Afropean Women Raise the Bar in Contemporary African Music

Posted November 26th, 2012 at 9:02 pm (UTC-4)

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.

Thanks to these three extraordinary Afropean Women of Acoustic Africa 3, my radio show this week was powered primarily by female artistry.


Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

19 responses to “Afropean Women Raise the Bar in Contemporary African Music”

  1. princessd says:

    I am blessed to discover this programme. Although I did not understand the lyrics I found them beautiful. The lightness of the songs, the dexterity of the players and the collaboration between all three singers were astounding. I didn’t know I would have enjoyed it. I am not able to trace your accent but am thankful to have found it.

  2. Ashenafi Abedje says:

    What a great presentation, Heather. Great guests, great music, great show all around. Keep it up!!

  3. I really enjoy…I will addict to this site.. love my African music…and my people.

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      Ricardo, you are most welcome. I’m glad you appreciate and enjoy it. Stay tuned for the next one that is going to feature Staff Benda Bilili from the DRC…it should be fun!

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      Excellent, James. I’ll keep feeding your addiction for as long as you need. Stay tuned next week for an interview and live music from Staff Benda Bilili from the DRC.

  4. Ricardo says:

    thank you very much for this, great blog!!. Incredible job Heather, greetings again from Colombia.

  5. Alebumak says:

    These women are amazing. I love that the polygot ear of Africa’s 20th century now has lead to our voices coming beautifully out of one another’s songs. And there is a need for ‘African Hope’, north- south -east and west. Maybe it will be the women that finally end the madness.

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      Allen, yes – hope is a flame that Africa needs to keep ablaze. These women are sure doing their part, arent’ they?

  6. […] One Ghanaian co-worker explained to me that of course there are so many great … Read more on Voice of America (blog) Share This: TweetShare#call_to_action h4{padding:0px 5px;} This entry was posted in African […]

  7. Tobias says:

    Just beautiful…very thankful to have discovered this. Thank you ALL involved for your passion and hard work!! Just…wow.

  8. Hi, great article, thanks. I sent it on to Hope Masike, an excellent Afropean musician and singer who lives and plays in Harare, Zimbabwe but moves internationally between Norway, France and Germany doing concerts, festivals and recordings. If you don’t know Hope yet, you will enjoy getting to know both her and her music. She too is studying ethnomusicolgy, and, like Chiwiniso, has taken the tradional Zimbabwean instrument, the mbira, to another level. She has already produced 2 albums: “Hope” and ” Mbira, Love and Chocolate, .
    In Norway, she and four other musicians have set up a multi-cultural band called Monoswezi, whose first album, “The Village”, will come out in January 2013. One of the songs on the album, ‘Hondo’, a Zimbabwean song about war sung here by Hope, was chosen for the 2012 World Music Compilation.
    Another example of an excellent woman musician raising the bar in contemporary African music!

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      Hi Shayne,
      Thanks for your interesting and uplifting comments. I can’t wait to look into Hope Makike’s work. She sounds fabulous! Thanks again 🙂

  9. Janice says:

    What an inspiring piece. It’s great to know that despite the difficulties African female artists face there are those who still share their amazing talent. Thank you and thank you Mamma Africa

  10. It’s remarkable to visit this web site and reading the views of all friends about this post, while I am also keen of getting knowledge.

  11. Stephen says:

    Heather Maxwell and other sisters, plese keep up the good work you are doing in promoting music from Mother Africa!!!

  12. Leo says:

    Ouiiiiis! great music great show!! I really would like to see this band LIVE! Thx!



Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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