An all-female music supergroup, made up of some of Africa’s legendary performers, are collaborating to drive gender equality and human rights on the continent.
Including such internationally renowned performers as Grammy-winning Angélique Kidjo, world music star Mariam Doumbia (Amadou and Mariam) and pop star Nneka, as well as some of the best up-and-coming female African performers, Les Amazones d’Afrique is a formidable music supergroup singing out against gender inequality and human rights violations in Africa and around the world.
All the vocalists and musicians, including session players, are African women from Mali, Benin, Gabon and Nigeria, as well as the wider African diaspora in Europe and the United States.
The group’s main collaborators, in addition to Kidjo, Doumbia and Nneka, include Kandia Kouyaté, Mamani Keita, Inna Modja, Massan Coulibaly, Mouneissa Tandina, Pamela Badjogo and Rokia Koné.
The name is taken from both the Dahomey Amazons, the women warriors of Benin, and one of Africa’s first convention-defying all-female pop bands, Guinea’s Les Amazones de Guinée.
In March 2017, the supergroup released their debut album, Republique Amazone, following on the success of its first single, I Play the Kora. The song is an impassioned call to arms that blends elements of traditional music of the African countries represented by the women in the group.
Significantly, the song’s use of the Kora harp, a traditional West African instrument that for many years was only allowed to be played by men, is a powerful symbol of the group’s overall message.
Fighting inequality with music
About the group’s origins, French music promoter Valerie Malot – who was responsible for bringing the diverse but similar-minded talents together – said: “The only way to build a group like this is to build it around a cause, an idea: (stopping) violence against women not only on the African continent but also in the rest of the world.”
Speaking to the Guardian in February 2017, Malot added: “What we found out was that female repression on the continent and in the world, is something that touches every woman. It’s not a question of colour, or culture. It’s something generic. All women can relate to it.”
One of the group’s main focuses is promoting the work of the Panzi Foundation, which has treated more than 85,000 survivors of sexual violence and genital mutilation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ultimately, the group believe that the only way to combat violence against women and strengthen the cause of human rights around the world is to dismantle the dominance of patriarchy and change traditional chauvinistic thinking.
Yet, as Malot was quick to add, the philosophy of the collaboration is not anti-men: in voicing the rights of daughters, sisters and mothers of Africa, the music is also “a love letter to (good) men…(that says) we need more of you”.
Bringing together young and old, traditional and modern
As described by the group’s recording company, Real World Music, the women of Les Amazones d’Afrique not only use music as a weapon in an attempt to address the mentalities that continue to perpetuate disempowerment, but also as a way to bring women together across generations and across continents through a shared love of the rich traditions of African music.
Nneka, the 36-year-old Nigerian singer who has a growing popularity across Africa and around the world, calls the group’s collaboration a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an opportunity for young female musicians to listen to and make music with some the continent’s more established, renowned female artists.
She told the Guardian: “You are there with people who are talented, who have something to say. Who you can listen to, who you can learn from. Most of them are older women who have had so much impact on their society, or on their hometowns. Just looking at that, it definitely inspired me. It gave me hope as well: I’m not out there alone.”
Inna Modja, a 32-year-old Malian-French singer, explained in an interview with Le Point Afrique, how she and other younger singers gave the older women in Les Amazones a more modern musical perspective to the group. “We bring something different, from our generation, which is more open than ever to the world. We grew up surrounded by different types of music.”
Critics have been overwhelmingly positive, with Robin Denselow of the Guardian highlighting the group’s imaginative and “exuberant harmonies”, while Le Point Afrique calls the collaboration and its success a case of unapologetically “steely resolve” that gives a global voice to the voiceless.
Visit Real World Records for more information about the group and to buy the album.
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