In its third installation of African music, dance and culture, the "Acoustic Africa" Tour returns to George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium on Thursday, Nov. 1. This time, the multi-artist showcase comes in a new form. Rather than teaming up superstars of African acoustic and electric guitar, which previously had a common denominator, Malian guitarist Habib Koite, headlining, this year's "Acoustic Africa" highlights the talented women of African music.
While Ivory Coast musician Dobet Gnahoré may be somewhat familiar to Western audiences following the success of her sophomore recording, "Na Afriki," her two co-stars, Manou Gallo and Kareyce Fotso will likely draw blank stares.
Gnahoré's story is much like that of her two colleagues – as a girl growing up in Abidjan, the capital city of Ivory Coast in West Africa, the young talent longed to remain in the village life that her father grew up in rather than go to school. Except that the village she was raised in was not your average African hamlet. Gnahoré's father, a renowned drummer, singer and actor, was one of the founding members of the artist enclave Ki-Yi M'Bock, founded in 1985 by Cameroonian artist Werewere Liking. The village, which still produces some of the most talented African artists, actors, musicians and dancers, was the childhood home of Gnahoré, who by age 12, knew that she was going to dedicate her life to the arts.
While living in the communal setting, a young French musician came to the village wanting to learn African guitar styles. Colin Laroche de Feline and Gnahoré formed an artistic bond that soon developed into a romance. When the environment in Abidjan, and the rest of Ivory Coast, began to spiral down into political turmoil, Gnahoré and her French husband returned to his native country and formed an inseparable collaborative union that produced two albums and children. Gnahoré's "Na Afriki," which means "to Africa" was released on the Cumbancha label in 2007. She also sang on a duet with India.Arie on a remake of Sade's ode to African women, "Pearls," on Arie's "Love and Testimony; Volume 2: Love and Politics."
Like Gnahoré, Manou Gallo also grew up in the culturally rich environment in the Ivory Coast, and was also considered a child prodigy. She began performing at age 12 and went on to become a sensation in neighboring African countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo and Benin. When the band Woyo, which she was touring with, ceased, she followed lead guitarist Marcellin Yacé to Abidjan where he gave her her first bass guitar. From 1993 and 1996, she performed with various dance and theater troupes in her native country before being introduced to the manager of the all-female African group, Zap Mama. In no time she was touring with the popular group, founded by Zairean/Belgian singer Marie Daulne, throughout Europe and the United States. She traveled with Zap Mama for six years before forming her own band, La Djiboi. She has produced two albums since then, "Dida," her first solo album in 2003, followed by "Manou Gallo" in 2007.
Least known among the trio of African women troubadours is Kareyce Fotso, a Cameroonian singer whose Bamiliké parents raised her in the Mvog-Ada neighborhood of the country's capital city, Yaoundé. Her musical career took off when she toured as a backup singer to fellow Cameroonian singer and former member of Zap Mama, Sally Nyolo. Fotso's music is an eclectic blend of Afropop, the Blues and traditional African music. Her debut album, "Mulato," was released in 2009.
While none of these artists are well known in the United States, each has their own following in Africa, and in Europe as well, which is why this "Acoustic Africa" tour is subtitled "Afropean Woman." The trio, who will perform individually and also in ensemble, will be joined by American contemporary guitarist Leni Stern, who has gained popular acclaim since the release of four recordings of African-inspired music. They will also be backed by an all-star band including Ivorian balafonist [African xylophone] Aly Keita, who has played previously with jazz musicians Omar Sosa and Joe Zawinul.
"Acoustic Africa: Afropean Woman," comes to Lisner Auditorium on Thursday, Nov.1 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30, $35, $40, $45; GW Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni: $24, $28. Tickets are available from the Lisner Box Office. Call 202-994-6851, or visit lisner.org. A 15 percent discount is available off any ticket by using the code: AFRICA.