This African group’s music champions rights – and love

Karen Paulina Biswell
Members of Les Amazones d’Afrique include (from left to right) Fafa Ruffino, Mamani Keïta, Niariu, and Kandy Guira. The group’s second album, “Amazones Power,” will be released on Jan. 24.

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As in many parts of the world, in Africa, violence against women is widespread. That’s why, in 2014, Valerie Malot, head of a booking firm, encouraged several star singers to take a united stand against such violence on the continent and beyond. And that’s how the African female collective Les Amazones d’Afrique was born. Its founding principle: to be a vessel to empower women against spousal abuse, second-class status, and female genital mutilation.  

Released in 2017, “Republique Amazone,” the group’s first album which focused on violence against women, garnered plaudits from NPR, Rolling Stone, and Barack Obama. 

Why We Wrote This

Music can be more than a form of entertainment. For the group Les Amazones d’Afrique, a collective of women musicians from Africa, it’s a tool to empower women and speak out against violence.

On Jan. 24, the world will have the opportunity to hear “Amazones Power,” the second album by the multilingual group whose lyrics focus on women’s rights. Its fluid, evolving lineup includes lead singers from Mali, Algeria, Benin, and Burkina Faso. 

“This album is really about empowerment, sisterhood, and love,” says Tiguidanké Diallo, who records under the name Niariu. “Without women holding this world together, we wouldn’t be at peace. Women are the glue that sticks people together as a society.”

Tiguidanké Diallo still hasn’t played her new songs to the person who most influenced the feminist outlook of the lyrics: her mother. 

Ms. Diallo, who records under the name Niariu, recently joined the African female collective Les Amazones d’Afrique. Her sassy staccato propels “Heavy,” the first single from the group’s new record, “Amazones Power.” She’s also the sole figure on the album cover. Sporting the golden arm cuffs and headdress of an Amazon warrior, she stares at the camera with a formidable gaze.

“My mom is kind of my strength,” says Niariu during a phone call from Paris. “My determination, I get it from her.”

Why We Wrote This

Music can be more than a form of entertainment. For the group Les Amazones d’Afrique, a collective of women musicians from Africa, it’s a tool to empower women and speak out against violence.

Niariu is “really shy” about unveiling the finished project to her mother. But on Jan. 24, the world will have the opportunity to hear the second album by the multilingual group whose lyrics focus on women’s rights. Its fluid, evolving lineup includes lead singers from Mali, Algeria, Benin, and Burkina Faso. The glue of the project isn’t just producer Liam Farrell, aka Doctor L. It’s the founding principle of Les Amazones d’Afrique to be a vessel to empower women against spousal abuse, second-class status, and female genital mutilation.  

“The first album was to talk [about] and fight against the violence against women,” says Niariu. “This album is really about empowerment, sisterhood, and love.” 

The genesis of Les Amazones d’Afrique dates back to 2014. Valérie Malot, head of the booking, publishing, and management firm 3dFamily, encouraged several star singers to take a united stand against violence against women in Africa and beyond. The consequent 2017 album, “République Amazone,” featured notable Malian artists such as Oumou Sangaré, Mamani Keïta, Angeìlique Kidjo, and Mariam Doumbia. It garnered plaudits from NPR (“There’s no mistaking the talent and vision these spectacular vocalists share”) and Rolling Stone (“[a] hard-funking, future-minded collaboration”). Barack Obama named “La Dame et Ses Valises” (“The Woman and Her Suitcases”) one of his favorite songs of 2017.  

Les Amazones d’Afrique’s dub-influenced electronica, twined with Afrobeat rhythm and West African guitar, is currently anchored by Fafa Ruffino, Kandy Guira, Rokia Koné, Niariu, and Ms. Keïta. Niariu had been performing in an underground Parisian group when she was invited to come to the studio to write and sing.

“[On] the second album, the emphasis was more in talking about the violence on the women, but that can also be perpetrated by women,” says Niariu, noting that female circumcision is often performed by women. “So it was also a way of, first of all, uplifting women again, but also make us realize the strength that we have and how we can change things together.”

This time out, several songs pair male and female vocalists. Their inclusion isn’t just artistic; it’s also symbolic. Men have their part to play in feminism, says Niariu. 

“Femininity is in everyone – male and female,” she says, praising Jon Grace and Boy-Fall from the group Nyoko Bokbae for their emotional sensitivity on their shared song. “That doesn’t mean that I’m not masculine enough. That means today I embrace my feminine side. And that’s something that I think males have to understand, society has to understand, because there’s a lot of pressure of what we call masculinity.”

The singer also sees a role for women to embrace masculine qualities, such as strength. “Heavy” is a tribute to female entrepreneurs such as Boy-Fall’s Senegalese grandmother, an immigrant who launched a successful hair salon in Paris. Niariu cites single mothers as another example of women who embody both masculinity and femininity. Her own mother is among them. 

“When she was young, she was that cool kid, a rebel,” Niariu says, shaving her head, piercing her nose, and wearing leather. “And then she got married and then her life changed and she didn’t have the tools to be able to follow her dreams.”

The singer demurs on providing details of her mother’s marital experience as an immigrant from Guinea. There were “a lot of really desperate moments,” she allows. The aunts who helped raise Niariu inspired the song “Smile.” 

“This message is a way to speak for my mom, who needed and still needs this sisterhood,” she says. “It’s a message ... to everyone that had the same story or is going through the same things and also trying to break this cycle.” 

The final track on the album, “Power,” gathers 16 vocalists to reiterate a similar message. It’s a universal rallying cry for ending violence against women and ushering in equality and respect. 

“Without women holding this world together, we wouldn’t be at peace,” she says. “Women are the glue that sticks people together as a society.”

Niariu says she’s going to sit her mother down to listen to the album soon. 

“I know she’s going to tell the whole world about it,” she says, laughing.

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