Society of Sound – January 2018 Les Amazones d’Afrique

In this first Society of Sound blog for 2018, Valerie Malot from 3D Family, talks about the project Les Amazones d’Afrique whose album Amazone Republique is this month’s release. Malot’s piece gives a background of the project and sheds some light on some of the challenges faced making the record. She also reveals that a true understanding of what was being created in the name of Les Amazones d’Afrique was only revealed over time…

The project started with the idea to build a super-group of West African women around a cause and our cause was to stop violence against women in general but particularly in war zones, so the first thing we wanted to do was make a song for women who have been ill-treated. ‘I Play the Kora’ was the first song we recorded and it’s an important message because the kora is a 21-stringed African harp that has always been played by men so the title makes a statement that we can do anything that we want. If we want to play the kora then we’ll play the kora, if we want to tell our own story then we’ll tell our own story, if we want to denounce that men are using rape as a weapon we will say it.

Profits from the sale of ‘I Play the Kora’ are being donated to The Panzi Foundation, in the Congo, which has provided healing support to more than 80,000 women.

The recording was a long process and was not easy to start with because we were discovering as we went along what we were doing. The initial idea was just to put everybody together and see what happened but when you build a project like this you need to be very flexible at each stage. It only works because these women, who are all from different backgrounds, were all able to put their egos to one side and adapt to benefit the project. They are open-minded enough to understand that we have a cause to defend and for this cause you have to forget about all the traditions and rules that might be a barrier to working together. They were able to focus on what was important. The musical ideas actually came very quickly and once we had made the song ‘I Play the Kora’ we really understood why we were together. The song helped forge our collective spirit.

The project needed to take place in Bamako (the capital city of Mali) because even though it’s more difficult to record there it’s shaped the project and provides the soul of the record. We wanted to work using an African infrastructure, working with African technicians, so we organised the recording at Radio Libre (recording studio) but we had limited resources in terms of backline and equipment so a lot of post-production work was also done by producer Liam Farrell back in Europe. He’s original in the way he produces records and is focussed on the future and does not try to redo what others have done.

Liam’s approach to music is not coming from the regular music business point of view, it’s coming from an arts perspective so his approach to recording is really different, there are no rules and it is not structured. The songs often started with just a loop or rhythm track, which the vocalists would work around, bringing in their own ideas and lyrics. With ‘I Play the Kora’ I had written some words to get us started but Rokia Koné, Nneka and Kandia Kouyaté all worked on their own elements, bringing their own message to the song. We were all part of the learning process for the project, Liam as well, adapting the music as we all began to understand the project more.

Forming Les Amazones d’Afrique was a long quest, we started out with Mariam Doumbia, Oumou Sangaré and Mamani Keïta, established and well-known artists, and having the talents of both Nneka and Angelique Kidjo also involved makes us very proud. However, once we found Rokia Koné – whose known as La Rose de Bamako – we also knew we had discovered an incredible new artist who could be the musical centre for the project on going. Having Mouneïssa Tandina was also important, as she’s one of the only female drummers from Mali.

Les Amazones d’Afrique is a collective that’s always changing, with different artists wanting to join with us. It’s like an extended choir, a movement based around the idea that through music you can change things. It wasn’t easy to start, but we can see that audiences really relate to what we’re talking about and we find common ground through the power of the idea. This project is not only for Africa, the struggle for women’s rights is all over the planet.

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