Women musicians in Niger are a notably socially conscious group. While they sing about the universally popular topics (like lost or new love), many of them also often use music to open a dialogue about issues in gender, health, poverty and politics. In a country where resources are extremely limited, these artists are producing diverse sounds in rap, hip-hop and soul. They both collaborate internationally, and draw on the traditions of the countries’ various ethnic groups.
If you’d like to check out some of the women musicians from Niger, start with the following four:
Safiath (Safia Aminami Issoufou Oumarou)
The work of Safiath (in the image above) is characterized by her rich, velvety vocals. She works in a wide variety of genres, as a solo artist, and also with the group Kaidan Gaskia.
Here’s one of her latest videos, “Tazedar”, sung in Zarma and Tamachek.
The next song, her bluesy and beautiful “Yaro,” inspired by an old Zarma song, and sung in Hausa, is about the sorrows of children facing mistreatment while living or working away from home. Safiath said she’s inspired to sing this song because the rights of children are “an issue that needs to be addressed.” Be sure to watch until the music picks up, about 45 seconds in.
Safiath has serious range, and has collaborated with other musicians from the continent. She recorded the soft, harmonious “Dans La Vie” in Burkina Faso, collaborating with Senegalese producer Ali Diallo, and hip-hop collective United Artists for African Rap (AURA).
ZM (Zara Moussa)
ZM creates catchy and sassy Sahelian rap. In one of her new tunes “Mes Ailes” or “my wings,” ZM sings about finding strength through music while going through a difficult divorce. Recently, she’s worked with independent Canadian music producer Teaville Bourque to record songs.
ZM also addresses public health issues in her song “Et Si” (“and if”), about the importance of giving blood. This song, sung in Zarma and French, references maternal health, a pressing issue in Niger. Woman who loose blood in childbirth can need blood donations to survive.
Habsou Garba, a singer very popular in Niger, is profiled in the book Engaging Modernity: Muslim Women and the Politics of Agency in Postcolonial Niger. Dr. Ousseina D. Alidou of Rutgers University highlights what makes this singer so important and unique, analyzing her creative, dynamic record of subverting patriarchy and colonialism. As a child, Garba left an elitist French school to attend an Arabic-French madarasa (school), where she was able to sing. At the start of her career, Alidou writes, her emergence “as a famous public performing artist in Niger was of such political significance that she quickly earned a state appointment as a waged worker at the city hall”. Today, she’s enjoyed a dynamic career as a talk radio host and a singer. Her videos also feature the entertainment troupe Annashuwa, and cover a variety of themes including love, public health, and religious life. Alidou writes that the entertainment troupe Annashuwa is a unique “brassage given its multiethinic and multigendered membership”. They feature prominently in the video below.
Here’s another one of her energetic songs, produced by studio Seydey Haouchi.
Fati Mariko is a singer and song-writer who sings with the band Marhaba. She has been singing since 1986, she says, and does so “because its my destiny.” Her third album Inch Allah recently came out on iTunes and on Spotify. Try the tracks, “Erdi” (about cattle herding) and “Rigia” (about happy love). “Hôpital” was produced at the request of the National Hospital in Niamey; the lyrics encourage people to support and take care of the facility. This extended video features her singing, as well as long shots of Nigerien landscapes and daily life.
And this video (for reasons unknown apparently not accessible everywhere) from her first album, Issa Haro, features a song about the importance of the river Niger. She sings in four different languages.
This list is by no means exhaustive! Keep an ear out for music coming out of Niger. As access to technology and online resources increases in the country, hopefully so will the world’s ability to enjoy its music.