She was at the Lausanne Afro Fusion Festival (LAFF) early August. It was a belatedly added part of her 2017 European tour. She is already a star waiting to illuminate a crowd that have not had the taste of her music. Yes. She is Pamela Badjogo. From Mali. No, from Gabon but has adopted Mali as her second home.
At her hotel room next to the Esplanade de Montbenon, next to the festival’s venue she appeared relaxed just hours before she took to the stage. She had just returned to Europe after her performance at the Bantu Festival in Chicago in July.
Did she want to become a professional musician? Had she been into music all along? Not quite. Pamela was still studying microbiology in Mali when she sprung to stardom. Not that she was new to music. Far from it. She had always sung while in ‘Lycee’ (high school) in her native Libreville, Gabon.
“Music has always been my passion and a big part of my life but I kept studying. Singing was only on the side-lines, mainly for family reasons. I finished my studies and even worked in the field of microbiology for a few years. I was singing a lot in Mali and performing at various concerts. Two years ago I decided I was going to try my luck in the music industry internationally.” It was a fruitful trial that stuck.
“It has been swift ever since,” she said. In 2016 she launched her first album “Mes couleurs” at the Institut Français du Mali in Bamako. “It was a huge success,” she recollected. After this launch she went on to tour West Africa showcasing the “new born” album notably at the Masa Festival in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Jazzman in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The latter is the biggest in the country and is widely reckoned with in the sub region. She was invited as one of the key performers and she said of it: “That was such an honour and I was so excited to play in a festival such as this one. It’s quite an institution in Burkina Faso and West Africa », she said smiling. « My presence there really aroused curiosity around me and that had a great influence on the furtherance of my career.»
But what perhaps propelled her even further was her tour in France in 2016 during which she became one of the finalists at Radio France Internationale’s star music festival’ “Prix Decouverte.”
The uniqueness of her music is the blend. It is a mixture of her traditional Bantu homeland and the Mandingoes rhythms from Mali, her adoptive country. She said: “ I would describe my music as afro-jazzy, associating various African rhythms, tones and melodies. I love lyrical music and music with subtle notes or the Bantu music, which is typically native from Gabon so it was really important for me to try and incorporate these influences in what I do “
She not only sings, she composes and plays the guitar. She is always accompanied on stage by a pianist, a bassist, a saxophonist and a drummer. “Of course mine is not mainstream music,” gesticulating with open arms and beaming smiles as she went on: “It is dedicated more to an audience of connoisseurs but it does stay really groovy and I promise you, the crowd will dance and sway their hips tonight during the concert.»
Back home in Gabon, Pamela Badjogo is a gem. When she took to the stage to wrap up the 31st edition of the African Cup of Nations (ACN 2017) she lit up a stadium that was in doldrums with a tense political situation hovering over the otherwise pleasurable event. There was ecstasy among the crowds that sang along with one of ‘theirs.’ They exploded when she rendered her hit tune “Koule.” She also used the occasion to raise the awareness of breast cancer with a group of which she is a part.
At the dinner dance that followed the closing ceremony, she treated the audience to her smooth, soothing and melodic voice with cool music. This was a different atmosphere altogether and she admitted: “It was quite stressful mainly because I had to adapt to a different kind of public and I didn’t know how they would receive my music.”
Her performance at this football extravaganza in Gabon was an impetus for adding Lausanne and LAFF to her European tour this summer. For it was only after the closing ceremony that she was approached by the organiser of LAFF and she consented to add her voice to this small but impressive festival in Lausanne.
Pamela Badjogo is an engaged artist. She is a member of “Amazones d’Afrique”, a group that is fighting violence against women. She has already toured with them as one of the choristers and served as the body’s spokeswoman in Europe in 2016. “I’ve always been an activist for various causes and this one is really important to me so it was paramount to show this side of me as well. Violence against women is still such a recurrent problem in my country. It is noticeable but surprisingly not shocking. There is no law to protect abused women.” She also speaks of female circumcision from which she claims more than 80% of women suffer.
These were what moved her to join forces with another Gabonese artist to create Moussavo Ya Kobaye “Every woman is a mother and must be respected.” The two artists are planning events and activities to raise awareness of the issues
Her strong religious upbringing and education is a motivating factor in moving her towards protecting the rights and values of women. And with her now established international status she is better placed to stamp her authority and fight the good fight.