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Dobet Gnahoré celebrates African culture and identity

Ivorian performer Dobet Gnahore wearing a vibrant red dress standing in front of a group of boys with bicycles

On July 18, Dobet Gnahoré, one of Africa’s true stars and a voice of the continent, will be in concert at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, California.

If you like Angelique Kidjo, Fatoumata Diawara, Oumou Sangaré, or Rokia Traoré, you will definitely appreciate Dobet Gnahoré. She merges the talents of all these extraordinary singers and on stage, Dobet unleashes a passion that renders audiences awestruck during her concerts across Africa, Brazil, the United States, Japan, and Europe.

Her new album Zouzou, which means “Angel” in her native language, is her seventh studio album and it is a vibrant celebration of African culture and identity. The album presents a rich tapestry of musical traditions, combining African rhythms with modern influences and lyrical depth.

I recently spoke with Dobet in Ivory Coast through Cumbancha, her U.S. record label. She said: My music can explore the world but I remain African. I am inspired by what my grandparents sing. I am motivated by the struggles facing African children, that’s why I am dedicating this album to the youth. They are the one that will define the future of the continent.”

She also mentioned that this album serves as the launch of a new orphanage project she is developing in Côte d’Ivoire as she maintains her commitment to promoting positive change and opportunities for the next generation.

I first interviewed Dobet Gnahoré in 2007 during her first American tour. She had won Afropop Hall of Fame’s Emerging Artist award a year earlier in 2006. A daughter of master percussionist Boni Gnahoré, she was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, the capital city that has for many years been at the crossroad of African music with its famous festival Marché des Arts du Spectacle Africain (MASA).

In 1994 at the age of 12, Dobet joined her father’s percussion and dance ensemble where she learned the performing arts. She grew up within Ki Yi M’Bock a self-managed community of Pan-African artists led by Cameroonian writer and performer Werewere Liking, and of which her father was a member in Côte d’Ivoire. There, she trained in theater, dance and especially in singing.

Dobet writes and composes most of her songs, and sings in various African languages such as malinké (Mali), lingala(Congo), wolof (Senegal), xhosa (South Africa), fon (Benin), French, Haitian Créole, and English. Honest, committed and feminist, she conveys her messages by singing with her soft and powerful voice to music that combines different genres.

She is well-known for her jaw-dropping dance moves, and a powerful and spectacular stage presence; her concerts are an authentic journey to the heart of the African continent, featuring everything from Pygmy singing, Mandingo melodies, and Congolese rumba, to Ivorian ziglibiti, Cameroonian bikutsi, Ghanaian high-life, and Zulu choirs. The diversity of rhythms and the richness of African percussion are no strangers to Dobet Gnahoré, they are part of her show.

Emmanuel Nado is at the forefront of promoting African music and culture in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is from Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa, a country which for many years has been the crossroad of African popular music. As a journalist, promoter and radio producer, Nado is an active force in the African music scene in the U.S. In the early '90s, his published articles on African music and the artists were eye openers to many Bay Area African music aficionados.