Hailing from countries throughout West Africa, the women of supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique rock the boat and the mic for a good cause with debut studio album République Amazone. The group came together for the first time in Mali a couple of years back, releasing the track “I Play the Kora” as a powerful anthem for sexual equality. That the kora is an instrument reserved for men for centuries adds an extra layer of resolve to the frank lyrics claiming women’s rights to respect and peace. Profits from the track directly benefit the Panzi Foundation, dedicated to treating the tens of thousands of women who have been the targets of sexualized violence in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the last decades.
Epidemics of sexual and domestic violence (rape within the bounds of marriage is not considered an offense in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) are exactly what Les Amazones d’Afrique’s songs are here to fight, and listening to République Amazone, it’s hard to imagine anyone with both the stupidity and the nerve to stop them.
The lineup reads like a who’s who of West African women in music, including international stars like worldbeat darlings Amadou & Mariam’s Mariam Doumbia, ever-animated singer Angélique Kidjo, and fearless singer/songwriter and frequent Tricky collaborator Nneka, among other incredible musicians from across the continent. From the first notes of opening track “Dombolo”, it’s clear that this is not a supergroup born of egomania; the collaboration between the musicians starts hot and stays hot. Powerful drums drive most tracks, joined by a host of other instruments: kora strummed to perfection, ferocious electric guitars, and, of course, each and every voice.
Every member gets ample opportunity to shine. Nneka, smoky and soulful, takes the lead on low-key chillout track “La Dame et Ses Valises”, a song about perseverance with an electronic reggae vibe. On moving closer “Desert Storm”, Rokia Koné and Kandia Kouyate make up a perfect whole, with Koné’s sharp voice striking like lightning and Kouyate singing from her core, like low gusts of wind. Mamani Keita sings coolly against the modern Afrofunk grooves of “Doona”, and the list goes on of each member’s contributions.
Thematically and musically, “I Play the Kora” stands out, highlighting each amazone in turn on the verses and bringing them together for a unified chorus: “We women, all women / We want respect.” Summing up all of the struggles these women have experienced, and those of their sisters in spirit, the song makes for the perfect climax to the album.
Age, youth, experience, style: Les Amazones d’Afrique takes all the differences between the members of their group and look at them not as disparity, but as strength, a depth of collective knowledge and skill that, when all brewed together, is nothing less than explosive. The fact that the group has a good cause makes the final product all the more awe-inspiring, the splendor all the more satisfying. République Amazone comes from a dozen of the finest singers, writers, and musicians working now, and the fact that they are all women only makes them stronger for the battles they’ve fought.