On stage, the first impression that emanates from the African Amazons is their incredible freedom. Fafa Ruffino, radiant in her golden yellow dress, sports a necklace of Maasai pearls and a Fulani braided hairstyle. Kandy Guira, with a boyish cut and a slightly lanky look, paces the stage with his eighty feet, in black boots and a striped shorts suit sewn in Burkinabe fabric. In the center, the sumptuous Mamani Keïta, the ” Mom “ of the group of singers, stands straight in a colorful dress with frills. His exceptional voice rises, carrying a slew of emotions. The public of the Théâtre des Louvrais, who came in large numbers on March 10 to Pontoise (Val-d’Oise), began to dance.
They sing and respond to each other in Yoruba, Bambara, Moré… Each voice carries a story. Each stamp is unique. They have already been deploying their energy for quite a while when a moan erupts, pushed by Fafa Ruffino. It will be necessary to wait for the end of the song for the Beninese singer to explain: “It is the cry of pain uttered during an excision. » The sweetness of the chant and the Yoruba sounds attempt to soothe the harsh reality of the lyrics:
“I am in pain, very badly (…)
I won’t shut up about all this
Look how this little girl is suffering
She hurts in her body
Stop all this, enough is enough »
The room applauds. The Amazons of Africa, elegant and generous, invite women and men to go on stage to dance. The music, a subtle mix of blues, funk, electro and Mandingo sounds, invades the space and the bodies. Joy takes away in a whirlwind the sufferings and the emotions contained.
““Fight”, this song, nobody wanted it”, says Fafa Ruffino, 45, who likes to come down from the stage after concerts to meet the public. She bends to the photo game while hammering out her messages with a big smile: “ I denounce the circumcisers, I yell at them, I tell them in the song: “Do you think that makes you feel good?” » She continues softly: “In general, it is the aunts, the grandmothers, who are accomplices and who organize the excision, without the knowledge of the mothers, powerless. »
How to sing the unspeakable? How to raise awareness of violence against women and send messages without lapsing into aggressiveness, complaint or victimization? This is the bet taken up by the Amazons since their beginnings. Above all, their voices celebrate love and the necessary solidarity between women, sisterhood. They urge them to break the silence, to denounce violence, forced marriages, harassment, rape, to become actors in their own lives.
The adventure was born in 2014 in Bamako. Producer Valérie Malot struggles to record the new Ambassadors album, “a group of gentlemen” around Salif Keïta. The hours pass and she ends up spending a lot of time with the Malian diva Oumou Sangaré. ” Oumou had a strength inherited from her mother who had dared to say no to a second wife and had come with her six children to sell donuts in Bamako”, says Valérie Malot. The discussions revolve around the condition of women and the idea of a collective of musicians and singers germinates.
The great Malian voices Oumou Sangaré, Mariam Doumbia and Mamani Keïta, but also the Beninese Angélique Kidjo are galvanized by the challenge. The adventure is launched: the Amazons of Africa will put their voice at the service of a cause, that of the fight against all forms of violence against women. Their name is a nod to the Amazons of Dahomey, a military regiment born in the 17the century in what is now Benin.
‘Treated like a slave’
Nine years after the start of the project, Mamani Keïta, 56, the one everyone else calls ” Mom “, is still there. Met in her small apartment in a popular district of the Malian capital, dressed all in black but shot through with great bursts of laughter, she remembers: ” When the idea was born, I did not hesitate. In Africa, the young girl grows up with the idea that she is programmed to take care of her home, to do the housework and to have children. The woman is too often treated like a slave. » She evokes her trajectory as a free woman, from Bamako to Paris, where she followed as a chorister, at the age of 20, the musician Salif Keïta.
Recalling her childhood, her voice becomes more serious and she evokes the excision suffered when she was a very small girl. She remembers the pain, encysted in her brain. “I can’t erase it”, she whispers under her breath. After a long silence, she regains color and tells how her voice saved her. She who hasn’t been to school “inherits” from that of his grandmother, inhabited by the jinns. “As soon as she sang, people possessed and fallen to the ground, woke up. »
At this mere mention, Mamani Keïta lights up and shivers. Buried in her sofa, she unfolds her memories. The little one accompanies her grandmother but is not allowed to sing. “I was born noble, Keïta. There was no sour cherry in the family,” she explains. He had to wait for the death of his mother, when she was just 10 years old, to start singing in the streets of Bamako.
The fight against excision, this wound still suffered by a very large number of women in Africa, is the ferment of the revolt of the Amazons of Africa, the one that leads to all the other denunciations. The first single “I play the kora” is a success, the profits are donated to the Panzi Foundation of Doctor Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize 2018, which repairs women mutilated by excision, rape, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The collective is moving. Kandia Kouyaté and Rokia Koné join the adventure. In 2017, the new album AmazonPower brings together 17 female voices. Some singers leave, devote themselves to their solo career, others come and go, new ones join them. On stage, the configuration is also variable. Fafa Ruffino is the last to have joined the Amazons in 2019. She who started in the cabarets of Cotonou now shares her life between Togo, France, Ghana, Benin. She speaks seven languages.
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“When I was offered to join the Amazons, it was immediately obvious. I come from a family of warriors. For us, the strong people are the women,” she boasts. As a teenager, she devoted all her summer holidays to traveling around Benin to make women aware of the dangers of female circumcision.
The Amazons like to think that their songs, downloaded and broadcast on radios in Africa, help to change mentalities. Kandy Guira, the youngest of 38, is from Burkina Faso. Nicknamed “Ninja” when she was a child, she was so feared for her temerity and her ability to strike in the event of injustice., wants to be optimistic “It is the women who carry out the customs, but it is the woman who is the remedy for the woman. » She is the living illustration of this, she who suffered mutilation, but managed to prevent it for her little sisters.
The Scandinavian countries and England love these warm and unique voices. And France too, where we can go and listen to them in May in Lons and in July in Sète. Between two concerts, the African Amazons are working on their next album, “even more spiritual », which will be released in February 2024. This time, on stage, the lyrics will be translated into French and English.
The Amazons of Africain concert in Lons (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) on May 26, 2023, in Essaouira (Morocco) in June 2023 and in Sète (Hérault) on July 31, 2023.