Les Amazones d'Afrique, "Republique Amazone" (Real World Records)
Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo and Mariam Doumbia, from Amadou & Mariam, are part of a supergroup of West African women whose CD "Republique Amazone" is a mesmerizing blend of female advocacy and dance rhythms.
Dubbed Les Amazones d'Afrique, they're mainly from Mali and mostly write their own lyrics. Supported by Irish producer Liam Farrell, his electronics envelop more traditional sounds like kora, thumb piano, Mouneissa Tandina's drums and Mamadou Diakite's piercing electric guitar.
The Paris-based Farrell, known as Doctor L, deftly prevents the album from being a mere curiosity and the women's participation should alleviate doubts about stylistic authenticity.
There's little English on the album — which also includes songs in French, Mali's Bambara, and Fon, spoken in Benin and Nigeria. But a little is plenty as when Nneka, a young singer from Nigeria, speaks volumes on "La dame et ses valises" ("The Lady and Her Suitcases") — "You've been inside that darkness for too long, woman, don't you know you're a queen?"
Kidjo, from Benin, takes the spotlight on opener "Dombolo," its cascading percussion runs a magnet for the dance floor. Mali's Rokia Kone, a relative newcomer, nearly steals the spotlight on several tracks. Her vocal intensity is perfectly matched by Diakite's guitar on "Mansa Soyari," while she builds a splendid duet with Malian grand dame Kandia Kouyate on "Anisokoma."
"I Play the Kora" has five lead singers and benefits the Panzi Foundation, helping tens of thousands of survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. "Men, do not ruin my life and do not put me aside and decide in my place," its lyrics say. Whether statement, warning or plea, it's clear in any language.