Biko (song)

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Single by Peter Gabriel
from the album Peter Gabriel
B-side "Shosholoza", "Jetzt kommt die Flut" (12" Only,
Released 1980
Format 7" / 12"
Genre Worldbeat, art rock
Length 7:22
Label Charisma
Writer(s) Peter Gabriel
Producer(s) Steve Lillywhite
Peter Gabriel singles chronology
"No Self Control"
"Shock the Monkey"

"Biko" is a protest song by British rock musician Peter Gabriel. The song was included on Gabriel's third album, Peter Gabriel (1980). It is about Steve Biko, a noted black South African anti-apartheid activist.

Biko had been arrested by the South African police in late August 1977. After being held in custody for several days, he was interrogated in room 619 of the Walmer Street prison in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape.[1] Following the interrogation, during which the police beat him and left him with serious head injuries, Biko was transferred without medical care to a prison in Pretoria, where he died shortly afterwards, on 12 September 1977.

Gabriel often plays the song at the end of concerts, encouraging the audience to join in the singing, and eventually leaving only the drummer on stage. The album version of the song is bookended by a recording of the South African song "Senzeni Na?" as sung at Biko’s funeral.[2] The single version is bookended by "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika", also sung at Biko's funeral.

"Biko" was first released as a single in 1980, when it reached #38 on the British charts. A live version, recorded in July 1987 at the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, was released later that year, reaching #49 in the UK. A newly recorded version of the song (again by Gabriel) was used to promote the Richard Attenborough Biko biopic Cry Freedom, and its music video (which consisted mostly of clips from the film) was in heavy rotation on MTV during the film's premiere and run.

Gabriel performed the song at Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert at Wembley in 1988.[3]

One line of the lyrics reads "Yehla Moya" which in Xhosa means "Come Spirit".

"Biko (Video Mix)"
Single by Peter Gabriel
B-side "Biko (Edit)", "No More Apartheid"
Released 1987
Format 12-inch
Genre Experimental rock, worldbeat
Length 6:30
Label Geffen Records
Writer(s) Peter Gabriel
Producer(s) Kevin Killen and Peter Gabriel

Uses in other media[edit]

"Biko" was also featured prominently in "Evan", the penultimate episode of the first season of the American television show Miami Vice.

Cover versions[edit]

Robert Wyatt released his version in 1984 on his E.P. "Work In Progress" (Rough Trade RTT149).[4]

Simple Minds released a cover version on their 1989 album Street Fighting Years. It was also covered by Black 47 and Joan Baez on her 1987 album Recently and by Manu Dibango on his 1994 album Wakafrika.

Steve Van Zandt stated that he was inspired by this song to write his 1985 anti-apartheid protest song "Sun City", performed by Artists United Against Apartheid. The organization Playing for Change did a cover of the song for their album Songs Around the World. TV on the Radio has also performed a cover of this song. In February 2010, Paul Simon recorded a cover of the song for inclusion on the 2013 Gabriel tribute album I'll Scratch Yours.

In 1988, German singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken from the rock band BAP wrote German lyrics to this song.


  1. ^ Steven Bantu Biko - A Sequence of events whilst in detention - 18 August to 12 September 1977
  2. ^ Drewett, Michael (February 2007). "The Eyes of the World Are Watching Now: The Political Effectiveness of ‘Biko’ by Peter Gabriel". Popular Music and Society 30 (1): 39–51. doi:10.1080/03007760500504929. 
  3. ^ Drewett, Michael (2010). Peter Gabriel, from Genesis to Growing Up. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 
  4. ^ Robert Wyatt - Solo