The origins of Les Amazones D’Afrique date back to 2014 when the first incarnation of the now shapeshifting collective was formed by three long-established Malian female musicians, Mamani Keïta, Oumou Sangaré and Mariam Doumbia. Their agenda was simple – to use music to drive social change and increase awareness of issues that adversely affected African women. Their early years saw them focus on playing concerts while establishing their musical foothold. The release of their debut album République Amazone in 2017 saw them recruit the likes of Angélique Kidjo to contribute vocals and the collaborative, freely-associating nature of the group is further extended on second album Amazones Power.
It’s a powerful demand for equality and respect on behalf of African women and sees them address issues such as misogyny, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Their message is obviously the most important aspect to their music and the voices on display here convey it engagingly however the album has much to offer musically as well.
The earliest sign of their vocal prowess comes on Love which sees founding member Mamani Keïta take a central role, with other voices being incorporated in striking fashion. Similar is forthcoming on Queens which sees Rokia Koné take the lead on a track that sounds agile and fresh while also maintaining a classic Malian sound. Dreams unfurls in similarly listenable fashion, the kind of free-flowing song it’s easy to imagine going down a storm at summer music festivals. The traditional, familiar sound of harmony-rich female African voices may still form something of a core tenet but there are several pleasing musical diversions along the way.
Smile sways alluringly, all wrapped up in the sinewy, impactful vocals of Guinean artist Niariu and rapper Amy Yerewolo. Smooth has a noticeably electronic and open sound and Sister sees Ivory Coast musician Kandy Guira sing over a bed of buzzing synths. These tracks perhaps best show the influence of longstanding African music devotee Doctor L (Liam Farrell) who mixed and mastered the album in Dakar and Paris. Rebels offers another point of difference with the earthy, distinctive vocals of Algerian singer Nacera Ouali Mesbah and Beninese artist Fafa Ruffino confidently handles vocals on the effervescent and percussive Fights.
The project may have started as an all-female affair but this album also welcomes progressive male vocalists into the fold. First track Heavy sees emerging artists Jon Grace and Boy Fall (both from Paris-based group Nyokō Bokbaë) join forces with the album cover star Niariu to deliver a memorable opener. Much of the album may be sung in French or Mali’s native language Bambara but this track offers a defining pair of lines in English in “together we must stand, together we must end this”. The slower paced Timbuktu and reggae-flavoured Dogon meanwhile both feature the vocals of Amadou, a young artist from Bamako.
Amazones Power is a frequently thrilling call for change, a demand for action. It’s also a successful album on multiple levels that hopefully will help bring improvements to the lives of those in need.