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Music as Activism: Three up-and-coming black musicians to listen to right now

From Blood Orange's 'Sandra's Smile' to Beyoncé's 'Formation', music is a pillar of the anti-racism movement.

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Photo by Socialist Appeal (Wikimedia Commons)(

Two weeks ago, George Floyd - an unarmed black man - was killed by a white police officer. Floyd died after the officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. He repeatedly told the officer, "I can't breathe", which has since become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter protestors. In the aftermath of Floyd's death, anti-racism demonstrations have taken place across the globe.

In London alone, Hyde Park saw crowds of over ten thousand protestors. Their efforts are a reminder that anti-blackness is not just an American issue - a common misconception of British politicians and citizens alike.

Britain's deep-rooted racism was also illustrated by Belly Mujinga.

Mujinga was spat on at work by a man who claimed to have had Covid-19. The railway worker consequently died of the virus, however the British Transport Police halted their investigations into her death shortly after the case had been opened. The poor handling of these proceedings highlighted the inadequate reform of the British criminal justice system since the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993.

27 years after Lawrence's death coverage of the Hyde Park protests featured a powerful speech by the actor John Boyega, which referenced the racially-motivated attack and the ineffective police investigation.

"I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing," said Boyega.

His words have been shared by millions, which is a symbol of the power of the arts in the Black Lives Matter movement. Though Boyega is an actor, music has a similar effect. From Blood Orange's 'Sandra's Smile' to Beyoncé's 'Formation', music is a pillar of the anti-racism movement. Here are three up-and-coming black artists to listen to right now.

Naomi El

London-based Naomi El found fame on TikTok by educating her 18,000 followers about racial issues. She's discussed everything from systemic racism and Britain's racist history to how to be an ally. Impressively her talents extend beyond her activism - El creates acoustic covers of popular songs alongside her own material.

Her recent release 'the waiting voice notes', available on Soundcloud, follows the piano element of her covers, which have proved popular with her social media following.

When speaking about the power of music in the Black Lives Matter movement, El told Now Then: "I personally feel that music is so important to the BLM movement for two reasons.

"Firstly music is an incredibly powerful tool for showing people's hardships. Music also has the ability to portray hope in a different way to other means of communication.

"Secondly, I think music is a powerful tool of education. I always encourage people to expose themselves to more black artists as music has the ability to effectively communicate important messages. I think that many people can learn about the black experience through music."

She cites the work of iconic black artists in pioneering anti-racist ideas. "Since the beginning of the black community fighting for human rights, music has always had its place," she said. The perfect example of this is Sam Cooke's 'A Change is Gonna Come'."

El's own work has maintained the impact of artists like Cooke. Her music, as well as her TikTok human rights lessons, have introduced similar themes to a brand new audience.

"Whilst everyone's political activism is amazing during BLM, I don't think we should ignore the beautiful power of music and how it can change a generation."

'the waiting voice notes', and Naomi's other work is available on her Soundcloud. You can also follow her on Instagram @naomielmusic, and on TikTok.

Kyla Imani

18 year-old singer-songwriter Kyla Imani has a considerable following across Instagram, TikTok, and Spotify, with close to 10,000 monthly listeners on the latter.

Imani signed to the independent NorthStar Group after her re-creation of Beyoncé's '7/11' music video went viral in 2014. She's released six EPs on the label to date, however has frequently posted additional short original material on TikTok.

Most recently she's written about the Black Lives Matter movement, and like Naomi El, she's also used her platform to educate her audience. Last week Imani documented her experience at the protest in New York City, a video which has gathered almost 10,000 views.

Alongside this she's published original content in response to the tragic killing of George Floyd. In a new TikTok post she sings, "We're tired of running", and, "But I know a change in gon' come".

'No Humanity', is available on Spotify, and you can follow her on TikTok, and on Instagram.

Ari Lennox

Washington-based Ari Lennox was the first woman to be signed to J. Cole's record label, Dreamville Records. The 29 year old released her first EP, Pho, in 2016, and has been on an upward trajectory ever since.

She recently reached one million followers on Instagram, and like El and Imani, she's used this platform to encourage anti-racism. Bail funds are linked in her bio, and she's reposted footage from the Washington D.C. protests in the hope of inspiring her fans to donate and attend demonstrations if they are safe to do so.

Her work has drawn inspiration from classic soul artists while infusing R&B elements for a fresher take on the genre. Her recent release, 'BMO', reached number 17 on the US R&B chart.

Her debut album, Shea Butter Baby, is available on all streaming platforms.

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