Nahawa Doumbia is one of the most popular singers from the Wassulu region in South Mali. She speaks to the younger generation of West Africa through her lyrics about love, the position of women in Malian society, and the plight of the African refugees in France. Her voice soars to didadi, a lilting dance rhythm from her native Wassoulou regionadded to the musical mix are the jazz and techno samples of French DJ Frédéric Galliano. Traditional instruments -bala, kamele ngoni, and jembe- along with bass and acoustic guitar back up Nahawa’s vibrant vocals.
Nahawa Doumbia was born in the small town of Mafélé, in the Sikasso region (next to the Ivory Coast’s border). Her grandmother had to raise the newborn because Nahawa’s mother died shortly after giving birth. Nahawa Doumbia’s grandmother lived in Manankoro, near Bougouni, the most important city in the Wassulu region (south of Bamako, Mali’s capital). The Wassulu region is well known for generating some of the best singers in Mali, like Oumou Sangare, Sali Sidibe or Dieneba Diakité. Even though Nahawa Doumbia’s family was not part of the jali tradition (the Manding caste that performs music), Nahawa’s mother predicted before she died that her daughter would be a singer. This is something that her family tried to prevent, resorting to the magical powers of blacksmiths, but to no effect.
The young Malian woman was discovered by civil servants from the Ministry of Culture when she was singing with her friends. Despite her father’s opposition, she sung at the Youth Week in Bamako in 1980, a biannual event in which artists from all of Mali participate. Nahawa Doumbia won the contest with the song “Tinye de be laban.” Since then and always accompanied by her husband, guitarist Ngou Bagayoko, her fame grew in Mali and Europe. She shared the stage Manu Dibango, Toure Kunda or Miriam Makeba.
In 1988 Nahawa’s first album, “Didadi,” came out. Ibrahima Sylla and Boncana Maiga, the creators of modern Manding music produced it. Didadi is, in fact, the music style with which Nahawa Doumbia stands out, a rhythm used by young people to compete at festivals and celebrations. In 1990 her second CD came out, with the collaboration of well known African musicians: Congolese guitarist Rigo Star, Cameroonian singer Georges Seba, percussionist Papa Kouyate and several of Salif Keita’s band members.
Nahawa Doumbia’s first recordings are characterized by the fusion of African music and modern technology. Her fourth release, “Yankaw,” meant a return to pure Wassulu music with vocals accompanied by bala, kamele ngoni, acoustic guitar and percussion.
La Grande Cantatrice Malienne – Decouverte 81 A Dakar (AS Records, 1981)
La Grande Cantatrice Malienne, Vol. 3 (AS Records, 1982)
Didadi (Syllart Records, 1987)
Nyama Toutou (Stern’s Africa, 1987)
Mangoni (Stern’s Music, 1992)
Yankaw (Cobalt, 1997)
Yaala (Mali K7 SA, 1999)
Bougouni (Sonodisc, 1999)
Diby (Cobalt, 2004)
Kabako (Camara Production, 2014)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.