Les Amazones de Guinée
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Les Amazones de Guinée

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"Les Amazones de Guinée, retour en force !"

Venez voir ce joli bijou", c’est en substance ce que signifie Wamato, le titre du second album (en quarante-six ans d’existence !) des Amazones de Guinée. RFI Musique a obéi aux ordres, et est allé à Conakry rencontrer les perles de la musique guinéenne contemporaine. Gendarmes, femmes et artistes : les Amazones valent le détour !

Le soleil tape dur en cette fin de matinée de décembre à Conakry. Du hangar de tôle situé à côté du Palais du peuple s’élèvent des rythmes cuivrés et bien rythmés. A l’intérieur onze femmes, toutes en uniforme kaki, répètent, inlassablement, les morceaux de leur nouvel album. Le second en quarante-six années d’existence ! Les Amazones sont rentrées dans la légende grâce à leurs concerts mémorables sur les scènes du monde entier…

L’orchestre de la gendarmerie nationale est exclusivement composé de femmes et existe depuis 1961, date où Fodéba Keita alors ministre de la Défense nationale de la Guinée fraîchement indépendante, décide de mettre en avant la culture du pays à travers ses "gendarmettes". L’orchestre chante la révolution et ses valeurs. Sékou Touré approuve.

Opération réussie : pendant les premières années de son existence, les Amazones déstabilisent et fascinent, en Guinée mais aussi très vite dans toute l’Afrique de l’Ouest. Pendant quatre ans, l’orchestre joue uniquement avec des instruments à cordes traditionnels, avant de se mettre en 1965 aux guitares électriques, aux cuivres, à la batterie et à la basse...et de faire un carton sur toutes les scènes d’Afrique. Aujourd’hui, quarante-six ans plus tard, sous la tôle ondulée de Conakry, des gendarmettes, tous grades confondus, s’éclatent derrière leurs instruments. Qui a dit que la discipline empêchait de s’amuser ?

Dates mythiques

Mais le temps a fait son œuvre et il n’existe plus de gendarmes de la première génération des Amazones… Le Capitaine Nyépou Abas, reine des Amazones, guitariste virtuose s’en est allée en 2004. Dans le grand hangar de tôle, la doyenne des Amazones est le Commandant Djénabou Bah, entrée en 1965 dans l’orchestre. Elle range son saxophone ténor et égrène les souvenirs…

Pour commencer, la date mythique de 1977, à Lagos où le Festival des Arts et de la Culture du monde noir, le FESTAC, tout entier tombe à genoux devant la scène. "L’orchestre de la gendarmerie nationale" prend alors le nom des guerrières du roi Behanzin au royaume du Dahomey, dans l’actuel Bénin. Les gendarmes deviennent les Amazones, combattantes de l’émancipation féminine. Puis, Djénabou se rappelle de cette riche année de1983, où le groupe enregistre son premier album, Au cœur de Paris, et tourne pendant plus de six mois en France et en Europe. La Guinée est alors le phare de toutes les résistances, et rayonne de sa culture partout en Afrique.

A l’occasion d’une fête nationale, le maréchal Mobutu alors président du Zaïre, appelle Sékou Touré en personne pour lui demander ses Amazones. Pourtant, Kinshasa ne manque pas d’artistes talentueux. Mais Mobutu tient aux Amazones. Elles sont à Paris ? Qu’importe ! Le président à la toque léopard fait affréter un avion qui part chercher et ramène une semaine plus tard les Amazones à Paris. Les années 1980, la belle époque pour les musiciens d’Afrique !

En force !

"Retour en force des Amazones de Guinée !" lance Baloba Keïta, l’une des chanteuses du groupe. Et les musiciennes démarrent en trombe, sur une boucle rythmique entêtante, cuivres à l’appui et sourires radieux en prime. Wamato a été enregistré en août 2005 au studio Bogolan de Bamako, grâce à l’incontournable maison de production Syllart. Depuis la sortie de l’album Au cœur de Paris en 1983, l’occasion de sortir un disque ne s’était pas présentée, dixit le commandant Djénabou Bah.

Sous la direction du Commandant Salématou Diallo, à la basse, les Amazones portent un regard lourd d’expérience sur le monde qui les entoure. Les artistes prônent la confiance, la droiture, la respect des anciens, mais chantent aussi Nyépou Abas, la guitariste disparue…Les Amazones invitent également à la découverte de leur verte Guinée, montagneuse et généreuse. Dans l’album, on découvre même la langue Toma et les Zawagui, trois femmes de la forêt guinéenne qui chantent en polyphonie, et proposent une autre facette du pays mandingue. Sur l’un des morceaux, Daloba Keïta s’avance, micro en main et esquisse avec entrain des pas de danse en uniforme kaki… Spontanées et vitaminées, les Amazones de Guinée ne manquent décidément pas de saveur ! - RFI - Eglantine Chabasseur


"LES AMAZONES DE GUINEE"

"Ah-ha! Le retour en force des Amazones de Guinée!" Thus begins this wonderful outing by the great all-woman band from Guinée's Military Police force, Les Amazones. The story of all-women groups is not particularly distinguished and mired in bands that are only fronted by women for the sake of merchandising. (There's the Bangles, the Donnas, Bananarama, the Dixie Chicks, the Gogos, the Shaggs, the Spice Girls, the Twelve Girls Band of China, the nazi teen twins of Prussian Blue, Puffy Ami Yumi among a host of J-Pop outfits, etc. Wikipedia lists dozens more but it makes sad reading & would make a worse playlist.) While it's novel, it's silly to celebrate Les Amazones as an all-woman band, but let's appreciate the fact that they are a long-established band and can still kick out the jams. This is only their second album: their first Au coeur de Paris (Bolibana, 1983) made it to my African TOP 50 with Balla & ses Balladins, Bembeya Jazz and Djeli Moussa Diawara. Pretty exclusive company. They were formed in 1961 as the Women's Orchestra of the Guinée Militia -- not a very inspiring name -- but as soon as they took the stage (out of their fatigues) they were called "goddesses" or "tigresses" and wowed audiences all across Africa. So a more glamorous name was called for. About 1985 they were supposed to tour the USA. I heard they were to play at Manyatta, a small Kenyan-owned nightclub in Oakland. I called the owner and confirmed. I hyped the show like crazy on the radio, playing the album all night, giving away tickets to ecstatic fans. But on the night the sad truth dawned, they weren't even in the country; it was all a dream. 25 years later they are better than ever. There's a great spontaneity to the playing. The rhythms chug, the horns accentuate, everyone knows their part so well. They are confident in call and response vocals, call and response guitar and horns. But it's more than military discipline, it's collective intuition from years of playing together. The chef d'orchestre is bass player Commander Salématou Diallo. She recruited some new members as the lead guitarist died four years ago and other members have retired after their years of military service. Lead singer M'mah Sylla and guest vocalist Aminata Kamissoko add a glossy sheen; Commandant Djenabou Bah and Mariama Camara give a whole new meaning to "military brass" while Capitaine Mato Camara on timbales, Capitaine Elisabeth Camara on congas and Mamade Cissé on drums keep a beat that is stirring rather than merely martial. Guest percussionist Adama Diarra throws in some blasting djembe and there's a couple of guest guitarists, including Sekou Kante who did the arrangements. Yaya Kouyaté on solo guitar and N'Sira Tounkara on rhythm outstrip their cohorts in the other national ensembles. The set is diverse, there's even a birthday song and they end with a sweet little salsa number. - muzikifan.com


"Les Amazones de Guinea"

Les Amazones de Guinea are not only first all female group, they are also among the longest running. The group formed in 1961 when a number of officers in Guinea's military police discovered each other's musical talent. It was not long before a few became a big band, performing the lively afro-pop style that enjoyed sweeping popularity throughout the late 60's and beyond. The Guinean government soon discovered the gem in their midst and added Les Amazones to their roster of state supported groups. The band dazzled audiences with their high energy live performances throughout the 70's and into the early 80's when group members began to push for a debut record release. In 1983 the musicians traveled to Paris for the recording. Already touted throughout the African continent and across Europe as one of Guinea's artistic triumphs, Les Amazones de Guinea were introduced to listeners worldwide thanks to Au Coeur de Paris. The women of Les Amazones continued to perform internationally, enduring several personnel changes and fluctuations in musical style. After nearly twenty four years of waiting, fans were treated to a second installment in Les Amazone's discography. Wamato was released in 2008 by Stern's Africa to positive critical reviews. The record debuted in the Top 5 on World Music Charts Europe, where it stayed for three months. Even at over forty years of age, Les Amazones de Guinea proved one of West Africa's leading artistic protagonists, enjoying a second wave of fame and entirely new generation of fans. - Evan C. Gutierrez, All Music Guide


"Album: Les Amazones de Guinée"

Perhaps it's time to stop being surprised when a group of African militia produce a record as joyous as this, but when those soldiers also happen to be women it does add a further dimension. This Guinean band have been around in one form or another since the early Sixties but, putting aside all the African women's emancipation rhetoric – and judging this on a level playing field – the arrangements are sublime, the playing endearingly ragged and the overall effect beguiling. They may not have put out an album for 25 years but what a comeback! - The Independant


Discography

1983, "Au coeur de Paris & Mah Sylla", Bolibana publishing
2008, "Wamato", Syllart Production, Sterns Music publishing

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Bio

LES AMAZONES DE GUINEE
« THE AMAZONES – BACK WITH A VENGEANCE ! » is the cry at the opening of « Wamato », the new recording from Les Amazones de Guinee, the gold-standard for female bands in Africa and an enduring symbol of African women’s emancipation.

During the 60s and 70s, they toured the world while representing Sekou Toure’s Guinea. Newspaper headlines proclaimed them the « Goddesses of African music » or the « she-tigers of the stage ». And it’s true, Les Amazones display a grace and magic on stage. But they are also militia women.

Yet who would recognise these fifteen women when in their khaki combats ? For their first, and still today unreleased, recording of 1961 made for the national public radio R.T.G., they were called the « Women’s Orchestra of the Guinean Militia ». But for foreign tours it was felt that « Les Amazones de Guinee » would sound more glamorous. And so the women of the militia became « Les Amazones ».

In their early years they played unplugged : mandolin, violin, cello, double-bass, bongos, congas. With these instruments they wrote and performed, in their own unique and limpid style, songs that urged African women to rid themselves of the complexes inherited from a feudal system based on custom. « Woman of Africa », « Long live African Women » were chants taken up by many women of the 60s.

In 1965 came the great shift to electrical instruments ; in came the bass guitar, guitar and drum kits, as well as the brass of trumpets, tenor and alto sax.

For more than a decade Les Amazones criss-crossed the continent, hailed as the true « Queens of Africa » while attempts by other similar group failed. The high-spot of this period was 1977 and FESTAC held in Lagos, Nigeria. There the Afro-intelligentsia, who viewed this cultural summit as a landmark in the history of African music, were knocked out by both their presence and performances.

1982 was the year of their first recording as Les Amazones de Guinée. The album « Au cœur de Paris » included the defiant work « Samba », which described the life of a man who doesn’t know what he wants, and « PDG » (Parti Démocratique de Guinée), an ode to Guinea’s political party featuring the twirling guitar solos of their peerless Queen, Nyepou Haba.

Today the Amazones return, 25 years after that album recorded in the very heart of Paris.

Two albums in forty seven years ! Is there any other group as popular yet with such a slim discography ? Les Amazones set the standard for female groups in post-independent Africa ; a symbol of African woman’s emancipation and they remain a rarely imitated example.

As women with experience of the army, they are no strangers to duty or hard work, and when you see these fifteen mititiawomen concentrating on their final rehearsal before the album is presented to the public of Conakry, then you’d better believe it ! In the overheated hangar next to the People’s Palace, Commander Salématou Diallo’s eyes are fixed on the neck of her bass, large pearls of sweat on her forehead. The fifteen Amazones have set aside their khaki combats for billowing boubous, and exchanged their army-issue guns for musical instruments.

Despite the chaos of a minibus journey along the muddy roads from Conakry to Bogolan recording studios in Bamako, Mali, they remain focused. This recording marks a new departure, integrating new « recruits » following the deaths of some of the original Amazones like Nyépou Haba, a.k.a. « La Reine des Amazones », and the retirement of some of their oldest members.

In this studio where the now deceased Ali Farka Touré, Damon Albarn, Rokia Traoré, Oumou Sangaré, Idrissa Soumahoro and Mandekalou have recorded, Les Amazones rediscovered the fluidity of their guitar work and created an album which justifies their reputation as artists from an African music history that you just can’t ignore.

Why Les Amazones ? Their name derives from African history, the female warriors of King Behanzin of Benin who gave their lives for freedom, equality and peace : values that these Queens will be championing on their forthcoming tour that marks a new chapter in a saga already old.

Pierre Rene-Worms