“Shaking the Tree” by Peter Gabriel (ft. Yossou N’Dour)

The term “shaking the tree” is a metaphor which points to the idea, within the context of this song, of trying to reform an established system, or let’s more poetically say disturbing the status quo. And in this case, said system would be more of a traditional one, where women are relegated to a housewife role. 

Thus the subject/protagonist of this piece is a lady, stuck in such a predicament, who desires a different type of life. And more importantly would be the fact that she actually musters up the courage to pursue it. Moreover, she comes off as someone who not only goes about achieving the goal of doing “more than any man can do” but also, to make a long story short, serving as a quintessential example of a liberated female.

So all lyrics considered, this can be defined as a women’s rights’ song. That is to say that the subject is a woman (or women) who has faced the world – or ‘shook the tree’ as termed – and positively impacted it in the process. And again, this all would be premised on her being brought up in an environment, like a traditional African culture, where female liberation may not be encouraged.

Lyrics of "Shaking the Tree"

Peter Gabriel, Yossou N’Dour and “Shaking the Tree”

The official release date of this song was on 19 November 1990. It is a as part of a Peter Gabriel compilation album entitled “Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats”.

However, it is actually a remix of a song that previously featured on Yossou N’Dour’s 1989 studio album “The Lion”. (The original version did not feature Gabriel’s vocals.) Both projects are a product of Virgin Records, with Geffen Records also being involved in Peter Gabriel’s joint.

Youssou is a highly-decorated musician from Senegal. And it was around the time that “The Lion” came out that he first started garnering global recognition. And as a side note, later down the line he held a powerful political position, Minister of Tourism, in his homeland.

It’s safe to say that Peter is a lot better known than Youssou, which would at least in part be due to the fact that he’s from the UK, a country which is more heavily entrenched in the international music industry. Gabriel began dropping studio albums in 1977, and  the “Shaking the Tree” project consists of many of his songs from then up until 1989. Some of the big songs on the project are as follows:

“Shaking the Tree”, which was released as a single (in conjunction with a reissue of “Solsbury Hill”, a track Peter Gabriel originally dropped in 1977), did chart in a handful of countries. And its music video was directed by Isaac Julien.

Shaking the Tree

The “Shaking the Tree” Album

Peter Gabriel dropped his compilation album, “Shaking the Tree” also known as “Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats” on November 19 of 1990.

This 77:05 minutes long album is a compilation of sixteen of his best performing hits.

Peter, a music producer himself worked with the following record producers in bringing the album to life:

  • Bob Ezrin
  • Steve Lillywhite
  • Daniel Lanois

David Geffen’s Geffen Records and Universal Music’s Virgin Records were the record labels through which the album was released.

“Shaking the Tree” peaked at No. 48 on the Billboard 200 and No. 11 on the OCC in the UK. It performed even better in Greece. Here it reached No. 2 on Greece’s IFPI listings.

By 2022, this commercially successful album, had earned a number of accolades, including the following certifications:

  • 2x Platinum in the US
  • 2x Platinum in the UK
  • Gold in Switzerland
  • Gold in Netherlands
  • Platinum in Japan
  • Platinum in Germany
  • Gold in Italy
  • 2x Gold in France
  • Platinum in Canada
  • Gold in Australia

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