One of the things I learned quickly when I started doing my Music Time in Africa radio show last April was that there always seems to be a shortage of good female artists. “How can this be?” I asked myself and colleagues in our English to Africa Division. I know from experience living on the continent that women sing everywhere, and with beautiful voices, too. One Ghanaian co-worker explained to me that of course there are so many great female singers around, but they prefer to keep their talents in the church. That brought me an ah-hah moment! Sacred music is a safe zone for female artists that consequently creates a vacuum of female talent in the secular music domains. To perform in anything outside of that religious arena is risky business for women in Africa. Popular performing artists such as singers, dancers, and actresses are often in danger of losing their credibility as faithful and obedient mothers, sisters, wives and co-wives. They often travel, which puts the burden of their domestic duties on others in the family. The majority of the members of their bands or troops are also usually men, too, which causes suspicion. Furthermore, women who put themselves on public display, regardless of how gifted and talented they may be, rub many families, communities, and sometimes even larger social entities like regions, states, or nations the wrong way.
But there are always exceptions to the rule, and we were blessed recently in Washington, DC, with three female artists all at once–here comes a trio of multi-talented outspoken women on tour in the US under the moniker “Afropean Women.” Two of them, Dobet Ghnahore and Manou Gallou, reside in Europe (hence the term Afropean), while the third, Kareyce Fotso, lives in Cameroon, her native country. The women are accompanied by three additional (male) musicians who also reside in Europe: Wendlavim Zabsonre on drums, Aly Keita on balafon, and Zoumana Diarra on guitar. The day before their concert, they came to our headquarters and gave a wonderful interview. It turned out that I knew most of the them either personally or by only one degree of separation. Aly and I, for example, played together in Abidjan at a jazz club called the Tropicana. Wendlavim recognized me from my tours in Burkina, and the others know so and so, whom I also knew from Abidjan, Divo, Bamako, Paris and so forth. Having these three exceptional women with me all in the same room and reconnecting with long-lost musician friends was already exhilarating, but their musical talent raises the bar of contemporary African music (or as we sometimes say, it is off the chain!)
Watch the full interview here and get to know each of them, and hear them play live in this small, intimate setting.
The night after this interview, I went to the GW Lisner Auditorium to see these Afropean women and men do their thing on stage. Roger Muntu, music presenter of the RM Show, came with me to film the show. The two things that struck me most about their performance are the ladies’ musical competence and their dynamic stage presence (l’occupation scènique). All of them sing and harmonize to perfection. In addition, they each play musical instruments and, in the case of Kareyce and especially Dobet, dance with amazing skill. Their stage show was loosely choreographed, but held together by a spirit of collaboration and joy. Kareyce and Dobet performed well together, and ensured that each artist got their time in the spotlight more than once.