When Les Amazones d’Afrique released their first international album, 2017’s République Amazone, it was easy to think of them as a pan-African supergroup. Founded by Malian icons Mamani Keïta, Oumou Sangaré, and Mariam Doumbia (of Amadou and Mariam) and featuring other established and up-and-coming stars, Les Amazones d’Afrique have always included a rotating crew of some of the most exciting and influential women making music across West Africa. Seven years later, though, “supergroup” feels too gimmicky for this collective. On their third album, Musow Dance, the lineup shifts again, and the energy is as vital as ever as the group continues to celebrate womanhood over some of their most engaging beats to date.
Joining founder Keïta this time around are Fafa Ruffino (Benin), Kandy Guira (Burkina Faso), Dobet Gnahoré (Côte d’Ivoire), and new addition Alvie Bitemo (Congo-Brazzaville), with Nneka (Nigeria) making brief but welcome appearances. Each artist brings their own language and vocal color to a musical tapestry united by the production of Jacknife Lee, whose 2022 release with former Amazone Rokia Koné was one of that year’s finest and most poignant releases. His flair for electronic experimentation works well here as he weaves together an array of different moods and impassioned vocals, ultimately giving us a record that’s often danceable, consistently impactful, and does good work centering each of Les Amazones as soloists and collaborators. Musow Dance means “women’s dance”, and the women and their metaphorical and sonic movements take center stage throughout.
As is usually the case with Les Amazones d’Afrique, only a couple of tracks feature a majority of the ensemble. The album’s title track is also its opener and includes Keïta, Ruffino, Guira, and Gnahoré in a shared chorus that translates to “Rise up, African woman” between individual joyful verses. It’s a kaleidoscope of languages, vocal harmonies, and rhythms, a bright invocation of the album’s themes and players. Later, all four return and bring Bitemo fully into the fold on resolute “Kuma Fo (What They Say)”, a call to female empowerment through education over beats leaning toward plugged-in hip hop.
Other tracks feature soloists and smaller group subsets, giving each woman many more chances to shine and clarifying the differences in their nonetheless compatible styles. Keïta is an unabashed powerhouse, her voice soaring steady at the forefront of exuberant (“Flaws”, “Bobo Me”) and solemn (“Espérance”) tracks alike. Ruffino balances both edge and sweetness, evoking classic pop diva versatility as she joins Keïta on “Flaws” and moves between four languages over the pounding dance beats of “Queen Kuruma”.
Guira smolders on poignant “To Be Loved”. Gnahoré, perhaps this lineup’s best-known solo artist, sings from vibrant depths on neon-bright “Kiss Me” and “My Place”. Newcomer Bitemo reveals herself to have one of the most gripping performance styles of the group on “Mother Murakoze” and “Amahoro (Don’t Get Angry)”, the latter of which gives her space to howl, screech, and belt with an unbridled kind of finesse. The album ends with Nneka and Keïta in tandem on “Bobo Me”; the former’s airy refrains the perfect balance to the latter’s gravitas.
Musow Dance makes for a brilliant third installation in the Les Amazones d’Afrique discography thus far. Recording isn’t the group’s only activity. Their personnel changes much more gradually from live show to live show–but for those of us out of reach of touring, each new release is a gift, wondrous and fresh. With so many important messages and vibrant artists in the mix, how could they be anything other than invigorating?