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2 Female Artists Blazing Trail in African Pop Music

  • Bram Posthumus

DJ Rachael performs at the WOMEX World Music Expo in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in October 2016.

DJ Rachael performs at the WOMEX World Music Expo in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in October 2016.

Modern West African pop music features few female voices, and one won't find many women on the DJ scene across the continent. But here are two women from opposite sides of Africa who have been busy changing that picture. VOA met them both - one a DJ and the other a singer - at the recent World Music Expo in Spain.

For twenty years, DJ Rachel from Uganda’s capital Kampala has been a fixture on the club scene in her native east African country. She is Uganda’s first female DJ and for many years she was the only one.

DJ Rachel started out just holding a microphone and doing rap songs but then the club she frequented became a venue for her record spinning skills when the boys introduced her to the record playing decks. She’s not sure how exactly she got her start on the music scene.

“I don’t know, maybe they were just interested in this girl but somehow the DJs I worked with initially were very helpful.”

She did have to contend with having to play at unpopular hours and dealing with some harassment as she built her career but, in the end, she prevailed.

Meanwhile, across the continent, in Guinea, a little girl grew up in a town called Siguiri and for anyone who knows something about West African music, this is the birthplace of Guinea’s finest traditional singers, or griots. But Nakany Kanté was not one of them.

Nakany Kanté performs at the WOMEX World Music Expo in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in October 2016.

Nakany Kanté performs at the WOMEX World Music Expo in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in October 2016.

She was not born into a musical griot family and that meant that she had no right to sing or play music. But, as she puts it: you must fight for what you love. And her love was music. She had to move to Spain though, with her husband, to make it all come together

But Kanté is not known for cheap and easy love songs. “I’m here to protest,” she says.
She doesn’t like the way women are treated in traditional marriages and she doesn’t like to see children begging on the streets back home.

Even though different parts of Africa have different genres of music, they face similar issues, something DJ Rachael noted when she celebrated her 20th year in the music business.

“When I was celebrating that 20-year thing I only wanted female DJs at my party. But I couldn’t achieve that. But we’ll come to a time when we have such a festival.”

Toward that end, DJ Rachael is busy setting up a network of female DJs, first in East Africa and then beyond. And Nakany Kanté, the girl from Guinea who defied the odds to become a singer promises to be an internationally recognized star who carries the voices of African women everywhere.

There are no signs the two will retire anytime soon.

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