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I met Mamy Kanouté on an artistic residency at La Factory, a small cultural centre and production house in Dakar, Senegal. Singers, musicians, photographers, writers and film-makers – we had all been brought together for the first phase of a new project to support young women artists in Senegal, who often find it difficult to access resources and support to develop their careers. This first stage of the residency focused on two young Senegalese women – Mamy Kanouté and Ngnima Sarr – both passionate about music and performance, both bringing very different life experiences and musical traditions to their work.
A recording of new songs was at the heart of the residency, but we were all free to explore our own visual, musical or literary narratives, to share ideas and to create a multi-textured piece of work that reflected Mamy and Ngnima’s stories.
Mamy comes from a ‘Griot’ family of singers and musicians and is steeped in traditional music and culture. We spent time with her in the city of Dakar, as well in Kousanar, the village where she grew up, and where many of her extended family live. After lunch at her husband’s family home one Friday, we were entertained with spontaneous dancing and drumming, not least from Mamy’s three-year-old son Vieux, who performed with such assurance and style – the Griot musical tradition in action. Across town in the working-class neighbourhood of Patte d’Oie, we met several generations of this renowned Griot family descended from the Kanoutés and the Cissohkos, and were welcomed with more exuberant singing and dancing. In Kousanar, we were inspired after meeting Mamy’s oldest relative – a youthful and wise 104 year old woman.