West African Supergroup Les Amazones D'Afrique Returns With 'Amazones Power'

Jan 26, 2020
Originally published on January 26, 2020 6:03 pm

In 2017, the all-woman collective Les Amazones d'Afrique introduced themselves to the world with their debut album, Republique Amazone. The songs showcased the group's two signatures: intoxicating, danceable rhythms and a message calling out violence and other forms of mistreatment of women all over the globe.

Their second album, called Amazones Power was released Friday, and it builds on many of those same themes. The group has grown since last time, with the core of women with roots in West Africa now supplemented by an international mix of men and women.

NPR's Michel Martin spoke to Niariu and Fafa Ruffino, two of the stars of the collective, about why they wanted to be part of the project and their personal connections to the social issues they sing about on the album. Listen to the full conversation in the player above.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, we'd like to introduce you to a musical supergroup called Les Amazones d'Afrique. It was formed as an all-woman ensemble in Mali, and most of its members have roots in West Africa. They have a new album out. It's called "Amazones Power."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAVY")

LES AMAZONES D'AFRIQUE: (Singing) Together we must stand. Together we must stand. Together we must end this.

MARTIN: The music of Les Amazones d'Afrique features intoxicating, danceable rhythms and a central message calling out gender-based violence and other forms of mistreatment of women all over the globe. Two of the group's stars visited our studios in New York to tell us more, Niariu and Fafa Ruffino. Here's Fafa talking about what inspired this album.

FAFA RUFFINO: Thing is, it's about us. This whole project is about women. This whole project is about women rights. It's about women empowerment. So we are not even talking only about African women...

MARTIN: Sure.

RUFFINO: ...Because all the women in all around the world are facing issues. And in this album, we want to say stop to the silence because silence is killing the women all around the worlds. This is the thing.

MARTIN: Let's hear from Niariu.

NIARIU: We are all really concerned by these issues. And this project was a way to relate to other women and do something with other women and unify our voices.

MARTIN: Let me play a little bit of "Fights." And this is about calling out the practice of female genital mutilation. And I'll play a little bit. And here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHTS")

LES AMAZONES D'AFRIQUE: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTIN: Fafa, I have to go to you on this...

RUFFINO: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Because you are credited with this song, this...

RUFFINO: Yeah.

MARTIN: Tell me where this came from. And did you have any hesitation about being so - I don't know how else to say - direct about something like this? Which, I mean, you know, there's been this big fight about whether this is kind of private business and whether people have a right to speak about it outside of the communities itself - you know what I mean?...

RUFFINO: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...All of this. So talk to me a little bit about what you...

RUFFINO: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Decided here.

RUFFINO: I mean, in this song, especially in "Fight," when I sang a song, I say, Shango fayjadi (ph). Shango is the god of the fight in the Yoruba - do you know about Yoruba culture? Yoruba culture is from Nigeria and Benin. And when they call Shango, Shango is the god of the thunder, you know, and he strike everything. He's the war - he's a god of war, you know?

And so when I call Shango in this song at the beginning, it's to say that we are going on war. I'm going to fight. I'm going to fight all (unintelligible) happening in my country or countries. And in the meantime, I'm saying that there were many womens (ph) before us who raises their voices against all those practices. And so we are now the new generation, and we are taking the lead now. It's our time, and we won't keep our mouths shut.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHTS")

LES AMAZONES D'AFRIQUE: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTIN: One of the things about it that really struck me, though, is that you are very clear that you're not just talking to men. I mean, you're talking to women...

NIARIU: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Who continue to subject their girls to this practice. And I just thought that was very - it was brave, I thought. I mean, don't you? I mean, it just seems like it's easy, in a way, to criticize men. But to say to women, you're complicit - what's this been like for you to share these messages?

RUFFINO: Our message is to trust our power. If you as a mother - you said, no, you can save your child from this.

NIARIU: Yes.

RUFFINO: For me, for example, my mother saved us from this. So because what she went through, she threatened the family of death if they touch us. Like, she was very clear about it (laughter). She said to her family, I'm going to kill you all if you touch my little girls. And she said to my father family, I'm going to send your - how do you call this? - your son to prison if you touch (laughter)...

MARTIN: Wow.

RUFFINO: ...My daughters. So - and I feel like if my mom wasn't that brave, I might have been mutilated today. And also, a wounded soul will pass on that wound to the children, and we have to break the cycle.

MARTIN: Does it feel like you're getting somewhere? Do you feel good about what you've been able to accomplish, the attention that you've been able to get? I want to mention that, you know, President Obama chose your song "La Dame Et Ses Valises" as one of his favorites from 2017. So you're getting attention. Do you feel good about it? Do you feel like you're getting somewhere?

NIARIU: Yeah. I think it's very therapeutic and very relieving for me. I feel like I'm carrying on my mother fight. And all the things that she couldn't say all these years, I feel like I'm able to say it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE")

LES AMAZONES D'AFRIQUE: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTIN: That was Niariu and Fafa Ruffino of Les Amazones d'Afrique. Their latest album is "Amazones Power."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE")

LES AMAZONES D'AFRIQUE: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.