Music and social criticism with Women Unite Senegal

October 2007 -

The women in Women Unite Senegal will grace a variety of stages in the Netherlands and Belgium to voice their critical message. The five songstresses from various regions of Senegal each contribute their own musical tradition and cultural background. The result is a sound that is entirely unique. In their multi-language repertoire, five social problems are addressed, including domestic violence and AIDS.


(c) Photo Velu

Songstress and director Leoni Jansen gathered the group together in 2005 in cooperation with Mundial Productions and Senegal's cultural organisation Ngaari-Laaw AED. The women, who could not understand one another before the group was formed, premiered in the Netherlands a year later at the Festival Mundial. They also participated in the Senegal project Initiative Fuuta: a song festival for women focusing on the theme Stop AIDS Now.

The name Women Unite Senegal leads one to believe that the band members are all women, but in fact it includes three male musicians. They play traditional instruments, including the kora, the ngoni and the sabor, which are traditionally solely played by men. Although the band advocates more women's initiatives in the male-dominated world of music, it is doubtful whether this vehicle will get that message heard.

However, a world star like the Melanesian Oumou Sangeré, who is also accompanied by male musicians, has been successful in unmasking the polygamy in her society. Initially only women went to her concerts, their husbands waiting outside in their cars. Now her influence stretches to the four corners of the world, making her an inspiring model for many women.

The fact that a (female) band like Women Unite Senegal is accompanied by male musicians need not threaten the message they bring. However, if a true change is to be made in Senegal's society, more successful women's bands will probably be needed, or more courageous Oumous. In any event: the tone has been set.