Real World has had the honour to work with a diverse mix of talented female artists from every corner of the world. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we’ve created a new playlist which is an expanded version of our 2001 album Gifted: Women of the World. Have a listen on Apple Music and Spotify, and get to know a bit more about these wonderful women below.
The story of Maryam Mursal is both tragic and inspiring – the tale of a strong and determined woman whose music reflects her life, a powerful and dramatic mix of sorrow and joy. To hear her sing is to recognise the triumph of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity; in a feat of breath-taking endurance, before her extraordinary voice could be heard in the west, Maryam was forced to spend seven months walking across the Horn of Africa with her five children, fleeing the civil war in her native Somalia, eventually finding refuge at the Danish embassy in Djibouti and a new life in Europe. Throughout her remarkable journey she had kept a journal, and it provided powerful material for her song writing that became two records for Real World: the more traditional New Dawn, recorded with members of Waaberi, and The Journey, a funkier modern take on her Somalian roots.
Totó la Momposina
Totó La Momposina’s entire life has been dedicated to representing the music of Colombia’s Caribbean coastline. As a singer, dancer and teacher she embodies that fertile place where Colombia’s African, Indigenous Indian and Spanish cultures mingle to create a unique musical tradition. Totó is not only its greatest interpreter, but a restless innovator too. It was an invitation to perform at the WOMAD Festival in 1991 that led to Totó’s participation in the first Real World Recording Week that year, and ultimately to the recording of the songs – with legendary American producer Phil Ramone at the controls in 1991 and English producer John Hollis for the follow-up sessions in 1992 – that would become her pivotal Real World album, La Candela Viva. Now in her sixth decade reflecting the experience of her native Colombia through her life and music the two things have become intertwined: the story of Totó La Momposina is truly the story of modern Colombia.
Ríoghnach is the vocalist with recent Real World signing, The Breath, and has also guested with Afro Celt Sound System. Drawing on the influences of traditional Irish folk song, Connolly’s original lyrics pour forth from her own life in a torrent of meaning. She sings songs of birth and death, woman’s rights, first love, the call of motherhood, the death of men at sea and post-colonial wrongs. All delivered with compelling emotional honesty and a raw urgency as bandmates Stuart McCallum, John Ellis and Luke Flowers delve deeply into the spaces between rock, ambient, folk and jazz to deliver a powerfully hypnotic accompaniment that moves from chilled soundscapes to rocking anthems.
Born in South London to a South Indian immigrant family, Sheila Chandra discovered her voice at the age of twelve and from this moment her chosen path was to be a singer. Lacking any real contacts or access to the music business, she nevertheless honed her vocal skills as a labour of love, developing the ability to cross continents in a single vocal line and weave seamlessly the vocal styles of the Arab world, Andalucia, Ireland, Scotland, India as well as more ancient structures such as Gregorian plainsong. Chandra’s trilogy of albums for Real World she says are the best work of her musical career: A true fusion within one mind and one voice.
Though this may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with Brazil’s music scene, Daúde is a rare find: a Black woman in Brazil’s eclectic pop-roots music, known as Música Popular Brasileira (MPB), and the first to fuse MPB with African roots and modern production values, setting the whole thing alight with sensual, driving dance beats. While many of her peers have been abandoning Brazilian music to undertake rock, hip-hop, techno and dance, Daúde takes the opposite tack. She looks to see how these forms can be brought back to enhance Brazilian music, not to replace it. The mix is all her own and the style she has created is unique.
Central Asia’s Silk Road legend conjures a centuries-old route to a world of fabulous opulence, architectural treasure and music that has entertained kings at court and villagers in communal celebrations. Music embodied by the image of a lone woman singing and plucking away at an ancient lute; an ethereal beauty with tumbling dark hair and a luminous, otherworldly voice. A woman not unlike Sevara Nazarkhan – if she was around a few hundred years ago, that is. Armed with a healthy respect for tradition and a penchant for sonic experimentation, Sevara is doing things her way. Her first album Yol Bolsin is meeting place between old and new and her follow-up, Sen, takes Central Asia’s Silk Road on a stunning detour. Today her critically acclaimed albums and international touring have established Sevara not only as one of Asia’s most timeless and talented singers but a emerging pop diva for the future.
Lisa Jen Brown
Lisa Jen Brown is the lead singer in Welsh band 9Bach. 9Bach’s music is an atmospheric, evocative, and emotional hybrid of the Welsh folk tradition, and of contemporary influences and working practices. Building on a deepened, almost ambient sound picture, the songs take you into the landscape and the emotions that it evokes. Lisa’s heritage is central to her identity: ‘For us, writing and singing in Welsh is the most normal thing to do; it’s instinctive. We’ve had a few queries and comments asking why do we sing in Welsh when we could make more money singing in English? The answer is Welsh is my first language… my creative brain and ideas swim in the small streams that run into the crystal clear lakes – LLyn Idwal, Llyn Ogwen, the Ogwen Valley. I can’t escape that, it’s in you if you’ve been breathing this air since forever.’
Mariam Doumbia is one half of Amadou & Mariam, ‘the blind couple from Mali’, who have been playing their warm African rhythms and infectiously catchy melodies for almost thirty years now. After establishing a reputation in Africa, the duo finally broke onto the international music scene in two stages, first with the hit single ‘Mon amour, ma chérie’ in 1998. They then confirmed their new star status in 2004 with the album Dimanche à Bamako, produced by Manu Chao. Mariam features on ‘I Play The Kora’ on Les Amazones d’Afrique‘s album République Amazone.
Jane Harbour is a composer and violinist, based in Bristol, England, and a member of Spiro, which she formed in 1993. She was classically trained in the Suzuki method and studied with Shinichi Suzuki in Japan, and became inspired by Bach, Bartok, Britten and Stravinsky. Her composition later became influenced by electronica, American minimalism and systems music, blending melodies of classical weight with driving rhythmic riffs of unusual spiky beauty, deep layers of interplay between the instruments and a dynamic use of systems, aiming to produce moving, exciting and new music.
The journey from Lhasa in Tibet over the high Himalayas to Dharamsala in India has got to be one the most testing and physically gruelling exploits that anyone can undertake and yet hundreds of Tibetans do just that each year in search of freedom. Yungchen Lhamo walked this road to exile as a teenager back in 1989. Her musical gifts had already been recognised in Tibet where her name, which means “goddess of melody and song” was given to her by a holy man. She has released three acclaimed albums on Real World Records, Tibet Tibet, Coming Home and Ama, which features duets with Annie Lennox and Joy Askew. The diminutive and yet visually arresting Yungchen has a voice of astounding clarity and purity. Her songs are intimate tales of love for her homeland and her people and her story is an emblem of courage, perseverance, devotion and musical genius.
Nneka Lucia Egbuna is an award-winning Nigerian singer based in Germany. She is deeply influenced by her roots and the political and social states of her home country are often prevalent in her music and live performances. What makes Nneka’s type of music unique in the diaspora is the blending of her native Igbo language with English language – projecting a positive image for Nigeria abroad and this style has been widely accepted by her fans. Nneka features on ‘La Dame et Ses Valises’ and ‘I Play The Kora’ on Les Amazones d’Afrique‘s debut album, République Amazone.
Songwriters have often travelled far and wide in search of inspiration. But the crazy journey undertaken by Austrian singer, songsmith and musician Pina Kollars is unusual by anyone’s standards. Raised in Vienna, she studied classical guitar at the city’s Conservatorium and could easily have chosen a career as a full-time classical instrumentalist or music teacher. But Pina opted for a dramatic change of scenery. Armed with just her guitar and a few songs – and accompanied by her then-husband and their baby daughter – Pina moved from the Austrian capital to pastoral West Cork, in Ireland. Inspired by her new environment, Pina’s songwriting blossomed and she was soon showcasing her talent for representatives of the London music business. With little Luise often by her side on these flying visits to the capital, she quickly built herself a formidable reputation among London’s talent spotters. ‘A ball that had been standing still for an eternity suddenly began moving, and Pina perked the interest of Real World Records. However, by the time she was making her debut record, Quick Look, Pina was facing up to the aftermath of a painful divorce, a separation that she went on to examine in heartbreaking detail on the album.
Kandia Kouyaté is a Malian jelimuso (a female griot) and kora player; she has earned the prestigious title of ngara, and is sometimes called La dangereuse and La grande vedette malienne. Kouyaté’s dense, emotional, hypnotic manner of singing and her lyrical talents have earned huge acclaim in Mali, though she remained relatively little known outside Africa, due to extremely limited availability of her recordings. Her home town of Kita is known for love songs, which form a large part of Kouyaté’s repertoire. She can be heard on several tracks of the debut album by Les Amazones d’Afrique.
Jocelyn Pook is one of the UK’s most versatile composers, having written extensively for stage, screen, opera house, and concert hall. She has established an international reputation as a highly original composer, winning her numerous awards and nominations including a Golden Globe, an Olivier and two British Composer Awards. Encouraged by Real World’s penchant for blurring boundaries, she channelled her trademark combination of classicism and innovation into an exhilarating gem of an album, Untold Things, one which pulls off that rare coup of putting listeners in touch with their deeper feelings. ‘Untold Things’ will, no doubt, be the source of many an epiphany. You could say that it has a spiritual, even magical, quality, as befits one who is constantly changing artistic shape – and whose surname is the Celtic word for fairy.
Angélique Kidjo’s first performing experience was as a six year old actor-dancer in her mother’s theatre troupe. From that point on, music became her sole passion. As a teenager, Kidjo was inspired to write songs by the sounds of Hendrix, Santana, Miriam Makeba, Fela Kuti, James Brown, the Beatles and Aretha Franklin. Before her twentieth birthday she was one of Benin’s few professional female vocalists. Difficulties with the political environment in her homeland prompted Kidjo to relocate to Paris. Thriving in the city’s African music underground, she progressed from singer of Jasper van’ hof ‘s fusion band Pili Pili, to leader of her own band within five years. Established as one of Paris’s top live acts, Kidjo was quickly discovered by Chris Blackwell and signed on Mango. Today, Angelique Kidjo is a bonafide global phenomenon whose performances are always legendary events. Her style of music varies from afro-funk, reggae, samba, salsa, gospel, jazz, Zairean rumba, souk and makossa which combined together creates her soulful unique sound of music. She features on the opening track of République Amazone by Les Amazones d’Afrique, ‘Dombolo’.
Often referred to as the ‘golden voice of Mozambique’, the late Zena Bacar’s philosophical view of the world fed her band Eyuphuro‘s contemporary songs of love and social criticism, providing a sharply observed commentary on life in Mozambique and particularly the inequalities faced by women in that society. The woman-man relationship on the band’s only Real World release, Mama Mosambiki, is characterised by a sequence of songs about love, such as the love she unselfishly gives to her lover (‘Mwanuni’); to her husband (‘Nifungo’ and ‘Nuno Maalani’); to her children (‘Oh Mama’); to society as a whole (‘Samukhela’ and ‘Kihiyeny’) — and in return is rewarded by being abandoned, divorced, forgotten and ignored.
Assitan Keïta, popularly known as Mamani Keïta, is a singer and musician from Bamako in Mali. ‘Mamani’ literally means ‘grandmother’. She was raised speaking Bambara, and was a backup singer for Salif Keïta. Having worked with Real World in the past on Tama‘s album Espace and Gifted: Women of the World, we were delighted to make a connection with the singer once again for the groundbreaking project Les Amazones d’Afrique in 2017.