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Shungudzo: I’m Not a Mother, but I Have Children

Shungudzo: I’m Not a Mother, but I Have Children

After what feels like several lifetimes’ worth of careers, Shungudzo is finally ready to release her debut album, I’m Not a Mother, but I Have Children. From participating in the 1999 All-Africa Games in artistic gymnastics to her 2011 stint on the reality show “The Real World: San Diego” to studying at Stanford University, and then working as a songwriter for pop singers like Jessie Ware and Little Mix, it’s no surprise her album is packed full of passion, emotion and, above all, awareness to the life of a Zimbabwean-American woman in 21st century America.

The album is generally situated around living as a black woman in America and the legacies black women both carry and pass through. Whether consisting of biological relation or not, Shungudzo, born Alexandra Shungudzo Govere, sees familial ties made strongest through a sense of identity. She tackles false promises for reform from politicians, graphic police brutality and the ways blackness manifests in adverse ways for those living in America, all provided through passionate lyricism and an array of both smooth and poppy, R&B-influenced tracks.

In the intro, “Black Breath,” and in the concluding piece, “Silence, Hate, Beat, Kill,” Shungudzo’s rage and desire to see abolition are channeled through lyrics that are delivered essentially as spoken word. Her voice is full of anger, passion and the fight that has been passed from generation to generation of black Americans—one that’s unfortunately still needed today. This isn’t a fight only black Americans should be waging; systemic racism is everyone’s problem. She makes that clear in “Where Are My Friends?”, taking note of those who appear “woke” for social media but quickly fall quiet when called to protest or boycott. “Forgiveness is so hard to do/ You only care about the world when it’s cool/ Where are my friends?,” she sings, her voice high and cooing.

Shungudzo mixes sonic styles throughout the album, crossing from pop to R&B and then to hard guitars from one track to the next. There are more mystical sounds like on “Fatherless Child,” where her voice is hushed and follows the easy music that squeaks with distortion and electric guitars. Or on “Trippin’,” where ambient sounds lead into her light vocals as she sings, “Don’t gun me down, I’m on the ground.” Sonically, the track is vibey but after ingesting the chilling lyrics, it’s hard not to focus on them.

On the overtly political “I’m Not a Mother, But I Have Children,” she talks about the ways in which we are all connected, whether we acknowledge it or not, through the earth beneath us and the blood in our veins. Failing to grasp how people don’t care about destroying systems of oppression or actively combating climate change, she finds spiritual connections between humans and the earth, how we’re all mothers and fathers to the people coming after us. A good choice to name the album after this track; it’s a highlight and it’s worthy of critical analysis.

“’Merican Dream” follows, another clearly political track, where she draws comparisons to America and a car salesman, saying she bought an engineless vehicle only to learn it’s now hers and not refundable. “America wants to put his flag in his stoop, on the moon, on the roof, in Iran/…He ain’t the good guy/ He just got good at hiding it,” she sings later in the track. The lyricism and her perspective here are prime examples of why international and intersectional perspectives should be valued in education and political criticism.

A slight problem with the album begins to develop during the second half when the anger starts to sound more clichéd and rehashed. It’s not that the words and statements aren’t of value—they are. It’s just heavy and starts to sound less fluid and more like the whole project was about trying to create a protest anthem. There are far more protest songs that don’t just scream headlines or protest slogans. Think of Beyonce’s Lemonade or Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” where calls to fight against racism and systemic oppression sound unique and as though the words are in fact the artists.

This becomes obvious during songs like the guitar-heavy “White Parents” and “Good Thing I’m Not God,” where she sings of the people who let her down or didn’t care if she failed. She admits that if she were God, these people would get hit by a bus, and repeats that several times until it no longer packs the same punch.

By the time the final track comes along, you’ll be both motivated to fight for change but also in need of some levity. Shungudzo’s first album is definitely an achievement, but going forward, she’ll likely develop more individuality and an even more inspiring voice.

Situated around living as a black woman in America and the legacies that black women carry and pass through, the album is full of passion and rage, providing an opportunity for people to listen to voices largely excluded from many narratives.
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Relevant and Searing

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