The difference between a musical revival and a musical rebirth lies in the ability of a genre’s new adherents to expand beyond the template set out by the legendary founders, respecting tradition while also allowing new roots to grow in new ground. Afrobeat’s revivalists have done wonders in this regard. While many groups started off mimicking Fela as closely as possible, band after band has since expanded the palette, producing a widening spectrum of increasingly innovative writing, arranging, and playing.
And yet despite this, problems still remain. One particularly troubling aspect is the complex legacy of Fela’s attitude towards women, one that was intimately connected with his political project, and something that has never been fully dealt with in the Afrobeat community. It’s just one of the reasons why we need more voices like Sia Tolno.
Born Guinea, Sia grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone, before being forced from her home by the civil war the wracked the nation during much of the 90’s. After moving from place to place, she ended up settling in Conakry, Guinea, where she began to perform in nightclubs, developing her unique voice while covering pop songs and standards.
Taken as a whole, African Woman is a refreshing blast of musical energy, and an encouraging exception to the primarily male dominated rule of the Afrobeat scene (that rule has a few other notable exceptions). Instead of singing about “Lady,” African Woman tells the story from the other side, decrying corruption, abuse, and war from a powerful feminine perspective. While we’ve heard this kind of lyrical content from singers like Angelique Kidjo, it’s a real joy to hear it connected to the undeniable swagger of a top-notch Afrobeat group. And ultimately, that’s why this album works so well- it not only offers political uplift, but couches that message in righteous music, making for the kind of body and mind impact that sets apart the best Afrobeat. Give it a listen!