Life imitates art, and art imitates life. As all of our fellow equality ambassadors and music maniacs would agree, music has held the power to drive forward social and even political change for centuries. Perhaps because it has been so free of censorship in many Western countries, we often take for granted the revolutionary power musical artists withhold. We tend to forget the freeing power of representation on stage, the cry for freedom in a song, and the demand for equality in a beat. However, in less privileged and unequal societies around the world, empowering artists still play key roles in ringing in a peaceful revolution. This week, we take a look at some of the most outstanding female artists from Guinea, where a female standing on stage alone is an act of empowerment.
Although she graduated in business law to please her mother, Manamba Kanté always knew that she wanted to dedicate her life to music. Born in 1996, daughter of the famous Guinean artist Mory Kanté (one of the most famous griots of West Africa), she tried to enter music through the Kora, but as a matter of principle and respect for her family tradition - where the noble instrument was the balafon - she chose to put aside the attempt to play an instrument and decided to sing and to be rooted to her traditions.
"Manamba has extraordinary natural talent."
Within her family, equality and mutual support set an example for a new generation of empowered Guineans. She is married to the Guinean soul star Soul Bang. Since 2016, the dynamic duo has been collaborating not only in love and parenthood but also in painting a picture of a modern Guinean couple, equal to the core. The country's most picture-perfect celebrities are even compared to the legendary American music couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z among their fans. Following a few singles, Manamba released her first solo album in 2019, which includes an empowering repertoire of songs such as Nany Bally where she talks about the role of women in Africa. "I consider that they are too limited to household chores. But they also have a right to exist," she says in her song.
"I consider that they are too limited to household chores. But they also have a right to exist."
With her charm and the look of a Pan-African and feminist icon of the sixties, Manamba is not only an outstanding singer but also a self-made woman of equality. Her emancipated career and outspoken lyrics might not appear as revolutionary to European or American ears that are used to sexual liberation anthems - but within the conservative parts of Guinea, Manamba Kante's legacy has the power to change many little girls' lives.
Born on the Ivory Coast and raised in Guinea, more precisely in Conakry, the capital of the African country where her fans consider her "the Tina Turner of Guinea", our next empowered African artist - perhaps the godmother of female empowerment anthems in Guinea - is called Natu Camara. As a teenager, she formed the first female hip-hop group in West Africa "Ideal Black Girls", an all-female R&B/hip-hop combination band. The band released "Guinèya Moumonèra" (It's not a shame to be a woman), an album advocating women's rights, which was a huge sales success and was also nominated for Best Album 2002 in Guinea.
In the early 2010s, Natu traveled to New York, learned to speak English, formed a band, and began to sing and write a completely different form of music to the one she had been playing throughout her youth. Her major inspiration came to her from a love of her roots, as well as from Natu's deep admiration for empowered African and American artists such as Mory Kanté, Fela Kuti, Baaba Maal, Tina Turner, and Nina Simone among others, positioning herself for a new episode in her life.
Natu is an activist committed to the empowerment and education of girls and women in West Africa.
Finally, 2018 saw the release of her long-awaited solo debut called "Dimedi", an album where Natu sings in five languages, with a repertoire that combines genres such as afro-rock, pop, and soul. The album highlights the importance of children having positive role models to look up to, showcasing her activism and deep commitment to the empowerment and education of girls and women in West Africa.
Djelikaba Bintou Kouyaté is a musical master who effortlessly blends her native language and traditional clothing with an empowered approach to celebrating her femininity in all its facets. The musician, singer, author, and composer was born in Fria in Basse Cote. She is of griot heritage, making her part of a society of West African historians, storytellers, praise singers, poets, and musicians. Musically, her expertise lays in merging traditional Guinean sounds with Zouk, and Afro Beat.
Only a few months ago, Djelikaba Bintou released Guinea's latest empowerment anthem: "La Patronne". In this song, the confident artist blends her native language with french verses, crowning herself the "patron", proudly claiming her thrown. In the accompanying music video, Djelikaba graces a golden throne, takes the stage with two men behind her - clearly posing as props - and dances alongside other women in colorful power suits. This sassy song and music video are representative of a new female figure. When Djelikaba talks about being the head of her household, reigning over personnel and the family, she sets the tone for a new generation of empowered Guinean females.
In other songs, for instance, "La Patronne"'s predecessor "Afolè", Djelykaba also emphasizes the importance of a respectful relationship and equality between men and women. Since 2019, Djelykaba has been married to Guinean songwriter and musician Azaya. By claiming her throne and showcasing the support she receives from her husband, the proud Guinean finds a way to change the perception of women as the inferior sex in a way that is just as triumphant as it is peaceful.
Be it by laying focus on equality and harmony in marriage like Djelykaba Bintou or Manamba Kanté, or a more outspoken way of equality empowerment like Natu Camara - these three female figureheads of empowering West African music use their art to inspire and empower a new generation of girls and women. They are the queens of their castle and serve as important role models for equality ambassadors in the making.