Nick Bollinger checks a set from West African women's collective L'Amazones d'Afrique.
I’m not entirely sure what the instrument is that opens the first track on this album. I’d guess it’s some type of talking drum, amplified and distorting to the point where harmonics are flying like sparks. But it was enough to draw my ear.
Les Amazones d’Afrique are an all-women collective of West African musicians – some very well known in their own right – who have got together to campaign for gender equality, and to make some great music.
The featured singer on the opening track (‘Dombolo’) is Angelique Kidjo, the Beninese singer and civil rights advocate, but there are at least half a dozen others on Les Amazones’ debut album, including Inna Modja (recently seen here at WOMAD) and Mariam Doumbia (of the popular Malian duo Amadou and Mariam).
Though the women involved come from several different nations, each with its own particular cultural practices, gender inequality and female disempowerment are concerns the singers have in common, and which they address in a number of these songs. If, like me, you don’t know the languages used – which include Bambara and French, but very little English – you won’t pick up a lot of the specifics, but may still get the intent.
The rhythms are fantastic; several varieties of desert funk. Different tracks feature different singers, usually solo or in duet, but one track features the full ensemble. Its title, ‘I Play The Kora’, is pointed; the kora being the West African harp, traditionally played only by men.
Though the music is laced with lovely traditional sounds, from koras to thumb pianos, there’s a stomping electro-dance groove that runs through the whole thing, and even those traditional instruments have been subjected to some electronic tinkering. That’s the handiwork of producer Liam Farrell, a Paris-based Irishman last heard on last year’s wonderful if certifiably mad debut of Congolese combo Mbongwana Star. And he brings a similarly joyful noise to Les Amazones d'Afrique. Appropriate really, that a record that’s socially forward thinking should be sonically forward thinking as well.
Republique Amazone is available on Real World.