“Onstage, Dobet is a vivacious bundle of energy, blessed with a powerful voice and infectious charisma.” —BBC
, a remarkable young singer/dancer/percussionist/composer from Côte d’Ivoire, was the show-stopping favorite at the Walker Art Center’s 2006 Acoustic Africa mixed-bill evening. The Walker and Cedar Cultural Center present her return to Minneapolis, this time with a group of instrumentalists, on Sunday, May 3, at 7:30 pm at Cedar Cultural Center. Her first full evening offers new sounds, ancient traditions, and remarkable music.
From Mandingue melodies to Congolese rumba, Ivory Coast ziglibiti to Cameroon bikoutsi, Gnahoré’s pan-African palette blends colorful compositions, jazz-inflected vocals, and unparalleled charisma. Singing of love, life, and loss in present-day Africa, she is widely hailed as one of the freshest talents in new African music.
Just 24 years old, Gnahoré has got it all—an exceptional voice, amazing dance skills, and the engaging aura reserved for artistic greats. Given Gnahoré’s upbringing, it should come as no surprise that performing comes so naturally. Her father, Boni Gnahoré, is himself a master drummer, actor, and singer who is well respected across Côte d’Ivoire, where Dobet was born and raised. Her father was an original member of an influential artist colony called Village Ki-Yi M’Bock, which was formed in 1985 in Abidjan, the bustling capital city of Côte d’Ivoire.
An artistic cooperative, the “village” was founded by Werewere Liking (from Cameroon) as a place to inspire creativity and collaboration. Home to over 50 resident artists of diverse traditions, ages, and origins, including dancers, actors, puppeteers, sculptors, painters, costume designers, musicians, and others, the village has played an important role in the African arts scene.
At the age of 12, Gnahoré announced to her father that she wasn’t going to return to school. Even at that young age, she knew that she wanted to devote her life to music, dance, theater, and other performing arts. From that day forward, Gnahoré spent her days studying music, dance, theater, and percussion, learning from her fellow residents in the village. The trajectory of her life changed when a young French guitarist named Colin Laroche de Féline arrived in the village one morning in 1996. With a backpack over one shoulder and a guitar over the other, he had come to discover this unique community. Planning to stay only three days, he ended up staying three years, having fallen in love with both the village’s artistic lifestyle and with Gnahoré.
Laroche de Féline mastered a range of African guitar techniques and he and Gnahoré formed a musical and romantic bond that made them inseparable collaborators. Together, they began to compose songs that earned the attention of other members of the village, as well as regular guests such as African stars Ray Lema and Lokua Kanza. Laroche de Féline and Gnahoré called their duet Ano-Neko (which means “create together” in the local Dida language).
While the artistic colony was a utopian hideaway, the city of Abidjan became embroiled in social and political turmoil. Seeking a more stable and less dangerous environment in which to raise their child, Laroche de Féline and Gnahoré moved to France in 1999. In Europe, the couple formed a band and developed a relationship with Contre-Jour, a small but influential management company based in Belgium that has helped develop the careers of a number of successful world music artists. Soon, the group was performing at European music festivals, and Gnahoré’s unique talent began grabbing people’s attention. She earned a nomination for Best Newcomer from the BBC World Music Awards in 2006, and her debut album, the 2004 release Ano Neko, received wide accolades.
In the fall of 2006, Gnahoré joined Malian guitarist Habib Koité and South African troubadour Vusi Mahlasela on Putumayo’s Acoustic Africa tour, which was presented across Europe and the United States. Sharing the stage with these two established African icons, Gnahoré astounded audiences and earned rave reviews with her exceptional talent.
For her sophomore album, Na Afriki (To Africa), Gnahoré offers a personal vision of Africa today. Performed in a number of different African languages, the songs address social and political issues: the struggles of women in African society, the exploitation of children, and the impact of greed and violence on the family. Gnahoré calls upon Africa to seek solutions from within and draw upon its own vast resources to create a better future. She sings of love and loss, as well as joy and celebration, using a wide variety of rhythms and styles that reflects her unique pan-African approach.
Gnahoré, Laroche de Féline, and their young daughter now live in the small French town of Givet near the border with Belgium and not far from the headquarters of Contre-Jour. Other artists on the Contre-Jour roster such as Habib Koité and the Gangbe Brass Band of Benin pass through the area frequently to rehearse and record. In many ways they have created their own version of an artistic community, far from Village Ki-Yi M’Bock in Côte d’Ivoire, but close in spirit.
Tickets to Dobet Gnahoré are $25 ($21 Walker members) in advance; $30 ($24) day of show and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.