Simphiwe Dana Declares A State of Emergency

Simphiwe Dana is famed for her unique blend of traditional Xhosa music, jazz and blues

I first came across Simphiwe Dana’s music in 2011. I was living in New York at the time, Harlem to be exact. In an apartment right across from the City College campus off 139th St. A long afternoon with YouTube took me to a funky, spirited music video for a song called “Ilolo.” I loved it. I wanted to know who the lady with the thick head of hair and black-and-green striped tights was. Simphiwe Dana. I explored some of her other music: Bantu Biko street, Zandisile, Zobuya Nini, Mayine, Umzali Wam, iNkwenkwezi, Thwel’ Ubunzima. (I can’t get enough of Umzali Wam and Zobuya Nini). The Ilolo music video still brings a smile to my face, with all the people dancing on the street and the sweet, whispering melody in the background.

This gal is phenomenal. Soulful, spunky, jazzy, afrocentric, gritty and oozing with chic elegance. The simplest way to explain her would be to describe her as a blend of Miriam Makeba, Erykah Badu and Billy Holliday. Simphiwe Dana is now one of my favorite music artists. She’s outspoken about injustice and she stays true to her Xhosa roots. While many contemporary African artists, especially the females, are moving towards a more Westernized sound, with too much autotune and hollow beats, Simphiwe echoes the Xhosa tradition. She reminds me of the power vocalist Letta Mbulu and the fierce Busi Mhlongo. Simphiwe has talked about getting inspiration from Busi. Simphiwe’s closest contemporary would probably be Thandiswa Mazwai, another incredible music artist. Thandiswa’s “Nizalwa Ngobani” got me hooked on this unconvential artist.

In a time where we often look to the West for inspiration, Simphiwe looks home. For this, I give her props. If you have not checked out her music, may I introduce you to her “State of Emergency.” A brilliant composition, simple and haunting. It winds you in with its stepping piano notes and soft guitar strums. The song is a cry for people to stand up for social justice. The lyrics are below.

State of Emergency

Sayibamba syingena
“We held it down, pressed it down.”

Ngunongeni Ngunongeni
“It ain’t a thing”

Sabashiya bekhal’ abazali
“and left parents crying”

Sabashiya bekhal’ abazali
“and left parents crying”

Black bodies strewn in the stress,
fires burning, brothers lost

John Vorster Square
Verwoed, Security Police

Trending in the streets

Sate of emergency

State sponsored black on black violence

Uprisings, stairways, boycotts
no education

Stand for the fire in your heart

Stand for, for, for the fruits of your living


Prayers and wailings in Soweto
They take everything to God
Comfort me

Prayers and wailings in Soweto
They take everything in God

They take everything in God
Comfort me

Where are the youth of 1976?
When are children die
in this here democracy

education or not
no jobs
only poverty reigns in our streets
Where are the youth of 1976
Sellout black leaders
forgotten memories

festering in the youth
white institutionalized
deceit in our constitution
tell them the revolution has fallen

Sabashiya bekhal’ abazali
“and left parents crying”

bekhal’ abazali bethu
“our parents crying”

Siy’ emfazweni mama
“We want to war”

Sabashiya bekhal’ abazali
“and we left parents crying”

Sabashiya bekhala
“left them crying”

Bekhal’ abazali bethu
our parents crying”

Yimfazwe, yimfazwe
“war, war”

By Chika Oduah

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