Must-listen Malian music.
In 2012, following an increasingly volatile national political crisis, the African nation of Mali fell into a violent civil war between the central Malian government, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and a combination of various Islamist extremist groups. Soon after the nation sparked into this painful (and still ongoing) conflict, the Al-Qaeda backed Ansare Deen and the secular Tuareg 'MNLA' began disputing over the implementation of 'Sharia Law' to Northern Mali that would ultimately result in the banning of all non-Qur'anic music from much of the region.
Even in these troubling circumstances, the unimaginable significance of music and performance to the people of Mali remained entirely impossible to suppress, with band Songhoy Blues famously forming in capital Bamako with members having fled from the oppression of an Ansare Deen controlled Timbuktu, but in that volatile and viscous political landscape another key Western African group has emerged with a fiery intent to express themselves.
Les Amazones d'Afrique are an ever-changing all-female West-African supergroup formed in 2014 by activist musicians Mamani Keïta, Oumou Sangaré and Mariam Doumbia in Bamako, Mali, and in January of 2020 released a dazzlingly interesting LP for the world to hear. Following their freshman effort, 2017's République Amazone, the group has reappeared with a dramatically different lineup but a seamless continuation of innovative musical performance. New album Amazones Power is everything. It is electronic, it is rock, it is hip-hop and it is *experimental*. The record has such a unique voice that it simply demands attention to itself, and once it has your focus there is an undeniably impressive album to listen to here.
The songs blend English, Arabic, French, Bambara together as an emblem of the group's expansive collection of nationalities and voices. Compiling an exhaustive list of performers and featured vocalists, Amazones Power is utterly distinct in its versatility of sound. Make no mistake - even if you can't understand what these men and women are saying, I assure you that they are saying things of indescribable importance. Opener 'Heavy' begins in English: "Together we must stand" and marks the beginning of an album determined to talk about the pressing matters of the contemporary female experience, covering everything from gender inequality, FGM and sexual violence.
The performances from Les Amazones are remarkably tight, pushing their music into surprising places but managing it in an effortlessly cool manner. The vocals are gorgeously present in your headphones, and no instrument feels overlooked in the mix. Producers Doctor L and Felipe Cabrera deserve a great deal of credit in capturing the sound of these exceptional Malian artists.
The cover feels immediately reminiscent of 1970's Afro-futurist funk/soul, and at times this record feels totally at home in comparisons to classics of the esteem of Funkadelic's Maggot Brain but totally re-envisaged for the 21st century. 'Love' kicks into gear following its vocal intro and the sheer quality of the songs never take their foot of the pedal. I thoroughly recommend listening to the album in tandem with the artist's own translations, in order to appreciate the well-realised political messages of Amazones Power that is lost behind language barriers. 'Queens', 'Timbuktu' and 'Dogon' are all incredibly interesting to listen to, and finale 'Power' is perhaps the most 'listenable' track on the whole LP for new listeners, and is a track I recommend as an effective litmus test for those skeptical of their enjoyment of this excellent project.
Perhaps songs like 'Smile' and 'Rebels', though lyrically provoking, don't quite live up to the standard of standout tracks such as 'Heavy' and 'Sisters'. As an experimental album, this is not always an easy listen. The instrumentals are at times more in line with industrial rock than they are funk, and this works to varying success on a few of the albums tunes. This style of music may well prove jarring for those unfamiliar with non-western music, but if you give this record a chance I promise you that there is an engrossing listen waiting to be experienced. The album has substantially more hits than it does misses, and is entirely worth your time.
Seek out Les Amazones d'Afrique and their new album Amazones Power. See their video for track 'Heavy' here and find them on instagram too. Feel empowered and feel angry. Take their rebellious spirit on board and take on the man, too. Great album.
- 8.0 -
'Love', 'Heavy', 'Sisters'
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation instead of creating a blog.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England.