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From Jessie Reyez to SATE: a Canadian R&B soundtrack for social change

Amanda Parris
Listen to Marvin's Room, August 18th 2017

Marvin's Room with Amanda Parris on CBC Radio


This week on Marvin's Room we explore Canada's R&B soundtrack for social change.

Protest anthems were a hallmark of music in the '60s and '70s, responding to the political climate of the period. It was a time of global unrest with the Vitenam War in full swing, the civil rights movement in the United States and independence movements happening across the Caribbean and Africa. Decades later, we are in the midst of another highly politicized moment in history, and artists are again responding to the atmosphere.

Songs dedicated to social change are making a slow but steady comeback in R&B. More and more singers are tackling topics outside of love and romance, instead addressing inequities and struggle in society. In Canada, women are the R&B singers most frequently taking the lead. Addressing topics such as police brutality, racialized violence, sexual assault and missing and murdered Indigenous women, many have crafted haunting odes, piercing ballads and uplifiting anthems for communities in the struggle.

Here is the Canadian R&B soundtrack to social change.

Tika, ‘All Day All Night’

Inspired by Nina Simone’s belief that it is an artist’s responsibility to reflect the times they live in, this song is an ode to freedom. It is a call to survival in the midst of difficult times and an enduring hope that we can build something more than what currently exists.


Shi Wisdom feat. Nevon, ‘Young Gunner’

A pulsating narrative of the violence implicitly threaded through a racist society, this song is a reminder that Canada is not as innocent as it often proclaims and that young Black men are often the unseen casualities of this false innocence.

Moula 1st feat. Pyrex and Andreena, ‘Wake Up’

This song addresses the frustration and nihilism that many young people in this country feel as they confront daily realities of poverty, discrimination and violence. The song demands that people wake up and acknowledge the struggle some communities are dealing with every day.

Jayd Ink, ‘Dark Skin’

For some, this song may be an inside look into an unfamiliar world but for others, Jayd Ink has created an anthem for everyday experiences. She directly combats the issue of shadeism, the discrimination that occurs in communities of colour when lighter skinned individuals receive more privilege than darker skinned individuals.


Jessie Reyez, 'Gatekeeper'

In this song, Reyez paints a haunting but disturbingly familiar narrative of the sexual harrassment and assault many women face in the male-dominated music industry. The song (which comes with a music video and a short film inspired by a true story) is brutally raw, forcing us to recognize the horror of something that is too frequently normalized.

Above Top Secret feat. Lido Pimienta, ‘Bang’

This song is a piercing interrogation, inspired by the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women across this country. Above Top Secret and Lido Pimienta's declaration that this is not a game — and their demand to know where all the women have gone — will stay with you long after the song is done.


Amaal Nuux, ‘Last One’s’

An anthem to inspire strength and hope despite adversity is necessary for any soundtrack to social change. This one is delivered by Somali-born, Toronto-based singer Amaal Nuux.

Saidah Baba Talibah, ‘Revolution’

Before she changed her name to SATE and moved into the world of hard rock, this artist went by the name of Saidah Baba Talibah and her sound incorporated soul, funk and, in this song, a fierce commitment to change.

Jully Black, 'Running'

The queen of Canadian R&B has a number of inspirational anthems under her belt, but this one may be her best known. Black invites us to join her in the fight for liberty and freedom.

The Marvin's Room playlist for Aug. 18, 2017

  1. Barry White, "You’re the First, the Last, My Everything"
  2. Janet Jackson, "Escapade"
  3. Mariah Carey feat. Miguel, "Beautiful"
  4. Anders, "You for You"
  5. Lion Babe feat. Moe Monks, "Rockets"
  6. Rochelle Jordan, "Follow Me"
  7. Curtis Mayfield, "The Makings of You"
  8. Maxwell, "Ascension"
  9. Chris LaRocca, "Roses"
  10. Khalid, "Young Dumb and Broke"
  11. Moula 1st f/ Pyrex, "Wake Up"
  12. Above Top Secret feat. Lido Pimienta, "Bang"