It is from my 2012 album Amazing Man. This song is about the WOMAN. She is strong, she is vulnerable, she is assertive and she is humble. Women are taking up more powerful spaces in our society and as a woman, I am always inspired by the tenacity and strength of the many women who have gone against all odds to make their voices known in the world. This song is for all of us women!"

Manteiga (of Batuk)

Osunlade ft. Nadirah Shakoor – “Pride”

“This song was released in 2002 and I remember how madly in love I was with it when it came out. Everybody listening to soulful house at the time will speak of how huge this song was. It speaks of prides as if we are strong powerful lions and lionesses....it speaks of being proud, of being black, of being a woman, of being a goddess, a flower, a sun. It is the kind of song that builds me up inside. I've seen both men and women sing this song out loud, and it's usually sung with their eyes tightly shut. Deep emotion for those few minutes. I roar when I hear this song! I fall in love with it each time I hear it and it makes me extra proud of who we are as women and as black phenomenal forces of nature, living in our PRIDE.”

Zaki Ibrahim

Laura Mvula – “Phenomenal Woman”

"Video filmed in Bo-Kaap Cape Town and it reminds me a lot of my childhood. I don't know who directed it, but it looks like something Zandi Tisani would do.

I was put on to Laura by one of my besties a few years ago and she told me that she reminded her of me..so I didn't check her out. lol ..not right away at least. I think most artists are a bit weirded out when people tell them they are 'like' someone else.

When I did, it was a beautiful thing. I could sort of see what she meant. I suppose it could be in that we write similarly and it seems that we might listen for and might be looking to say the same things in our music. This woman is not only fiercely gorgeous, but she inspires other woman by just being herself.

This song belongs at the top of everyones' playlist (who feels to slay), for getting ready for the day, a big meeting, big night, a new date, a new year, a new life.

‘OH MY MY She Fly, OH MY She Fight!’ Love this song, LOVE this woman!"

Toya Delazy

Neneh Cherry – “Woman”

“The title says it all. I resonate with song because I have been in her position. Women are powerful! And were it not for woman, no man would exist. I love how she paints that picture in a loving way. Whether you are a guy or a girl you can't help but appreciate the women in you life after listening to this very empowering song.

My favorite line : ‘but I'm the kind of woman that was made to last, they tried erasing me, but they couldn't wipe out my past.’”

Simphiwe Dana

Busi Mhlongo

“She embodied the ultimate woman for me. Both soft and strong. Both highly discerning and consciously naive. Always seeking the best experience from life, without taking anything away from anyone. Addicted to the joy of giving.”

Patty Monroe

Godessa – “Nguwe”

“The reasons behind my choice is a reminder of the endless possibilities a woman is capable of. It talks of how man flows through the belly of her kindness and yet is still aware of the savageness she brings. ‘Just like a menstrual cycle the goddess will return.’ So it's in our best interests to respect all women.”

Manthe Ribane

Zaki Ibrahim ft. Hallie Switzer – “Oh Love”

“Zaki Ibrahim has played a big role in my life. She inspired me so much to be where I am. The reason I picked ‘Oh Love’ is because we love love so much, that sometimes love does not love us back. But the beauty of it is not always finding someone to love you, but also finding self-love. And just being solid with yourself, and finding love within yourself. The more you love yourself, the more you’ll find someone who will truly love you for who you are. Even if you’re in a relationship, the only way for someone to love you is when they see how much you love yourself and take care of yourself.”

Okzharp ft. Manthe Ribane – “Sizzr”

“The second song is my song ‘Sizzr,’ which I worked on with Okzharp. At that time in my life I was transcending into a new me. I was ready for it. And I had to realise what I’m here for. And this song is such a motivational song. Not only to me, but to most people that have heard it. We got to Hot 99 on YFM top one for three weeks, and for people to even still play it now, for me it’s so important to be part of something that is so motivational. I don’t know how many people really love this song, but I trust that whoever listens to it they can get up in the morning and it can really make a difference, a positive difference in their lives.”

Malonku (Nonku Phiri + Maloon TheBoom) – “The Answer”

“The third and last song is by Nonku Phiri. I mean, who doesn’t love Nonku Phiri? Her voice is such a healing power. She’s got so much power within her voice. And I’m so proud of her. She’s a good friend of mine, and growing up and seeing her growth and listening to her music really helped me to transcend into my own chapter within music.”

Moonchild Sanelly

Moonchild Sanelly – “VUMA”

“The song came to me as I'm always imagining or hearing sexual deprivation stories mainly from liberated independent women with no voice in the bedroom only because they are polite. Afraid to make their partners inadequate. The point to this song is that all humans matter in a relationship. Our sexual appetite isn't limited. We matter. The topic gets broad because I recognise homosexual relationships too hence I've specified 'partner' because we are such a diverse people to be limited or write limited to SEXUALITY when gumans go thru same experiences thru different experiences at different times.

Moral of the story is we all have needs and I hope my partner can accommodate because I want nothing better than being his freak!!!”

Push Push

Moonchild Sanelly – “Mali”

“Moonchild's ‘Mali’ is my ultimate feel-good song. It's one of those songs that no matter how many times I've had it on repeat, it never feels overplayed.”

Babes Wodumo ft. Mampintsha – “Wololo”

“‘Wololo’ by Babes Wodumo is another track that brings me all the good feels! Babes Wodumo is an incredible artist and I can't wait to see and hear more from her this year. I'm playing a show with her on the 27th in Joburg, alongside a host of other amazing South African women.”


Blood Orange – “By Ourselves”

“There's a line in that record that reassures me how important I am and how every woman is amazing. How I'm amazing and should acknowledge the light and strength of another without competing with them or allowing myself to get intimidated by her strength, her beauty, her success etc.

That song comes [with] hits like the sermon I was never taught as a young girl going through some hard crap trying to [figure] out what being a woman is and constantly trying to learn that from TV programs. I'm commissioned to succeed to be wealthy, to be healthy, to be whole so that when I lack nothing I can go to that girl with nobody and team up with her and assist her to get in formation so she too touch another.”

Kyla-Rose Smith (of Freshlyground)

Patti Smith – “Piss Factory”

“I just love the hardcore attitude of this song. It’s not a ‘respect me, because I am a woman’ kinda song, it’s more like ‘I know exactly what I want, I see the world for what it is and I am not gonna let it get me down!’

This song originated as a poem written by Smith about the time she spent working in a baby buggy factory, and she’s expressing her assurance that she would not let this experience kill her ambitions. ‘I refuse to lose, I refuse to fall down’ This woman is just a total badass!”

Photo courtesy of Sam Soko.

Interview: Sam Soko is the Kenyan Director Behind Sundance Hit, 'Softie'

We meet filmmaker Sam Soko who has made a stirring documentary about the Kenyan protest leader Boniface Mwangi

Filmmaker Sam Soko didn't intend on making a documentary about Kenyan photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi.

The original idea he had was to make a manual of sorts, a short video guide, on how to protest, the do's and don't's. Soko, himself an activist artist who cut his teeth convincing friends to let him create political music videos for their apolitical songs, knew Mwangi's experience on the streets both photographing protests and staging them meant he had a lot to share with others.

But then came the blood. A thousand litres of it, to be precise. And the pigs. Dozens of them, with words like MPigs written on them. Like the graphic photos Mwangi had become known for taking—it was a sight you couldn't look away from. It was a protest Mwangi organized, in 2013, to decry corrupt members of the Kenyan parliament who had decided to increase their salaries, 2 months after taking office. And at his side, through the thick red liquid of it all, was Mwangi's wife, Njeri, ready to be arrested with him.

"Once I was witness to his relationship, I started seeing him as a family man," Soko tells OkayAfrica. "Because he's planning a protest and all, but when you look at the footage, you start seeing the kids and you start seeing Njeri. That's when it started hitting me, in the sense, that she was with him in such a crazy space."

Soko met Mwangi through the creative and activist hub he created called PAWA 254, as they became part of the groundswell demanding democratic reforms in a country still left scarred from the division sewed between Kikuyu and Luo people by British colonizers. "We had a new Constitution at the time, and there was this hope that we finally could picket without being tear-gassed or being beaten, Like, our civil liberties could be held up." Instead, the government strengthened its police force into a notorious organization condemned by human rights activists. "That's very salient in the film," says Soko. "If you see how the police dress, for instance, at the beginning, it's very different; they become more militant towards the end."

Soko's debut feature-length documentary, Softie, which became the first Kenyan film to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, earlier this year, is at once a love story between Mwangi and his wife and their three children, but also between Mwangi and his beloved Kenya, under president Uhuru Kenyatta. Central to the film is the tussle between how these different loves bump up against each other: what comes first — love of country or love of family?

We spoke to the Nairobi-based director about making the film, which opens in virtual cinemas, starting this Friday, September 18th.

Boniface Mwangi with his wife Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

OA: Early on in the film, we learn how steadfast Boniface Mwangi is — he talks about being willing to die for the ideals he believes in, which made me think of Nelson Mandela and his Rivonia Treason Trial speech. Boniface is someone in the present day who still shares this belief?

When we were working on the edit, and kind of crafting and thinking about what the story was going to be, something that we found that was really, really interesting is, with a lot of the stories, like the story of Nelson Mandela, you'd never see the other side. That's something we see later, up ahead, as a retrospective. We'd hear about Martin Luther King and then we'd read about Coretta Scott in, I think, 1990, like, 'Oh, this his was her struggle.' That sort of thing. But for me, Boniface and Njeri represented a present day reality struggle that showcases what Mandela was going through, what Martin Luther was going through. That was kind of like unravelling the curtain; when you see Martin Luther marching, Coretta's at home, trying to help their kids do their homework. And this is the reality.

OA: And the film poses that question of love for your country versus love for your family, and which one should come first?

Exactly. They see it in different ways. Boniface sees it that if you improve the country, you improve the lives of those who you love. Njeri's like, you have to have your family's back first. And that means everything else comes second. And she's right; she's not wrong. And he's not wrong.

OA: The film really is privy to some really private moments in Mwangi's life — how did you gain his trust?

When we started filming the short video, he was really involved with the protests, and we started doing the protests with him. So we were—quote, unquote—in the trenches with him in the protests, and somehow that's how he kind of welcomed us to his home. When you've been with someone in the streets, and you're tear-gassed together more than once, you already have a common bond. But then I started developing a relationship with him that was beyond the streets. Just checking up on him and asking, what's going on, what's taking place? That sort of thing. I think it took a while. And I think even from Njeri, we kind of developed a kind of camaraderie that was separate from my relationship with Boniface, because I would actually be like, 'Hey, he said that, how does that make you feel?' And not necessarily on camera. But over time, he kind of accepted us to be there with a camera. At some point, I kind of felt like they were talking to me, and not necessarily the camera; like, the camera is kind of this thing that's there, but not there. That kind of trust, again, was built on a respect that I have for them and their values and what they're doing. I think that's something they saw. It made them trust me with their story and trust me with their family.

You're the director of the film, but you're also producer, writer and cinematographer. Did Boniface's own style as a photojournalist influence you in any way?

The film has more than one cinematographer, and a lot of my cinematography is within the intimate moments, because that's when they would only engage with someone they trust. But him being a photographer actually, to a point, made the work a bit hard because he's constantly looking at how you're doing it. He's in your face about the angle. He's like, 'Hey, why are you standing there, you should be there.' But in some places he did help 'cause he's been filming in the streets and filming protests for a very long time. So when you're there filming, he'll easily tell you, 'Dude, don't stand there. They're about to start tear-gassing. Go to the other side.' And it's weird, when you're on the other side and you're filming, and all of a sudden you see tear gas, you wonder, 'How the hell did he know?' You do that 234 times and you start knowing yourself, 'Oh, this is how,' and he was really helpful in that sense.

I can imagine that filming during the protests must have been one of the big challenges of making this film but what else did you struggle with? There were death threats for Mwangi, did that happen to you as well?

It's so funny, when you're filming and when you're in the protests, it's adrenaline talking. So you're not really thinking about whether you're going to be okay. This one time, I got arrested because the cop said I was a spy for the protesters. [We had everything] from cameras breaking to sound equipment messing up, but when it became a more political story, with death threats, it became scary even for editing the film. Because you don't know who's watching you. This one time, I was with him in the car, filming, and we were being followed. So we kind of had to be very careful who we are telling about the story. It was a very deep secret that we were making this film and there are people who are watching it now asking, 'How could you keep this from us from all these years?' Because we had to do that. Especially when the family was in the US. We had to do that for the sake of safety for him, Boniface, for his family but also the film team. I remember doing the pitches with different names. But then we were also lucky that we had our co-producing partner in Canada, Eye Steel Film, so they were able to house the edit there. I went to Canada to edit and that kind of also gives you a kind of freedom to think and work and create. That was the reality, and now I think we have PTSD from the film. I can't film another protest. I'm sorry. I'm out. Like, it tapped me out.

There are similarities to the Black Lives Matter protests here in the US, against police brutality and violence but the slogan takes on a different resonance in places like Kenya, where the police force is particularly heavy-handed. How do you see these protests as being similar but also different?

There are two things that you learn with the film. One, our voices can never be silenced. They will try, but I think humanity is like a pressure cooker. The more you boil us, the more you put that heat, the more explosive we become. And through people like Boniface's life, you see that there are human beings who exist, who do extraordinary things.

The other thing is the idea of activism doesn't necessarily just speak to the person who's on the street. It doesn't necessarily speak to the person who's holding the placard. An activist is someone like Njeri and her life, and her family. And Khadija [Mohamed, Mwangi's campaign manager]. She's such a strong and powerful activist in her own right. She was Boniface's campaign manager for free. The work they did was so powerful. And you have these other people in the background who are doing such incredible things. The sum total of what they've done is [to] instigate… We have an election next year, but I am so sure that we are going to have so many candidates who are going to be like, 'We want you to donate to our campaign. We have these values and beliefs; this is what we want to do.' That is how we need to go about change or add on to the conversations of change.

The same thing that's happening with the Black Lives Matters movement. Yes, there are people going to the street and we should keep going to the street. But we need to push people to engage in policy and make sure these policy changes are made.

We need to stand for what we believe in, as filmmakers in spaces where we feel oppression exists. Like the rules that have come out with the Academy Awards, these are rules that should be celebrated because they add on to that conversation of diversity and representation. All these things—that sum total—is what makes the difference. It's going beyond the streets and going beyond our Tweets, going beyond our Facebook messages, making films and sharing films. We just need to keep pumping up the volume, keeping the heat up, keep pushing. It's gonna take a while, but we'll get there.

Photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

That's where you as a filmmaker come in—this film was the first Kenyan film to get into Sundance, where it won a special editing prize.

There's another film I'm producing and, and, yes, I had my film at Sundance, that's great. But there's this other filmmaker who's making another film, and it's so cool, and this is the thing—we need to keep bouncing off this energy and this light and this vibe, and just keep pushing and making sure that the wheels keep turning. That's what we're all about.

How do you renew your strength, as a filmmaker but also as a Kenyan and as an African?

Being a Kenyan is hard. I think being an African is hard. Like, it's hard. There's a line I heard Boniface say once: 'I love my country, but I am afraid of my government.' But the way in which, personally, I find energy is when I meet new filmmakers, or you know, people who are like starting out and they want to make films that sound totally crazy. And they believe that they can do it. And I'm like, 'yes, yes, keep going!' We are planning to do a premiere. We have not confirmed the date yet but we're thinking it's around going to be early October in Kenya, because Kenyans haven't watched it. The government gave us an adult rating.

This is the same government that banned Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki because of its homosexual theme…

Exactly, that's what we're getting but the lemonade that we've made out of all this is, 'Guess what? This is cinema!' We're going to take it to a cinema. People are going to come to watch it in a cinema or watch it at home or watch it in the best way possible. And the people who've watched it have appreciated it as a film and a story, and their story. They've seen a reflection of themselves. That gives me so much joy because the Kenyans who've watched it, when they give you feedback, they say, this is truth; this is our truth. And they don't see just an activist. They see a couple struggling with love. They see our history in the last 10 years. And they're like, 'What the hell, we lived this?' and they see the things that are unresolved — and many things are unresolved. Seeing that reaction gives me so much strength and hope. But it's hard. It's very hard. Because, you know, you have to wake up and see the policeman getting a bribe. And you're like, 'Homie??'

"SOFTIE" Movie Poster

Watch the trailer for Softie here.

Softie | Official Trailer | A film by Sam Soko www.youtube.com

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