Tenin Diawara released his second album on Friday, March 25 during a dedication concert at the People’s Palace in Conakry. Justified Guinea, this new opus of 20 titles takes up what has made it successful for three years now: dance music, spontaneity and engaging lyrics. Meeting with the “Queen of Banyan”.
Banian is this village near Faranah in Upper Guinea, where Tenin Diawara spent her childhood and which she never ceases to pay homage to in her songs. From a “line of griots”, his mother and father are musicians. She sings in the ceremonies, he plays guitar. They are absent parents. “I grew up in a big family. I had to stay home to take care of my siblings. I could not go to school, I wish I could.”
The 28-year-old speaks with extreme sincerity about the difficult times in his life, without ever feeling sorry for himself. It is this ability to evoke delicate motifs, with great accuracy, that today makes Tenin Diawara unique in the Guinean musical landscape.
His songs have accumulated hundreds of thousands of views on Youtube and deal with sometimes painful social problems. To name just a few: the dictates of whiteness and the atrocities of depigmentation, materialism that ends up replacing emotions in romantic relationships, violence against women.
Tenin Diawara greets us in his hotel room just a few hours before he goes on stage. Relaxed. She ends her sentences with outbursts of laughter, singing or throwing herself into improvisations. Tenin Diawara composes his melodies and imagines his lyrics that way, so simply.
An idea gets her, she rushes into the studio to record it. “She may well be inspired by this interview and make a song out of it”, laughs his manager, Irénée Bangoura. While in charge of communication, gymnast and friend, under his many hats, he watches over her.
Face without make-up framed by an orange wig. It is the only artifice that Tenin Diawara wears that day. But when we ask him the question, a little teasing: are you thinking of making a song to encourage African women to take responsibility for their hair? She answers without hesitation and goes speech and pulls at her smooth synthetic hair. Below are flattened braids. Then she shows a proud smile.
One of his titles sums up his state of mind. IN N’fatara pigna(“I did well” in French), released in 2020, calls on Guineans to free themselves from the gaze of others.
In the clip, she does not hesitate to surround herself with feminine dancers. She was heavily criticized for that. “People said she would impose homosexuality.” But Tenin Diawara assumes: “Everyone does what they want. “
The scandal culminates in January 2021 during a concert in Kamsar. On stage, a young man lifts his clothes and reveals his bare buttocks. The singer’s career is hampered. Tenin Diawara is banned from performing. “His artist brothers awaited his downfall “, remembers Irénée Bangoura. But after a few weeks, the sanction is lifted and the performer even allows himself to release a new composition. Failure is a snub to his opponents.
This city of Kamsar, Tenin Diawara, knows it well. As a 13-year-old, she was sent to live with her aunt, a singer, in the port city of Basse-Côte, a few kilometers from the border between Bissau and Guinea. Sure of the talent of little Tenin, who has performed at ceremonies since she was 7 years old, her mother wants her to improve along with her sister.
It was in Kamsar that Tenin Diawara learned the Soussou language, which she uses most in her texts. A language that has almost four million speakers in Africa. “It is her mission, she wants to prove to people, to Guineans, that music has no boundaries. That is why she sings in a language that no one understands.”, analyzes Irénée Bangoura. And that does not stop it from being listened to everywhere. Comments from all over the continent are being posted on Youtube.
After Ramadan, a tour will take her to the interior of the country, before concerts in May in France, in Nantes and Tours. “It was the Guinean community that contacted us”, says Irénée Bangoura. Tenin Diawara is hailed by the diaspora. She was even awarded the prize for Guinean’s favorite artist in Egypt, the only award she has ever received. Rare moment in the interview where she loses her good mood. Although she claims the opposite, Tenin Diawara seems to suffer from the lack of recognition of the Guinean music industry: “The people who follow me are my reward”she strikes firmly.
On Friday, March 25, at the People’s Palace in Conakry, the one who rules over the Banian makes his entrance on stage sitting on a throne lowered from the ceiling. Among the audience of 2,000 people, there are mainly women and many in their thirties. They are certainly seduced by his committed lyrics that advocate for freedom. There are also older ladies. It is the djèliya, the art of the griots, that they certainly love most at Tenin Diawara. “She succeeded in renewing the tradition“, notes Irénée Bangoura. By varying the rhythms.”I told myself that it was necessary to get the public to dance “completes Tenin Diawara.
She even produced her latest album, in which she repeatedly thanks her sponsors, Guinean personalities who fund the artists. Streaming and concerts are not profitable enough, the manager explains: “A Tenin Diawara in Nigeria is a really rich, a millionaire ! “ She takes care of all her family’s expenses and helps those who cross her path. Tenin Diawara does not cheat. She lives her music and her music tells her life. Divorced, mother of two boys aged 5 and 7, she practices the liberation she promotes in her lyrics.
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