ArticleMusic & Dance

Songs of resistance, resilience, revolution and exile

The late Césaria Evora, the "Barefoot Diva" © CBM Music

Sashwati Mira Sengupta and Mohammed Yahya

Published for Refugee Week 2020 as part of the PopChange Library of New Narratives — a curated collection from popular culture offering new perspectives on migration and displacement.


Following on from Refugee Week’s 20th Anniversary ‘Stimela’ compilation album, music curators Mohammed Yahya and Sashwati Mira Sengupta present their Top 5 music and artistic legacies that have informed and shaped pop culture representations of migration, displacement and refuge. From the current day going back to the 1970s, this playlist courses through places and genres of contemporary hip-hop in the diaspora to musical legends in the struggles for African independence.

K’naan — “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” also featuring Snow Tha Product, Riz Ahmed and Residente

Featuring on The Hamilton Mixtape — an Atlantics Records produced companion to the now iconic Broadway musical Hamilton — this powerful track by Somali-born K’naan also features three other remarkable international artists: Snow Tha Product (Mexican-American), Riz Ahmed (English born Pakistani) and Residente (Puerto Rican). Culturally representing all corners of the map, with each verse the MCs address the complexities of the migrant experience from their unique perspectives. The song was one of the winners in the Best Fight Against The System category at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards and peaked at Number 22 in the Rap Digital Song Sales chart. Listen on Spotify

Hichkas — “Ekhtelaaf”

This song was featured in the Iranian film No-one Knows About Persian Cats, which received international acclaim for introducing to the world the Iranian countercultural music scene, sites of political resistance and high popularity amongst the youth. The film focuses on two musicians who, after coming out of prison, put together a rock band with the intention of travelling as performers to a British music festival and escaping. This track by Hichkas put a spotlight on oppressive conditions, class division and poverty in Iran. Now living in the UK, Hichkas is considered the ‘Godfather of Persian Rap’ holding a central place in the Iranian hip hop scene and collaborating with (and inspiring) rappers across the world. Listen on Spotify

Bonga performing with Paulo Flores in Lisbon, 2017

Bonga — “Mona Ki Ngi Xica”

One of the biggest icons of Angolan music & an inspirational figure for the Afro-Portuguese diaspora, Bonga understood from an early age the impact of music when linked to the political aspirations of his generation. At 23, he left Angola, still a Portuguese colony at the time, and became an accomplished track and field athlete in Portugal, his status allowing him to take risks transporting messages between exiled pro-independence African fighters and his fellow Angolan countrymen. He was forced into exile in Holland where he produced his first record Angola 72 featuring the track “Mona Ki Ngi Xica” (meaning “The Child I Leave Behind” in Kimbundu). The album’s lyrics became a soundtrack to revolutionaries fighting for independence and led to an arrest warrant, forcing him to move between Germany, Belgium & France until Angola’s independence in 1975. Bonga’s style of semba was key in the evolution of dance styles Kizomba and Kuduro. He continues to transcend traditional Angolan music, often working with international artists such as Portuguese-Mozambican rapper Plutónio on the 2016 international hit song “África Minha“. Listen on Spotify

Cesária Évora — “Sodade”

This beautiful song was originally written in the 1950s by Cape Verdean composer & author Armando Zeferino Soares, and best popularized by Cesária Évora on her 1992 album Miss Perfumado. She was known as the “Barefoot Diva” for performing without shoes and as the “Queen of Morna”, referring to the traditional Cape Verdean folk music that often told stories of the country’s long history of isolation, slave trade and population loss due to emigration. Singing in Kriolu, a Creole language containing Portuguese and West African dialects of previous enslaved generations, her ballads feature themes of loss, poverty and migration. “Sodade” (“Longing” in Portuguese) repeatedly asks “Ken mostro-b es kaminhu longe?” (“Who showed you the faraway path?”) in its description of nostalgia felt by the historically seafaring and emigrant Cape Verdean nation. Cesária Évora’s influence endures in contemporary artists like Mayra Andrade, Sara Tavares and Madonna who covered “Sodade” on her 2019 Madame X Tour. Listen on Spotify

Miriam Makeba — “Pata Pata” (2000 release)

This is an updated South African blues-pop version of the classic 1967 hit by South Africa’s ‘Mama Africa’ and ‘First Lady of Song’. Miriam Makeba had such a powerful impact in her commentary on apartheid in South Africa that her citizenship was revoked and she was exiled for many years. She is remembered for her profound legacy sharing the struggles of her country and continent through song, where she brought together different linguistic traditions (such as Xhosa and Zulu) to South African and international audiences. Makeba’s long-lasting influence as Africa’s first superstar cannot be stated enough: her music laid the path for artists such as Thandiswa Mazwai, Kwaito band Bongo Maffin and Simphiwe Dana. “Pata Pata” (meaning “Touch Touch”) has been covered and remixed by many artists, and was even included in the popular video game Just Dance 3. The song was covered by Lira at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and more recently by Angelique Kidjo who released a Covid-19 themed version of the song advising people to stay at home and take precautions! Listen on Spotify


Mohammed Yahya — “We Came”

POPCHANGE recommends Mohammed Yahya’s “We Came” a song with infectious energy matching its hopeful message of strength grounded in history and resilience. His recently released track “No Trouble”, a biographical piece about his family’s experience as refugees in Lisbon, also available on the Refugee Week 2020 Spotify playlist. Listen to Mohammed Yahya on Spotify

Refugee Week 2020 Spotify Playlist

All these songs and a lot more inspiration can be found on a specially commissioned playlist for Refugee Week 2020. Commissioned by Counterpoints Arts and featuring the theme of ‘Imagine’, Mohammed has curated 1.5 hours of revolution-inspiring music from artists that invite us to channel the resilience and strength of migrants and refugees as we fight together for action, for refugees, for Black Lives Matter, for social justice. Listen to the Spotify Playlist


Mira Sengupta


Mira Sengupta is an arts & culture curator, producer, DJ and musician. She is the Refugee Week music curator at Counterpoints Arts and has contributed to programmes including the Mayor of London's Eid Festival, Who Are We? at the Tate Modern, Celebrating Sanctuary and Platforma.

Mohammed Yahya


Mohammed Yahya is a London based award-winning bilingual Rapper, Poet, Educator & Events organiser. Born during the civil war in Mozambique, Mohammed, his experience as a refugee in Portugal inspired a career in rap. In 2019 he received an award for best-performing artist song “Say Mashallah", also featuring UK based rappers Khaled Siddiq & Qasim Gray. He has featured on television and public performances across the UK and internationally.