A tribute to women and Africa marks the comeback of Dobet Gnahoré on the musical scene. Released in April 2014, four years after her previous album, Na Drê includes fourteen tracks mainly dedicated to these two themes, which the Ivorian-born singer constantly intertwines. “I speak of beaten women, of those in love, of those who give birth in difficult conditions, of arranged marriages – she explained in a recent interview – I am conscious of everything they suffer and of their force in overcoming some difficulties, in Africa more than elsewhere”. That’s why, she added, “women must be celebrated every day, for they are marvelous and brave, they have an incredible mental force and they can change the world”.
The protagonists of Gnahoré’s lyrics are named singly (many tracks in Na Drê have a woman’s name as their title: Tania, Zina but also Princesse – princess – or Maman – mother) but also collectively: they are one of the forces that can transform their home continent. It is only through a combined effort, however, that change can be achieved, the singer warns. “Africans must wake up in order to really change things – she also explained – In Baara I sing ‘let’s work together for our Africa’. We really have to nurture union and love and stop saying words, mere words. We must act now, every gesture is important, also mentalities must evolve”.
The use of ‘we’ shows that – despite living in Europe and performing on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (she even sang for the Obamas in Washington) – Dobet still feels she is a true child of Africa.
This is not surprising, since she was given all her musical education in her homeland. The daughter of a renowned Ivorian drummer, actor and singer, Boni Gnahoré, she grew up in Village Ki-Yi M’Bock, an ‘artistic colony’ founded in the Eighties in Abidjan. When she was 12 she chose to follow the same path. So she began taking music, dance, theatre and percussion lessons from other residents: all these disciplines would later influence her style, especially when performing on stage. In Ki-Yi M’Bock, the girl also found the ultimate reason to go to Europe, even if it was – at least in part – not related to music. When in 1999 political and social turmoil began to affect the Ivory Coast (and particularly Abidjan), Dobet and French guitarist Coline Laroche de Féline (who had arrived in the city three years earlier and stayed after falling in love with the young woman) left the country, heading to France.
During the following years, Gnahoré refined her musical skills and, starting with Ano Neko in 2004, recorded four albums (including her latest), in which the key features of her style became evident, in particular her ability to sing in many languages. This is a choice she also makes in Na Drê: Apart from French and Beté (Dobet’s father’s mother-tongue) Malinké, Dida, Lingala, Haitian Creole and English are, in fact, also used in the lyrics; six languages in fourteen songs! The same mix can be perceived when coming to the subjects. When dealing with both Africa and women, the 33 year old artist sings about death and life together. Death, to her, is the passing of her loved ones, but also their absence. And that’s where life comes in, taking the form of hope and desire, of movement, both real and metaphorical.
Such a cultural and conceptual abundance, however, contrasts from time to time with a music which lacks that same eclecticism shown by Gnahoré in her life. Few songs (Tania, Zina and Yon Reve), one can say, fully exploit the artistic potentialities of interaction between African, European and even South American sounds. But maybe this is a deliberate choice. “In this album – Dobet herself said – I wanted less rhythm, less musical and vocal power, more melody and sweetness, and songs that anyone could retain. My musical style should touch everybody, without being associated with a particular trend: it’s the music I feel”. (D.M.)