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Sia Tolno. Album “My Life”

Sia Tolno, May 2014
Sia Tolno, May 2014

Presentation

Sia Tolno is one tough singer. With a velvet and gravel voice reminiscent of the great Miriam Makeba, Tolno has triumphed over war, abuse, exile and migration. She s defied deadly conflicts and immigrant woes, filled with a fiery sense of right and wrong and with a deep love of music that bursts out of every twist and moan of her compelling voice. With songs that spring from her hard-earned wisdom and experience, Tolno shares My Life arranged by French prog-rock legend François Bréant. The album blends Afropop, delicate moments of soul and rock, and traditional instruments to match Tolno s earthy sophistication. Sia Tolno is one of the emerging talents from West Africa. The Sierra Leonean singer released this exciting album titled My Life. Sia Tolno has one of the best voices to have come out of Africa in recent years and she blends a fiery mix of West African rhythms, Afrobeat and Congolese rumba with powerful jazz brass, funk and call and response vocals. Guitarist Mamadou Camara does an outstanding job on the acoustic and electric guitars. “In my songs, even when I'm talking about sadness, it's not about despair or self-pity,” says Tolno. “I want people to know that I went through all these things but still, I'm leaving the past to walk toward the things I love. I'm so happy for that. And the only way to share this happiness is to make others happy through my songs.” Tolno had a difficult journey in life. She was forced to leave war- devastated Sierra Leone for the Republic of Guinea-Conakry, losing many loved ones. Tolno survived by singing in clubs, gaining respect and fans. She also sold palm oil. Tolno worked until she was discovered by a European record company representative at a talent contest. My Life is a superb album by Sia Tolno, one of the African singers to follow in the next years.

Album review

Sia's voice is quite different from her beginning years, back in the early 2000, Then, she performed in a high-tone voice. She also sought to expose further her Kissi roots. In this album, her vocal talent has somehow matured into a less-youthful and more adult age timbre. However, her imitation of Miriam Makeba is misguided. On one hand, it's quite understandable for Ms.Tolno to follow Mama Africa and uphold her as a role model. But, on the other hand, it's counterproductive to mimic the late great anti-Apartheid star. The CD sounds monotonous based on a mechanical drive to sound like Miriam. In the process, Sia Tolno strays from the great artistic tradition of her own people: the Kissi of Guinea and Sierra Leone. Too bad! Because she could/should have stuck with that rich repertoire and come up with a more original opus. Last but not the least, the musical arrangements compound this sense of uprootedness and artificial leap toward such genres as World Music, jazz, etc. Often, the shortest path to universality is true localization. Note: readers of French may get a sense of Kissi culture by checking out, for instance, André Schaeffner's Les Kissi. Une société noire et ses instruments de musique (1951). The book is acessible on webGuinée. I posted this review first on Amazon.
Tierno S. Bah