In 1994, Irish alternative rock band released their anti-war song “Zombie” as the first single off their new album No Need to Argue. Their video featured lead singer Dolores O’Riordan covered in gold paint in front of a cross mixed with black and white footage of children and soldiers in Northern Ireland. The song reached number one on a number of European countries as well as on the US alternative Billboard.
I heard it a number of times throughout the nineties and early 2000’s without any idea of the exact conflict The Cranberries were singing about, but the lyrics still cut deep. “But you see, its not me/ Its not my family…”, the justification for turning a blind eye to the suffering of others is universal. So it makes sense that the song lives on not just through TV singing contests in the Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium (among many others), but in Pakistan, Gaza, and the Balkans.
Bakht Arif (Pakistan)
Pakistani singer Bakht Arif translated the lyrics into Urdu and recorded this video in 2013. In an interview with an English language South Asian website, she says she felt compelled to write the song because she felt “unhappy” with the state of affairs in the region.
Since early childhood, Zombie by the Cranberries has been very close to my heart, and it always speaks to me and has been always relevant.The message is louder and the translation intentionally tries to break the language barrier and makes the song accessible and easily understood to those from the subcontinent.
Either the interviewer or Arif decided the stay vague on exactly what she was protesting against, but of course there is no shortage of possibilities. Which is perhaps why the song touched a nerve, new meaning could be found in a number of different scenarios.
Bondan Prakoso and Kikan (Indonesia for Gaza)
During the 2014 assault on Gaza, Indonesian singer song writers Bondan Prakoso and Kikan recorded a special video in protest of the massive civilian casualties. Footage of their live performance, while they sport “Gaza” written on their hands”, is intercut with news footage of the war (no credit is given to which news agency or what date its from, but it could be authentic). Their own message against the violence also flashes on the screen with an urge to “fight the zombies”. The zombies, in their view, seem to be the perpetrators of the violence. Which is interesting because I always felt the zombies were the ones mindlessly watching and going along with the herd, but maybe the flood of ultra violent zombie movies and TV shifted that idea. A study for another time, I suppose!
Any further exploration of what these artists wanted to accomplish with their song is not available in English. But if you have more on them and their activism, let me know.
These covers are much less overtly political, but when you consider who is singing them you have to wonder what it means to them. The first is from Vedran Djurosovic, a singer from Montenegro now living in Sweden. He plays his guitar in a Malmo train station while people pass him by.
Another singer from Radovis, Macedonia recorded a slightly different video. Perhaps being a female artist, there’s more pressure to emphasize attractiveness over the song so the video feels a little narcissistic in contrast to the lyrics.
I’ve been unable to find any statements from either of them in English describing how they feel about the song, but it seems a fair question to ask as Zombie hit the European airwaves around a tense period of fighting and, like Bakht Arif, these artists may have been very young and carried it through their childhood.
As always, if you’ve got a favorite cover let me know in the comments! I am partial to a version I heard on one of my guilty pleasure TV shows, iZombie, which is about actual zombies. Its cute. Probably an inappropriate description but we all have our weaknesses.