Peter Gabriel has re-recorded his 1980 protest classic “Biko” with help from 25 musicians from around the globe, including Beninese vocalist and activist Angélique Kidjo, Yo-Yo Ma, the Cape Town Ensemble, Sebastian Robertson, and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello.
The video was produced by Sebastian Robertson and Mark Johnson as part of Playing for Change’s Song Around the World initiative.
The original song was written as a tribute to South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who was murdered in police custody in 1977, but Gabriel tells Rolling Stone that it still holds incredible meaning today. “Although the white minority government has gone in South Africa, the racism around the world that apartheid represented has not ,” he says. “Racism and nationalism are sadly on the rise. In India, Myanmar and Turkey, Israel and China, racism is being deliberately exploited for political gain.”
“On the black/white front the Black Lives Matter movement has made it very clear how far we still have to go before we can hope to say we have escaped the dark shadow of racism,” he adds.
This new version of “Biko” was first heard in December 2020 at Peace Through Music: A Global Event for Social Justice event, which was organized by Playing for Change and the United Nations Population Fund to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the U.N. It was introduced by Nkosinathi Biko, son of Steve Biko.
The money generated from “Biko” and Peace Through Music will support the Playing for Change Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations and its Remember Slavery Programme, Sankofa, the Bob Marley Foundation, Silkroad, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.
The song was also a chance for Gabriel — who has kept a low profile since the conclusion of his 2016 co-headlining tour with Sting — to delve back into his musical career. “It was wonderful and quite emotional to watch the finished song, so many beautiful performances from so many different artists,” he says. “It felt a bit like the Womad festival had settled on the song.”
Gabriel hasn’t released an album of original songs since 2002’s Up, but he says that he’s working on new material. “There are now many new songs and some unreleased that I have played live but now have the recorded versions,” he says. “I am also wanting to try the band playing together on some of these, which will probably have to wait until we are through Covid.”