The voice that opens Amazones Power, the new album from groundbreaking all-female West African group Les Amazones d’Afrique, is a young one, fresh to the project. She sets the tone for the album with a single line, repeated multiple times over a bright, freeform electronic introduction: “Together we must stand / Together we must end this.”
Behind those words is singer Niariu, a Paris-based artist with Guinean Fulani roots who is one of the newest members of Les Amazones. Joining her as new recording members of the collective are rising Malian rapper Ami Yerewolo, Algerian chaabi singer Nacera Ouali Mesbah (whose usual genre is one typically dominated by men), Beninese vocalist Fafa Ruffino, Ivorian vocalist Kandy Guira, and Nyokõ Bokbaē members Boy Fall and Jon Grace. Returning are Mamani Keïta and Rokia Koné, who split the lion’s share of lead parts but make plenty of space for their new counterparts to invigorate the album in new ways.
Musically, Amazones Power is a heavily electronic installment anchored in a powerful low end of bass and percussion throughout. It fits the weighty themes that abound as Les Amazones speak out in favor of equality, especially where women are concerned. Songs of contemporarily relevant issues like female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, and global disconnect invoke the old: folklore, Yoruba deities, ancestors. Past and present thus fit together seamlessly in Les Amazones’ messages for creating a better future for women across the world, with the sounds here as reflective of the group’s progressive mindset as verses and choruses.
Mamani Keïta track “Love” is a good example of this, fusing heavily electronic basslines with a bright refrain calling for the ending of female genital mutilation and the beginning of better and more widespread education. Niariu and Ami Yerewolo’s electro-dub cut “Smile” serves as a younger complement to Keïta’s message, decrying past poor treatment of women while encouraging forward movement: “Finish the hustle, my sisters / Time to blossom.” It’s the epitome of the next generation of Les Amazones d’Afrique, a look at how the struggle for justice will continue as long as it remains necessary. The dynamic duo found here – Niariu ethereal, Yerewolo quick and sharp – make for charismatic representatives of young, female Africa.
Rokia Koné’s “Queens” and Keïta’s “Smooth” both speak to patterns in the mistreatment of women over space and time, the former with uptempo guitar work and the latter with slow, solid beats. Koné invokes Bambara traditional stories and the folk music of her Malian upbringing in “Dreams”. “Timbuktu” features Keïta and guest Amadou Dembélé in conversation about how much women contribute to society over blissful keys, eventually concluding that the world works best when all work together. “Red” has a joyous rock feel to it, Koné’s distinctly earthy voice returning in messages of unity.
Nacera Ouali Mesbah’s track “Rebels” is the first Arabic language track to appear on a Les Amazones album, and showcases Mesbah’s talent for melisma as she champions fighting in the name of freedom. Keïta’s “Dogon” takes a sharp turn for the mellow in another call for mutual respect, this time with a focus on the need for peace between ethnic factions in Mali. “Fights” sees Fafa Ruffino call on the Yoruba deity Shango to end the tolerance and practice of female genital mutilation. Ruffino is a musical force of nature as she cries out in fury. Penultimate “Sister” brings Kandy Guira’s soulful voice to the forefront, her song following the rest of the album in moving toward equality for women.
A fitting end to the album, “Power” features not just the members of Les Amazones already present on the album, but a number of women from Africa, Europe, and South America joining in to summarize the album’s core cause: “We want to be free!” It’s the perfect culmination of the collective’s messaging, a straightforward and poignant anthem with the simplest of desires – universal equality – at its heart. Once again, Les Amazones d’Afrique are essential voices bringing bold truths and much-needed perspectives to the world. The new directions and elements they embrace on Amazones Power show that the group has potentially endless longevity and versatility. Amazones Power is a fresh, modern new chapter for Les Amazones d’Afrique, and one we can only hope will set a precedent for music and social justice in the new decade.