Interview with Dobet Gnahoré

Interview with Dobet Gnahoré

You are only 25 but avoid the commercial spotlight, instead singing of social issues. Why is that?

These are the subjects that reach me, that touch me. These are the subjects in my life. They are the subjects of the people that surround me. These are subjects that are important to me.

Do you believe that African music can even be expressed in a commercial way?

Yes, there’s lots of examples of commercial African music, like Angelique Kidjo. It’s too bad that traditional music of the poor, the folk music, is not as well-known around the world. There is a lot of richness in African traditions that doesn’t get reflected in popular music.

Money is a source of problems and solutions, from Blood Diamonds to UN help, the positives and the negatives are driven by money. Do you believe that money has brought more issues or answers for Africa?

Money has had a negative influence in Africa. There are people who risk their lives to look for diamonds. The multinationals look for the youngest to go look for the diamonds, it’s very dangerous work. They have no other ways to earn money so they go and they risk their lives doing it. The national police doesn’t let them leave also.

What about the money coming into Africa?

It’s a double edged sword. There are more and more people who have money and the poor are getting poorer. The difference between the rich and the poor is increasing.

So why hasn’t Communism become popular in Africa?

I don’t get very involved in the political aspect of things. There’s been a lot of money given to Africa for development but it hasn’t solved the problems. Solutions should come from within, from African people.

On your current album you sing in many different languages. Do you feel that you represent different people of Africa better this way or is it just an artistic expression?

It’s both. I’m African. I’m naturally interested in languages, it’s interesting to me. It also allows me to reach a wider audience. Being an artist there are no borders. I can dance in Southern African style and sing in many different languages, to me it’s the same expression.

What do you believe separates you from African music veterans like Angelique Kidjo and Zap Mama besides the years in the music industry?

I am just a child. They are big stars. I am a child of their music. All of African artists have something in common. We all engage social lyrics in our lyrics, even if it’s party music.

Do you see yourself doing any collaboration efforts with American artists?

There are a lot of people I like and I like their music. I like American music because it’s very professional. I love American gospel, great singers, it really gets inside of you. I love Alicia Keys. She is a great singer and she is also part of an association that fights AIDS in Africa. I want to work with artists that get involved with humanitarian issues.

You father’s a musician, your husband worked with you on your latest album… is music in the blood of your family?

My grandfather was a singer and a farmer. My grandmother sang at funerals. My mother’s family was artists. You can say I was raised in an artistic environment.

Is there anything you would like to add?

It’s the first time I came to play solo in New York. We are very happy more people can discover our music here. I thank Putamayo for all the work and thank all the people who came tonight also. I hope to be here more in the future.

Translated by Jacob Edgar