Rokia Traore was born in 1974 and comes from Bamako. Though-steeped in tradition, Rokia Traore’s music is thoroughly integrated into a contemporary sound, thanks to her upbringing in a multicultural environment. Unlike many other Malian singers she does not come from the jali caste, but rather from the class sponsoring them.
Her father was a diplomat, and so she lived in many different places away from Mali: Algeria, Saudi Arabia, France, and Belgium. As a result, Rokia Traore has managed to integrate the atmospheres of great many places into her recordings. She grew up listening to all types of music, Algerian and Malian music, jazz, blues, reggae and afropop, and her original career choice was social sciences. Yet once she decided to become an artist instead, the great guitarist, singer and sound engineer Ali Farka Toure, who encouraged and recorded many of the upcoming, independent, and innovative Malian performers, became her mentor.
Another big influence is Massembou Diallo. He used to play with Rokia’s father in an amateur band called Chiwa Band. He encouraged her to make music and composed Rokia’s first two pieces together with her.
Rokia was the winner of the African Discoveries award.
A master of West African rhythms and credited as one of the founders of the Afropop genre, Salif Keita is world renowned for his unforgettable live performances, soaring vocals and his emotionally-fueled songs.
Born in Mali, West Africa in 1949, Salif Keita comes from a noble family, and is a descendant of Sunjata Keita, who founded the Mali Empire in 1240. Salif Keita was the third of thirteen children born to Sina Keita, a landowner in the village of Djoliba, where he grew up, near Mali’s capital, Bamako.
Born albino in a land of blistering sun and heat, with limited eyesight and poor despite his social standing, his mother had to hide him to avoid the attacks of the superstitious crowds who called for his death. In addition to the problems of growing up as an albino, Keita found the opposition of his family to his interest in becoming a singer since the traditions of his ancestry excluded members of the nobility from becoming singers. Keita’s decision to become a musician broke an important taboo as in Mali as only the lower jeli class made its living from music.
In 1970, at the age of 18, Salif Keita left Djoliba for Bamako, where he spent time as a street musician and playing in bars. The first group that he worked with was the legendary Super Rail Band, a state-supported ensemble that was based at a Bamako railway station hotel, and served as an important launching pad for the careers of numerous West African musicians, including kora player and singer Mory Kante, and guitarist Kante Manfila.
In 1973, Salif Keita left the Rail Band, and with guitarist Kante Manfila he joined Les Ambassadeurs, which later became Les Ambassadeurs International. The new group developed the fusion between traditional music and western electric influences. 1977 saw Salif Keita being awarded the National Order of Guinea by Sekou Toure, the Guinean President. By that time, Salif Keita had also discovered American singers like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Tina Turner. Their powerful way of singing and presence on stage taught Keita a lot about live performances.
Restricted by the limited opportunities and political climate in Mali, the group moved south and set up base in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, where they performed and recorded successfully during the late 1970s. The epic 12 minute track “Mandjou”, that is featured on the Mansa of Mali album, was recorded live in Abidjan during this period.
In 1984 Les Ambassadeurs Internationales broke up, and Salif Keita moved to Paris, launching a career that saw him recording the classic Soro album in 1987, produced by Ibrahim Sylla.
A recording deal with Island Records followed, which resulted in the release of the album Ko-Yan in 1989, an album influenced by influential jazz fusion band Weather Report, and that led directly to Salif’s collaboration with Weather Report keyboardist, composer and arranger Joe Zawinul in 1990. With help from Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter and a number of carefully picked musicians from Mali and France, Zawinul produced Amen, the album that made Salif the first African band leader to win a Grammy nomination.
The impressive Mansa of Mali retrospective was released in 1993 to coincide with Salif Keita’s tours of the United States, and Southern Africa. Recorded in Paris, New York and Bamako, his album, Papa, features special guests Vernon Reid (Living Color), Grace Jones and John Medeski, an album of the new African/American music, bringing together musicians from Mali and America.
On his 2002 album, Moffou, Salif Keita was joined by excellent musicians, including Cape Verdian diva Cesaria Evora on the track Yamore, guitar-hero Djeli Moussa Kouyaté from Guinea, and his old freind Kanté Manfila (acoustic guitar), both of them long-time companions of Salif.
Moffou is both the title of the album and the name of of the club that the singer opened in Bamako in 2002 to promote the West African music scene. In both cases, the choice of the name expresses his genuine desire to return to the roots of Mali.
In April of 2004, Decca/Universal Music released Remixes from Moffou. The album expanded on the original recording of Moffou that took him on a tour around the world. He collaborated with some of the world’s finest producers and DJs, each bringing a unique contribution to the music, changing its tempo and atmosphere. A sound with a whole new dimension, the disc has traces of funk, house and drum-n-bass.Each song on Remixes is transformed – the songs were given a new face without distorting the delicate melodies that were originally written. The idea to remix the entire album was spawned from the feedback that was given from young music fans. They rushed out to buy “Yamore” (Keita’s duet with Cesaria Evora) and club kids went crazy for Marin Solveig’s remix of “Madan.” European FM radio stations also took notice of the remix which prompted Universal France to take a step further.
Patrick Votan, artistic director at Universal Jazz France explained, “Following the success of “Madan” we decided to ask electro artists who are close to the African scene such as Osunlade, Doctor L and Frederic Galliano to work on remixes of other tracks from the album. We also got major mainstream electro stars such as La Funk Mob (the defunct duo of Cassius Philippe Zdar and Boombass who got back together for the project), Charles Webster and Luciano on board the project in the hope that this would take the work of Salif Keita, a unique and original artist, to the ears of a new public.”
On M’Bemba (2006), the traditional instruments such as the ngoni lute played by Mama Sissoko, and the kora played by Toumani Diabate, evoke the memory of Salif Keita’s own ancestor, Sundiata Keita, the warrior king who founded the Manding Empire in the 13th century. Representing a genuine piece of family history, the new recording was the first time Salif’s foster-sisters joined him on record for the chorus of the title track. Also appearing on the album was dancehall/reggae great, Buju Banton, who lent his talents on the upbeat track “Ladji.”
The same talented group of musicians who performed on Moffou also joined Salif on M’Bemba, including Djeli Moussa Kouyate on guitar, Mino Cinellu on percussion, Salif’s early mentor, guitarist and arranger, Kante Manfila with Ousmane Kouyate also on guitar.
Keita aims to spread his message of hope through his music, through his actions, and through his words. “Happiness isn’t for tomorrow,” Keita said. “It’s not hypothetical; it starts here and now. . . . Nature has given us extraordinary things. . . . Let’s take advantage of the wonders of this continent at last – intelligently, in our own way, at our own rhythm, like responsible men proud of their inheritance. “Let’s build the country of our children, and stop taking pity on ourselves. Africa is also the joy of living, optimism, beauty, elegance, grace, poetry, softness, the sun and nature. Let’s be happy to its sons, and fight to build our happiness.”
Dans L’Authenticité Vol.1, with Kante Manfila (Badmos, 1979)
Dans l’Authenticité Vol. 2, with Kante Manfila (Badmos, 1979)
Tounkan (Celluloid, 1981)
Salif Keita & Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux (Badmos International Records, 1981)
Mandjou (Celluloid, 1984) Soro (Mango, 1987)
Salif Keita & Mory Kante (Syllart Records, 1988) Ko-Yan (Mango, 1989) Amen (Mango, 1991) L’Enfant Lion, soundtrack (Mango, 1993) Folon…The Past (Mango, 1995)
Sosie (MS Verdenshjørnet, 1996)
Seydou Bathily (Sonodisc, 1997) Papa (Metro Blue, 1999) Moffou (Universal Music Jazz France, 2002)
The Lost Album Inédits (Cantos, 2005) M’Bemba (Universal Music Jazz France, 2005) La Différence (Universal Music France, 2009) Talé (Universal Music France, 2012)
During the 1960s, in Bamako, Mali, a young girl of six used to appear at local festivals by popular demand. On the other side of the tracks, three blocks away, a ten year old boy played the tam-tam, the flute and harmonica like a virtuoso. Neither knew the other existed. They never saw each other, yet years later they married, had children, and invented their own unique and beautiful music. Some paths are chosen by destiny, and this is definitely one of them. The road of a duo, and a couple: Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia, the blind couple of Mali.
At the age of 14, Amadou joined the National Orchestra B, where he learned to sing and took up the guitar, playing in the orchestras of Niarela, Koutiala, and Sikasso. Amadou wasn’t born blind, but at a very early age a cataract forced him to enter the Institute for the Young Blind. No doubt it was to meet Mariam, the little girl now grown, a singer-songwriter whose strong voice and unique stage presence had made her the treasure of the institute and already acclaimed by the public thanks to her song, “Qu’ ai-je fait á Dieu pour mériter cela?”(“What did I do to God to deserve this?”) From the moment they met, it was like the song says, “Whatever the path, we’ll hold hands.” But their difficulties started at the same time- their families were worried, and it wasn’t easy to accept this union between the two physically impaired artists: “Life is a combat, and we are its combatants”.
United by their passion for music, they moved forward. Amadou played with Manfila Kanté and Salif Keita in the legendary group called the Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, appearing in Paris (France), Lagos (Nigeria), and the Ivory Coast. Six years later, after playing together both in the orchestra and at the Institute, which Amadou now managed, they began to suffer from the absence of professional music structure in Mali, and so thy left.
The Ivory Coast welcomed and acclaimed them. The couple produced their first five albums there between 1988 and 1993. The adventure was a success, and pirate recordings didn’t prevent them from earning a living through their music. Famous and recognized, they returned to the arid soil of Mali, from which they extracted the unique boogie that molded their style. With subtle and syncopated rhythms that evoke streams flowing over stones, with light guitar riffs conjuring wood drying under the noon sun, and with high-pitched voices exclaiming the blues, Amadou and Mariam weave melodies that make the head spin. The lyrics, in Bambara, Prul, Dogon, and French, come in through an easily opened door to portray the day-to-day existence of universal, timeless man, one which even non-African people can identify with. Amadou and Mariam sing of a world they have never seen, but through their ‘vision’, the real world appears before our eyes as if born out of a sixth sense.
The duo has become one of the leading world music attractions in France, capturing the attention of popular performer and producer Manu Chao, who produced and appeared on their album Dimanche a Bamako (Sunday in Bamako). This disc was a gold record in France, where it was released in 2005.
Le Couple Aveugle Du Mali Vol.1 (Maikano, 1989)
Le Couple Aveugle Du Mali Vol. 2 (Maikano, 1990)
Le Couple Aveugle du Mali Vol. 3 (Maikano, 1992)
Sou Ni Tilé (EmArcy, 1998)
Tje Ni Mousso (Polydor, 1999)
Wati (Universal Music Jazz France, 2002) Dimanche À Bamako (Because Music, 2004)
Paris – Bamako (Because Music, 2005)
Se Te Djon Ye (Sonodisc, 2005) Welcome To Mali (Because Music, 2008)
Remixes (Because Music, 2010) Folila (Because Music, 2012) La Confusion (Because Music, 2017)
Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba – Routes (Twelve Eight Records, 2018)
Routes is the new album by North Carolina-based Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba. Diali Cissokho is a Senegalese kora maestro who moved to Pittsboro a few years ago and formed a band with American musicians.
This new recording has deep Senegalese and North Carolinian roots. Diali Cissokho traveled with his American bandmates to his birthplace, M’bour to record an album together. The band’s bassist and producer Jonathan Henderson and engineer Jason Richmond setup a mobile unit in a hotel near the ocean and invited local musicians.
After the sessions in Senegal, the producer added North Carolina musicians to the tracks. Guests included renowned violinist Jennifer Curtis, North Carolina Heritage Award-winning mandolinist Tony Williamson, jazz and gospel vocalists Shana Tucker and Tamisha Waden, and the excellent pedal steel guitar player Eric Heywood.
The final result was Route, an eclectic and deeply satisfying album that features a mix of traditional jali (griot) kora, Afropop, Senegalese salsa and American gospel, jazz and North Carolina roots music.
Mwinda is the fourth studio album by Angolan singer-songwriter and likembe (thumb piano) player Lulendo Mvulu. Most of the album is radio friendly likembe-fueled Afropop although he also treats the listener to rootsier sounds.
Highlights include the engaging title track “Mwinda,” where Nigerian Afrobeat, led by pioneering drummer Tony Allen, meets Angolan vocals and fascinating likembe. Equally good is “Africa Meu Amor,” another Afropop-infused track featuring Tony Allen once more and the prominent sound of the likembe.
Belgian multi-ethnic band Zanzibar plays an unexpected mix of rhythmic Afropop music, harmonica-based American blues, boogie woogie, jazz, Haitian folk music and even a traditional African American prison work song titled “‘Berta ‘Berta”.
Zanzibar uses vocals in various languages, including English, French, Kirundi (language of Burundi) and Haitian Creole.
Band members include vocalist Desire Ntemere from Burundi on vocals; Belgian multi-instrumentalist Renaud Patigny on piano, keyboards, balafon, and vocals; Kankan Bayo from Guinea Conakry on percussion and vocals; and Belgian harmonica ace Genevieve Dartevelle, who also plays didgeridoo.
Genevieve Dartevelle delivers outstanding performances on the harmonica.
Singer and multi-instrumentalist, Ze Manel is one of the most famous and influential contemporary musician to emerge from the West African country of Guinea Bissau. By the age of seven, Ze, playing drums and acoustic guitar, had become the main attraction of Super Mama Djombo band.
During the 1970’s, this seminal orchestra played a major role in the liberation struggle of this former Portuguese colony. In 1982, Ze released his first solo album Tustumunhos di Aonti, which sounded the alarm over the formation of a new repressive ruling class in Guinea Bissau. The album was a national event (people in Guinea Bissau today still sing the songs from this soulful, relevant album), but the political environment was heating up and Manel’s fans were concerned for his safety. Manel fled his homeland.
This self-exile took him to Portugal, France and, finally, the United States. His American debut album, Maron di mar (Cobiana Records) released in 2001, was an instant success. It received rave reviews from European and American media and was nominated for best album at the All African Kora Music Awards in South Africa, and best world music album at the Just Plain Folks Music Awards in the USA.
He returned with a new album African Citizen (M10). His message in the title track is more global. Ze calls for African unity, peace, and stability in all continents. He delivers his messages Jji the most beguiling of-tenor voices accompanied by his acoustic guitar and percussion. In this release, Ze’s uniquely innovative talent expands the boundaries of both traditional and contemporary Guinea Bissau dance music, creating a new musical genre that is urban yet profoundly steeped in the root. Sung in many languages (Kriol, Portuguese, English, and French), the lyrics are as declamatory and inflammatory as his rhythms are infectiously danceable. Ze sings of love for family and friends, respect for women, compassion for children, social justice, and he poignantly describes the ravages of poverty, prostitution, AIDS, and the dictatorships that repress the advancement of people.
Ze said he faced the challenge of blending cultures while preserving his own. “I am respecting our traditional music, but we want to make more progress towards meeting other cultures.”
The CD Povo Adormecido (My People Are Asleep) was released on August 1, 2006. Sung in Criolu (Creole), English, Portuguese and French, and set to a series of irresistible Afrobeat grooves, the songs speak to the universal longing to live in peace.
The title track pays tribute to the indomitable spirit of the African people, and raises a challenge to all of us to transcend our limitations when faced with the greatest challenges. Other songs (some with lyrics by Zé, some written in collaboration with schoolteacher/poet Uco Monteiro, journalist Tony Tcheka, and Senegalese computer engineer Pierre H Sagna) address the humanity (and inhumanity) of policemen, the homesickness of political exiles, and the inhumanity of selfish African dictators.
Angélique Kidjo is one of the African singers with more attraction and performance power. The direct rhythms, strong, energetic, taken from the traditions of her homeland, Benin (Western Africa), are combined with the sounds of reggae, samba, funk, soul, gospel, zouk and many more.
On stage is where Kidjo shows her charisma. She is a great dancer. With her very short hair style, she is a real version of the “postmodern” African woman. In addition, she has the ability of communicating with her audience, a gift that is transmitted just as well live as on her CDs. “Even when I am singing alone in my own studio, I imagine that I am with my audience.”
Kidjo was born in Cotonou and was raised in Quidah, a small coastal city of Benin, a country that harbors numerous cultures. The main language of Benin is Fon, the language that Angélique uses more often when she sings, although she also sings in English, a language that she speaks with fluency, as well as French.
Kidjo comes from a family with nine siblings, who have an open mind about international music. Her mother, a choreographer and theatrical director, has had a profound influence in the life of Angélique, who used to act in her mother’s plays when she was a little girl.
Traditional music was not the only kind of music that the young Angelique used to listen to. Benin, in the 1970s was open to numerous styles: salsa, Zairean rumba, makossa from Cameroon, soul, funk, Gospel… even Arabic and Indian music was available. Her brother, a guitarist, introduced her to the sounds of Santana and they memorized his songs.
When she was still an adolescent, Kidjo began to tour Benin performing at local festivals and on the radio. She was one of the few female artists doing this. People in Benin didn’t look kindly to women who tried to make a professional living from singing. “It was so hard. I really had to fight.”
Miriam Makeba, the South African singer, was one of her main idols and Kidjo performed some of her songs, like the Swahili ballad Malaika.
She moved to Paris in 1983, where she found a melting pot of music. Some of the most famous West African musicians, such as Salif Keita and Manu Dibango, were also in Paris, either recording albums or living there. African musicians mixed with Caribbean, French and American musicians. The result was an explosion of hot rhythms and a crossed fertilization of world-beat styles that found an echo in the in the musical experience of Kidjo and created the most appropriate environment so that she could develop her own style.
“Some call it afro-funk, they can call it whatever they want, but it is really difficult to classify my music within only one style. Even when I use my own traditional music I don’t try to recreate just only style but rather I mix it all.”
Kidjo took advantage of her stay in Paris to enroll in a jazz school. “There, I was taught many things, I improved my tone and I learned flexibility for my voice.” It was an important element for someone whose native language is Fon, which is tonic, with a soft oscillating musical profile.
Angélique joined a Dutch Afro-jazz group, Pili Pili, with which she recorded two albums. Together they participated at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1987. That same year she met Jean Hebrail, a French bassist and composer, whom she married sometime later.
Parakou, her first internationally distributed album, featured Jasper van’t Hof, the leader of Pili Pili.
Logozo, recorded in Miami in 1991 and produced by Joe Galdo of Miami Sound Machine, featured Branford Marsalis on saxophone. Marsalis later performed on Kidjo’s album Oremi. The album features Kidjo singing duets with Cassandra Wilson (“Never Know”) and Kelly Price (“Open Your Eyes”).
Kidjo’s most ambitious album, Fifa (1996), featured more than 100 percussionists, flutists, cowbell and berimbau players, singers, and dancers from Benin and one track featuring Carlos Santana.
In 1998, she started a trilogy of albums, Oremi, Black Ivory Soul and Oyaya that explored the African roots of the music of the Americas. Oremi featured Cassandra Wilson, Branford Marsalis, Kelly Price and Kenny Kirkland.
During 2001, Kidjo started to work on the Black Ivory Soul album, drawing connections between Benin and music of Bahía, Brazil. “For the new album, I went to Brazil and wrote songs with Carlinhos Brown, and Vinicius Cantuaria, and I am covering a song by Gilberto Gil, which he wrote after traveling to Benin.” The album also features drummer Ahmir Thompson, from the Roots, and Romero Lumbambo, the Brazilian guitar master, along with African and Bahianese players. “The concept of the album is based on my research into truth and the idea of bringing people together through music.”
Kidjo won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music for her album Djin Djin, and in the same year received Benin’s Commander of National Order of Merit for loyal services to the nation. Kidjo dedicated her Grammy award to the “women of Darfur, the women who are fighting every day to give their kids an education.” On Djin Djin, Kidjo collabnotrated with guest stars including Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana, Joss Stone, Ziggy Marley, Branford Marsalis and Josh Groban. The record was a return to Kidjo’s Beninese roots, capturing the most traditional rhythms from her country. It comprised material sung in her native languages as well as in English and French.
Since March 2009, Kidjo has been campaigning for “Africa for women’s rights”–a movement launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). In September of 2009, UNICEF and Pampers launched the ‘Give the Gift of Life’ campaign to eradicate Tetanus and asked Kidjo to produce a song, “You Can Count On Me,” where each download of the song donated a vaccine to a mother or mother-to-be. She also campaigned for Oxfam at the Hong Kong WTO meeting for their Fair Trade Campaign, participated in the video for the ‘In My Name Campaign’ with Will I Am from The Black Eyed Peas, and was one of the LiveEarth Ambassadors for the 2010 ‘Run For Water’ events along with Jessica Biel and Pete Wentz.
Also in 2010, musician and philanthropist Peter Buffett and Kidjo teamed up to release “A Song For Everyone.” 100% of proceeds from the sale of the song benefited the Batonga Foundation, an organization founded by Angelique to advance education for girls in Africa.
Oyo, released in 2010, celebrates the music that shaped Kidjo’s artistic formation, including “Lakutshona Llanga,” a lullaby made famous by Kidjo’s hero, Miriam Makeba; Yoruban interpretations of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” and Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti;” a collaboration with Diane Reeves on “Monfe Ran E,” a tribute to the Aretha Franklin hit, “Baby I Love You;” and a take on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.”
Oyo features a band of acclaimed musicians, including guitarist Lionel Loueke, Christian McBride on upright bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and Thiokho Diagne on percussion. Trumpeter Roy Hargove makes a memorable appearance on “Samba Pa Ti.”
Kidjo’s 2014 album Eve (429 Records) is named after Kidjo’s mother. Eve is a collection of songs dedicated to the power of African womanhood, mostly those women Angelique grew up with in her native Benin. The guests on the album include Dr. John, Rostamm Btmanglij (Vampire Weekend), the Kronos Quartet and the Orchestra Philharmonique du Luxumbourg, as well as guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Steve Jordan, bassist Christian McBride and Senegalese percussionist Magatte Sow.
In 2015 Angelique Kidjo won her second “Best World Music Album” Grammy Award for her Eve album. That same year Kidjo released Sings, recorded with the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg, conducted by Gast Waltzing. This project fused the classical music traditions of Europe and the rhythms of her native land. Kidjo recreated nine classic pieces from her 24 year discography and two new songs (“Otishe,” “Mamae”) from the sessions of her Eve album.
The guest artists on Sings include upright bassists Christian McBride and Massimo Biolcati; guitarists Lionel Loueke, Dominic James and David Laborier; Gast Waltzing on flugelhorn; several native Beninese singers, and Brazilian classical guitarist Romero Lubambo.
“The orchestra brings different textures to my life and music,” said Kidjo about her symphonic collaboration. “Unlike in pop music, the orchestra doesn’t follow you, it leads and dares you to follow it. If you don’t do this successfully, the songs suffer and the communication is lost. But I love the challenge of doing new things. I never want to get too comfortable with what I’m doing, and I love my work too much to repeat myself.”
In addition to her music career, Kidjo has devoted much of her adult life to global charity work. She is a spokesperson for UNICEF and Oxfam, and created her own charity, Batonga, which aims to create a culture that values and supports the secondary education of girls in Africa.
Fatoumata Diawara (a.k.a. Fatou) was born of Malian parents in the Ivory Coast in 1982. As a child she became a member of her father’s dance troupe and was a popular performer of the wildly flailing didadi dance from Wassulu, her ancestral home in western Mali. She was an energetic and headstrong girl and at the age of 12 her refusal to go to school prompted her parents to send her to live and be disciplined by an aunt in Bamako. She was not to see her parents again for more than a decade.
Her aunt was an actress, and a few years after arriving, Diawara found herself on a film set looking after her aunt’s infant child. The film’s director was captivated by Diawara’s adolescent beauty and she was given a one-line part in the final scene of the film Taafe Fangan (The Power of Women). This led to a lead role in a film by the celebrated director Cheick Omar Sissoko: 1999’s La Genèse (Genesis).
At the age of 18 Diawara traveled to Paris to perform the classical Greek role of Antigone on stage. After touring with the production she returned to Mali where she was given the lead in Dani Kouyaté’s popular 2001 film Sia, The Dream of the Python. The film tells the story of a West African legend called Sia, a young girl who defies tradition. To many in Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and Burkina Faso, Diawara is Sia thanks to the film’s enormous success throughout the region.
Offers for further acting roles poured in but Diawara’s family wanted her to settle down and marry and forced her to announce, live on Malian television, that she was abandoning her career as an actress.
In 2002 Jean-Louis Courcoult, the director of the renowned French theatre company, Royale de Luxe, travelled to Bamako to offer Diawara a part in his new production. An unmarried woman is considered a minor in Malian society so her family’s permission was required. They refused. After much soul-searching Diawara took the daring decision to run away and at the Bamako airport she managed to board a plane for Paris, narrowly escaping the pursuit of the police who had been alerted to the girl’s “kidnapping.”
With Royal de Luxe, Diawara performed a variety of roles around the world including tours in Vietnam and Mexico and throughout Europe. During rehearsals and quiet moments she took to singing backstage for her own amusement. She was overheard by the director and was soon singing solo during the company’s performances. Encouraged by the reception from audiences she began to sing in Parisian clubs and cafes during breaks from touring. Here she met Cheikh Tidiane Seck the celebrated Malian musician and producer who invited her to travel with him back to Mali to work on two projects as chorus vocalist; Seya, the Grammy–nominated album by Malian singer Oumou Sangaré, and Red Earth, the Grammy–winning Malian project by American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. When the albums were released Diawara toured worldwide as singer and dancer with both artists.
On her return to France, Diawara took the role of Karaba in the popular touring musical Kirikou and Karaba. She was encouraged to take the role by her friend Rokia Traoré, who also inspired her to take up the guitar. Diawara bought a guitar and started to teach herself and to write down her own compositions.
She made the decision to dedicate herself to her passion: music. She worked to complete an album’s worth of songs and started recording demos for which she composed and arranged all of the tracks, as well as playing guitar, percussion, bass, and singing lead and harmony vocals. An introduction from Oumou Sangaré resulted in a record deal with World Circuit and the recording of her debut album.
Between recording sessions she found time to collaborate on Damon Albarn’s Africa Express and contribute vocals to albums by Cheikh Lô, AfroCubism, Herbie Hancock’s Grammy–winning Imagine Project and Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou.
Diawara’s EP Kanou was released by World Circuit Records in the U.K. and Europe and by Nonesuch Records in North America. World Circuit released her debut album, Fatou, in Europe and the U.K. in the fall of 2011 to critical acclaim; Nonesuch released the album in North America on August 28, 2012.
Following the release, Diawara performed as part of Damon Albarn’s album and live project Rocket Juice and the Moon, which featured himself, Tony Allen, and Flea. She also is featured on Roberto Fonseca’s most recent release Yo and on Bobby Womack’s album The Bravest Man in the Universe, which was co-produced by Albarn and Richard Russell. Diawara has also toured extensively, selling out venues across Europe, Canada, and Australia.
Lokua Kanza was born in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire). His father is one of the Mongo people, known for their polyphonic singing, and his mother comes from Rwanda, known for its sophisticated court music. In Kinshasha he learned to sing in church choirs. To finish his studies he went to the Conservatory at Kinshasa, where he learned music theory, harmony and composition while perfecting his instrumental knowledge.
His decision to become a singer happened after he’d attended one of Miriam Makeba’s concerts, then her friend Ray Lema gave him his first guitar, and he made his first public appearances in some Zairean rumba bands. This was followed by a period of study – music theory and orchestration – at the conservatoire. He was always ready to listen to everything that came his way, from Bach to chanson by way of Rhythm ‘n Blues, pop and bossa nova.
Lokua Kanza became an exceptionally-gifted musician, playing guitars, sanza, percussion, flute, mandolin, bass, piano, and keyboards. Beginning in 1980, he spent the early days of his career along the Gulf of Guinea from Zaire to Ivory Coast, but his talent really came to the fore in the group of the great Zairean singer Abeti Masikini (a.k.a. La Reine Abeti).
In 1984 he left for Paris to take some jazz guitar lessons. He quickly became part of the African community there and accompanied Ray Lema, Papa Wemba, French jazz band Sixun and Manu Dibango.
In October of 1992, Lokua Kanza gave his first major concert in Paris, opening for Angelique Kidjo at the Olympia. Alongside him were two partners who have remained with him ever since: the radiant Julia Sarr (vocals), from Senegal, and his own brother, Didi Ekukuan (bass, vocals, various percussion, talking drum, tambourine, etc.)
Lokua Kanza recorded his first album, Lokua Kanza, during winter 1992/93, and it revealed-a deeply-inhabited universe “I wanted to rediscover the magic of the nights I spent in Kinshasa when I was a child,” he says. With its nostalgic atmospheres, its ethereal, meditative climate, destitution, simplicity, minimal chords, liquid, undulating, the art of Lokua Kanza imposed its highly subtle difference right from the very first hearing.
As early as the end of 1993, the bard became a star. He signed with a major record-company, toured all over the world, opened for Youssou N’Dour (he sings on several titles in the Guide (Wommat) and Patrick Bruel, produced sessions for his friends Papa Wemba and YYoussou N’Dour (in Peter Gabriel’s studios)… and got down to the producing of his second album, Wapi Yo (1995). This was a commercial success. However, the achievements of his third album, titled 3, more modest, didn’t have the same success.
After a three-year “retirement” (not that he was inactive, for he composed continuously), Lokua Kanza returned with Toyebi Te, sung in French, English and Lingala. The musicians featured included Didi, his old comrade, guitarist Sylvain Luc, percussionists Komba Bellow and Greg Bondo, the strings of the Bulgarian Symphony orchestra, his daughter Malaika and a choir made up of his four children. His 2010 album Nkolo includes vocals in Lingala, Portuguese and French.