Name: Kady Diarra
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Kady Diarra's Burkina Hakili will be released June 11th on Lamastrock.
Recommendations: I love Mandekalou, Mandé Jeliou Vol 1 et 2 with all the most talented singers from Mali. All the voices and musicians are absolutely wonderful. Those songs have been sung for hundreds of years, and they're part of our African history that is told.
All the books from Hamadou Hampaté Bé, a Malian writer. These are great if you want to know about spirituality, history and culture of West Africa.
If you enjoyed this interview with Kady Diarra, visit her on Facebook, Instagram and bandcamp to stay up to date with her releases, tour dates and music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started very early to think about music and lyrics. Because In my families, there are a lot of traditional musicians. My grandmother and my mother used to sing in ceremonies like marriage or baptism as a "griot". I was following them and sang with them. At the age of 12, I started to dance in Ballet in Abidjan, where I grew up, with Koteba junior, and I loved that.
I came back to Burkina Faso in 1984, and it was Sankara's time. A wonderful period, he encouraged greatly the artistic practise and a lot of bands came up and followed him during his meeting. I joined the band "Sidwaya" as dancer and chorist and we had such a great time. I realised then, that I will do my best to have an artistic career.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I learned music very young because I was surrounded by it at home or in the village in my native place in Burkina Faso. I always liked to dance or sing in ceremonies. After several semi-professional experiences in Abidjan and Ouagadougou, I came back to Bobo Dioulasso in 1992, where I joined the ballet COBA as a dancer. We won first prize for our ballet at “National Culture week” in 1993. That was a tough training, but it gave me the taste of hard work.
After touring several tours in Europe with different companies from 1994 to 1997, I started to work on my own lyrics and compositions and started my solo career in 1998 with my personal band.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My creativity is completely influenced by my identity. I used to sing in my own ethnic language (Bwamu) and Bambara (the most spoken language in West Africa). I also need to have some traditional instrument in my music. I always start a composition with a balafon or a N'goni.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning, and how have they changed over time?
When I started as a dancer, that was easy because dancing is significant for women in Africa. It became more complicated when I started my own band with only men. I had to prove my artistic quality as a woman and to make them understand that I was the boss and the producer. Difficult for traditional musicians to trust a woman in this activity.
But my father and mother encouraged me on this way and gave me the force to continue.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I’m an old school compositor and songwriter. I don’t need software to create and to be inspired. I just need a nice tune with balafon, or I remember an old song from my grandmother, and I feel inspired.
But I'm always impressed by studio technologies when we record and how the sound engineer can make your track wonderful.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I have such a natural approach to my music that I just need a recorder to catch the tune and lyrics I have in my head. And I call my musicians to work on the music and arrangement.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach, and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I like collaboration, and I need to meet in person with other artists. Because working with somebody is not only about music. I must feel the person outside the music to do a good job.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I make my music with my nephew, my daughter and my husband. So it's a family matter. I'm not making music every day because I need to be surrounded by my musicians to work. But almost every day, I write some idea or work on my new lyrics.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My tour in Europe with Adama Dramé's Foliba in 1994. That was my first trip outside of Africa. We had a beautiful ballet with a lot of artist, dancers, musicians, actors. Adama Dramé was very demanding and a perfectionist, but he took me to an artistic level I will never forget. I became his first female solo dancer in this ballet. Such good memories.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
My state of mind to be creative is to be peaceful and think about my ancestors and my spirituality.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Personally, music is a cure for me. Trance takes me very easily when I m on stage or in ceremonies. I always say that music can heal the pain and the heart. I use to cure myself or my relatives with soft and natural medicine like plants and spirituality. Music is a part of recovery.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I don't like the term 'cultural appropriation', you can be inspired by any culture in the world. A soon as you use this inspiration with respect and pay tribute to this original culture, you can be a European playing djembé or an African playing classical music. It’ dosn’t matter. Culture is there to be spread and mixed.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Hearing is a very special sense because you can fall into a trance hearing music or prayer. I don’t know how our senses work, but I'm very sensitive and try to trust my feeling to move forward in my career.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
As I told you before, in the beginning for me music and dance were something very natural. I wanted to do like my family members, and it was more to canalise my young energy. Then it took more and more time in my life.
When I started to write some lyrics, I had to think about society, politics, family matters, friendship and explain my vision and advice to the people. I'm not interested in public political or social commitment, and I'm not sure is the place for a singer.
I'm feeling more like I'm an observer of our modern society. I want to describe what I feel about it and establish the link with our ancestral tradition of respect and way of living.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music is universal and can convey a lot of feeling without any words. Everybody experienced being touched by a tune without understanding any word. It can make you happy or sad; that's magic.