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 Rock, worldbeat
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 English 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.

The album version of the song starts with a recording of the South African song "Ngomhla sibuyayo" and ends with a recording of the South African song "Senzeni Na?", both as sung at Biko’s funeral.[2] The German version is bookended by "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika", also sung at Biko's funeral. One line of the lyrics reads "Yehla Moya" which in Xhosa means "Come Spirit".

Chart performance[edit]

"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 live recording of the song was used to promote the Richard Attenborough Biko biopic Cry Freedom, and its music video, consisting of clips from the film and Gabriel singing, was heavily played on MTV during the film's theatrical run.

Live performances[edit]

Gabriel performed the song at Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert at Wembley in 1988.[3] Gabriel often plays the song at the end of concerts, encouraging the audience to sing along, after which most of the band leaves the stage.

"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

Cover versions and legacy[edit]

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

Joan Baez recorded a version on her 1987 album Recently.

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

Simple Minds released a cover version on their 1989 album Street Fighting Years.

It was covered by Manu Dibango on his 1994 album Wakafrika.

The organization Playing for Change did a cover of the song for their album Songs Around the World.

In February 2010, Paul Simon recorded a cover of the song for inclusion on the 2013 Gabriel tribute album And I'll Scratch Yours.

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.[5]

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.[citation needed]


  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
  5. ^ Pedelty, Mark (2013). Political Rock. Ashgate.