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Album Reviews

The West African Collective Les Amazones d’Afrique Has a Radical Feminist Message You Need to Hear

Les Amazones d’Afrique began in 2017 as a sisterly supergroup of singers from the West African region of Mali. Founded by Mamani Keïta, Mariam Doumbia (of Amadou and Mariam), and Oumou Sangare, and convened by French music-industry veteran Valerie Malot, the collective came together through a shared musical vision, as well as the goal of championing gender equality and bringing attention to the pressing issue of violence against women.

The group takes their name from the Dahomey Amazons, an army of female warriors who solely protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey (in present-day Benin) for 200 years, beginning in the 17th century. They also drew inspiration from the Guinean all-female group, Les Amazones de Guinèe, who once fought as their country’s militia before becoming state-sponsored songbirds. 

Throughout Les Amazones d’Afrique’s short history, a number of members have rotated in and out of the group, including Beninoise Grammy winner Angélique Kidjo, Sangare, Rokia Koné, and Kandia Kouyaté, among others. In its current iteration, Keïta is the only member of the original trio who is still involved. For their new album, Musow Danse, Keïta is joined by Beninoise singer Fafa Ruffino, Ivorian songbirds Kandy Guira and Dobet Gnahoré, Nigerian singer Nneka, as well as Congolese star Alvie Bitemo. But even as their lineup has shifted, their ideals remain ironclad. “The name ‘Amazon,’ you see, comes from female warriors who were from the Benin empire,” Ruffino told the radio program Afropop Worldwide in 2019. “They had an army of females. And that’s why we call ourselves that, because we’re going on a war. It’s a war to defend women’s rights.” 

Musically, Musow Danse drifts further from the griot-leaning, trip-hoppy feel of their 2017 debut, Republique Amazon, and its 2020 follow-up, Amazones Power, which were helmed by Congotronics producer Liam “Doctor L” Farrell. Musow Danse revamps the Amazones’ groove with a refreshing assist from alt-rock mainstay Jacknife Lee, who has worked with everyone from U2 to Taylor Swift to Amazones member Koné. The album seduces with glee, setting soothing traditional harmonies atop varied tempos, feeling more dynamic and cohesive than the group’s previous albums in its embrace of electro-pop, funk, and folk fusions. 

“African women, rise up!” they demand on “Musow Dante,” the album’s opening track, on which Keïta, Ruffino, Guira, and Gnahoré reel out soulful vocals in Bambara, Fon, Bètè, and Mooré languages. With hypnotic thumb pianos, raspy turntables, upbeat percussion, and spirited performances from the Amazones, Musow Danse begins by leaning into its themes of empowerment and celebration.


Throughout the album, compositional complexity is on heavy display as the Amazones weave their cathartic cadences and ancestral harmonies into Lee’s futuristic fusions, relying on melodic transitions, long pauses, and a heavy dose of choral backups. The balance of sonic opposites on Musow Danse is a huge part of the album’s appeal. After kicking things off with the psychedelic groove of songs like “Kuma Fo” and “Kiss Me,” they take things into a slow-burn middle section on the strength of Keïta’s dirge-like lead vocal on “Espérance” and Guira’s soulful poetry in “To Be Loved.” Ruffino resets the LP’s vibrance on “Queen Kuruma”: “Life has totally changed, the mothers are standing for their little daughter’s rights, let’s get together,” she sings, her ululated bursts delivering a call for celebration and a renewal of hope.

On the closing track “Bobo Me,” Nneka’s feisty vocals blend with Keïta’s opera-worthy octaves as Lee’s airy programming charges the album into a cinematic climax. Their closing chorus, “Womanhood is not an easy walk/And we cannot keep subjecting them to oppression,” highlights the sense of purpose that governs the entire album. It’s that spirit and the Amazones’ powerful performances that makes Musow Danse one of the great pan-African consciousness LPs in modern history.  

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