Music

New album inspired by African Queen

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Swiss singer of Ugandan origin Awori Cynthia Othieno aka AWORI. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • Research into African women who played a prominent role in the struggle against imperialism has inspired a contemporary Ugandan artist to record an album named after the last queen of Madagascar.
  • The new album by Swiss-Ugandan singer and rapper Awori is steeped in history while acknowledging the strength and contribution of women in the resistance against oppression and domination by external forces.

Research into African women who played a prominent role in the struggle against imperialism has inspired a contemporary Ugandan artist to record an album named after the last queen of Madagascar.

The new album by Swiss-Ugandan singer and rapper Awori is steeped in history while acknowledging the strength and contribution of women in the resistance against oppression and domination by external forces.

The singer whose official name is Awori Cynthia Othieno, took advantage of the lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic last year to write songs for a new album that has attracted positive reviews in world music circles since it was released in March 2021.

Awori was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda, and as a child was influenced by her grandfather’s love for music, which led her to enrol in music lessons.

She left Uganda to join her mother in Switzerland at the age of 11 and began taking jazz singing lessons while listening to renowned African musicians like Miriam Makeba, Angelique Kidjo, and Koffi Olomide. Her older brothers introduced her to the music of American hip hop artists like the Notorious B.I.G, Tupac Shakur, and Jay-Z while she also connected with the works of female singers, notably Aaliyah and Erykah Badu.

Awori’s first group was a blues-rock band with high school friends performing at street festivals and school events.

She and a friend, Juline Michel then formed a band called CaramelBrown, later renamed Kami Awori and the duo released four EPs and performed at various festivals.

At the same time, she was also performing as a singer with the blues-rock band Black Diamond. Later, she met Thais Diarra with whom she went on tour in East Africa and performed as an opening act for Ghanaian Blitz the Ambassador and Ivorian reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly.

Her new album “Ranavalona” is a collaboration with Twani (Mikael Touanen) a multi-instrumentalist and producer from Lyon, France. Twani is a graduate of the International Music Academy where he trained as a guitarist, bassist, and keyboardist and has been involved in the production of many Afrobeat songs.

Galant Records brought Awori and Twani together for a project that combines a singer and/or a rapper with a producer for one dedicated track. The chemistry was immediate: Awori says the experience was perfect while Twani was hooked by her voice and charisma.

Their first song “Cortex Iuxta” was recorded in just one day and released in November 2019. The record label was so impressed proposed that they offered both artistes an opportunity to record a whole album, which led to the production of “Ranavalona.”

Awori wrote the songs on the eight songs for the album during the lockdown last year a period she describes as one of reflection and introspection. In the course of her research, she discovered the story of Ranavalona III the last queen of Madagascar and her resistance against French occupation which lasted for several days until she was deposed from her throne and sent to Reunion Island with her family in 1897 and eventually exiled to Algeria.

“I think this queen fought in her way, trying to preserve her culture and her people. Even though the story didn’t have a happy ending, it's okay, the struggle is still worth celebrating,” says Awori.

The title of the album is a reference to women who have stood up against oppression and offer inspiration to all those who lack self —confidence by rejuvenating them in the fight against injustice. Musically the sound of the album transcends hip hop, neo-soul, R&B and Afrobeats and Awori sings and raps in English, Luganda and Swahili.

Twani’s role was to set up an environment that would be conducive to the appreciation of the message and make that accessible to the public by creating a variety of sounds that are danceable but also deeply meditative.

The first single from the album “Cortex Iuxta” has already been a hit while “Viscera” evokes the collective struggle and the duty to fight together for the liberation of everyone.

She expresses her own experiences with vulnerability on "Hold Me" and the lessons her mother offered on self-independence and why people should remain independent even.

"Hold Me" is a message to people craving love, for those who are afraid to be vulnerable.