“Won’t you celebrate with me
What I have shaped into a kind of life?
I had no model. Born in Babylon, both nonwhite and woman
What did I see to be except myself? I made it up
Here on this bridge between starshine and clay, my one hand holding tight, my other hand;
Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me
And has failed.”
This post as a whole leaned more towards musical collectives rather than key individuals. I was not able to find images of them all, but I do hope that you enjoy reading through this!
GHANA - Awurama Badu
Born in the Sekyere East District of the Ashanti Region, in 1946, Awurama Badu was a phenomenal performer and Highlife musician. Making a notable and visible mark in an industry that was largely dominated by men, she had an immense impact on Ghanaian music. Her songs are replete with traditional wisdom that knows no temporal bounds.
She passed away on 26 October 2017, but her music, legacy and spirit still carries on.
GUINEA - Les Amazones de Guinée
Les Amazones de Guinee are not only their country's first all-female group, they are also among the longest-running. Formed in 1961, only three years after Guinea gained independence, the group is strongly identified with Guinean national pride and all of its members are also officers in the Gendarmerie (internal security force). Led by Haba Niepo "La Reine," the group has toured extensively. Les Amazones have had as many as 15 or 20 members at one time, and individual members have also had recording careers — notably Sona Diabate, Condette Kouyate, and M'mah Sylla.
As recording artists their second album, Wamato, is a celebration of endurance, of passion, and of joy. A true testament of the band which is still active and present today.
GUINEA-BISSAU - Karyna Gomes
Karyna Gomes was born to a father from Guinea-Bissau father and a mother from Cape-Verde in the small city of Bissau. She grew up listening to traditional music, local urban rhythms, and sounds from all over the world. Her music is rooted in and inspired by the "convívios do quintal” (backyard gatherings).
In 2014 she released her debut album, "MINDJER", which means "Woman.” She dedicated it to all the Guinean women in her country and around the world, celebrating them for their strength, determination and courage.
KENYA - Kilumi Dance
This traditional sacred dance of the Akamba community of Kenya, was a spiritual dance usually performed by older women. Depending on the outcome of the performance it would mean either life or death for the entire community. In addition to it being used for therapeutic and medicinal purposes, the dance was also used as a form of empowerment and resistance against the British colonialists in 1907 by the great Kamba priestess and warrior, Syotuna wa Kathake.
LESOTHO - Mme Puseletso Seema
Mme Puseletso Seema is a legendary musician who has challenged norms in her home country of Lesotho. She performs Famo music, which is a Basotho style of music that is typically only performed by men. Her songs shed light on what is happening around her, as is evidenced by the song added to the playlist, that emphasizes the importance of caring for the environment.
LIBERIA - Fatu Gayflor and The Liberian Women's Chorus for Change
Born in 1966, Fatu Gayflor is a singer and songwriter who sings the traditional songs of Liberia’s 16 ethnic groups. Though she was born and raised in rural Liberia, Fatu was in exile in both Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea for 10 years. It was during this time that she began to compose songs based on traditional rhythms and melodies that addressed immediate humanitarian concerns and called for change. Her songs focus on issues such as there being an end to ethnic and class violence, the forced conscription of children, and to second-class citizenship for women. She also keeps in mind the broader community of all African immigrants and people who suffer the impact of war and loss. Her art is a bridge to action. Fatu’s music encourages people to think critically about what they do and say, both paying attention to reality and also imagining an empowered future.
She is a part of the Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change, a group she formed with Liberian singers and dancers Marie Nyenabo, Zaye Tete, and Tokay Tomah. The Chorus’ main aim was and is to connect artists, community members, scholars, social service and cultural workers and activists of different generations. Together, they consider how best to foster change through the respectful and innovative combination of folk and traditional arts with social justice activism.
LIBYA - Les Filles de Illighadad, Tuareg Music
Note: I had to broaden my research in regards to finding women who created music in Libya. I chose to highlight Tuareg music as a whole and to bring it to the fore as they (the Tuareg community) are a minority group in Libya and have faced the subsequent challenges of marginalization, denial of citizenship, basic human rights, etc that come with being a minority community in Libya.
Keeping in mind that the Tuareg are an indigenous people of the Saharan regions of Libya, Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, I chose for this post not to be confined by colonial borders, and sought to look for Tuareg musicians who embodied, fullness, love, and truth speaking in their work.
Some important information I came about was that among the Tuareg, women are the predominant musicians of the community.
Les Filles de Illighadad (The Girls of Illighadad) are paving the way for women and for the revitalization of tradition through their music by reclaiming the traditional music of tende, a female dominated music style distinguished by purely vocals, handclaps and percussion.
Tende music, named after the drum, is played at traditional Tuareg courting rituals, where all the women in a village sing to each other in a call-and-response style. As they sing, men approach on camelback, trying to catch the eye of a potential suitor while the camels’ hooves move in time with the music.
The band predominantly consists of three women. The lead vocalist, Fatou Seidi Ghali, is the first female Tuareg guitarist. At the age of about 10, she began teaching herself to play her brother's guitar in secret, sneaking off to practice every time her brother was out. The sight of a woman holding the guitar was in itself controversial. “My father told me to stop wasting my time,” says Fatou, “I should be busy looking after the cows.” But she persisted, and people began to take notice.
The main goal of the band is that through their music they would help their village, buy medicines, and help support their siblings.
“For love, for pain, for enjoyment. When there is tension in the village, musicians come to calm everyone down.”
-Abdoulaye Madassane (on the importance of music to the Tuareg)
MADAGASCAR - Mama Sana
Singer-songwriter and valiha musician Mama Sana was born in 1900 in Madagascar. Dressed in traditional clothing with coins braided into her hair, Sana was the custodian of traditional Tandroy and Sakalava musical styles. In addition to this, she was known for her brilliant, innovative performances on the valiha instrument.
After her death in 1997, Mama Sana’s house was turned into a museum and a cultural association was founded in her honor to promote traditional music of the Sakalava and Tandroy people of Madagascar.
MALAWI - Women of Chadza village
The women of Malawi have always created a soundtrack to the rhythms of their everyday life, their songs intertwining with the history of their country.
I chose in particular to focus on the song Akweni, which was sung by the women of Chadza village, which is located near Lilongwe. This song, traditionally sung when the women were pouding, was later used as a political song that told the story of how Malawians were tired of colonialism. From 1961-1964 there was an increased continuation of this kind of appropriation of traditional women’s music for political reasons, partly inspired by the abundance and potency of their choruses. The traditional lyrics for Awkeni and its politicized version, Tambala Akamalira, are below.
Akweni ndatopa! Aieee! Chiyambire chadzana kuyendera inu!
Pena ena angadimve ine ndikakhale! Chisoni ndatopa!
Akweni ndatopa! Chiyambire chadzana, kusinjira/kuyendera inu!
Eeh mwina mai anga andimve ine ndikakhale! Aieeh!
(Akweni I am tired! Aieee! Since two days, I am visiting you,
Hope someone hears me so I can go to rest! I am sorry I am tired
Akweni I am tired! For two days I have been pounding for you!
I hope my mother hears and comes to take me home to rest! Aieeh!)
Tambala akamalira, Kokoliko! Tambala akamalira, kokoliko!
Tambala akamalira, kokoliko, liko, liko kwacha!
A Malawi mwayamba, kunyadira Kamuzu, firidomu kwacha!
(When the cockerel crows, crow, crows, crows!
Malawians you have started being proud of Kamuzu, freedom kwacha!)
MALI - Fanta Damba
Fanta Damba, also known as La Grande Vedette Malienne was born in 1938 to a well-known jali/griot family in the Malian village of Segou. Both of her parents were musicians and she did grow up surrounded by exceptional musicians. Damba started singing as a child and at the age of sixteen she had already made a name for herself in her community. When she turned 20, she started recording her music with Radio Mali. She is one of Mali’s most celebrated and revered musicians and was especially popular in the 60s and 70s. In 1975, Damba was the first jalimusolu to tour Europe as a solo artist accompanied by the ngoni, kora and guitar.
She was named Ngara, a title usually reserved for a select number of musicians known for their unequalled mastery of their musical gifts. In order for a griot to be recognized as a Ngara, one must be older in age, and considered to possess great courage, skill, vast experience, discipline, and to have been recognized for their giftings from an early age. A Ngara also usually has a unique middle tone voice that has the ability to control the audience's emotions.
Although she retired from performing in 1985, Damba’s legacy as a praise singer and custodian of her country’s cultural traditions, continues to be a source of inspiration to Malian musicians.