Global Hit – Les Amazones de Guinee

The World

For today’s Memorial Day, we focus on a military band. It’s not your typical military band. These musicians are from Guinea in West Africa. And they’re all women. Here’s The World’s Marco Werman with today’s Global Hit.

Those women are known in Guinee’s military — and in musical circles — as les Amazones de Guinee, the Amazons of Guinea. Commandant Salematou Diallo is the leader of the band.

Les Amazones de GuineeLes Amazones de Guinee

That’s her shouting out at the beginning of the group’s just-released recording, “It’s the powerful return of Les Amazones de Guinea.” And no one can argue with that.

Les Amazones de Guinea have been making music for nearly fifty years. And yet the album “Wamato” marks only the second time they’ve made a record.

That speaks more to the founding concepts of the group than their desire to be hit-makers. Guinea gained independence from France in 1958. France had hoped that Guinea would opt to remain beholden to Paris and not go off on its own.

But Guinea’s President Sekou Toure wanted to make a break with the colonial past as soon as possible. He aimed to erase the sour memories of colonialism and to heal the tribal wounds it had left in his country.

Sekou Toure hoped that an all-female military band would be one of the ways to spotlight national culture and the country’s independence. The musicians performed the shuffling boleros urban African bands typically played in the 50s and 60s.

When the women soldiers first hit the scene in 1961, they were blandly billed as l’Orchestre Feminin de la Gendarmerie de Guinee, the Guinean female military band.

A name change to Les Amazones de Guinee evoked the fighting female warriors in West Africa who battled the French in the 1890s.

In 1977, the group played alongside Bob Marley and Fela Kuti at a massive outdoor show in Nigeria. The Amazons cemented their reputation with a truly independent GUINEAN sound.

The notion that these are blood-thirsty amazons, marketed as musical warriors, is a little off the mark. They do live and work in the barracks in the Guinean capital Conakry. But they get all the time they need to rehearse, and most of them have seen little if any combat.

Over the years, attrition has meant that there are only five of the original Amazons in the group. On this Memorial Day here in America, there’s a certain poignancy to that. But as the Independent newspaper in London said in its review of the Amazon’s CD: this is a record of exuberant relief and dignified passion, more than loss.

For The World, I’m Marco Werman.

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