© Fifou

Her ancestors were Malian griots who transmitted their songs full of worldly wisdom orally, from generation to generation. Aya Nakamura (24) has updated that age-old recipe to the era of social media. Her liberated Afropop is a beacon of light for young women across the whole world.

"Oh Djadja / Y a pas moyen Djadja / J'suis pas ta catin Djadja” (“Oh Djadja / Just forget it, Djadja / I'm not your slut, Djadja”). Last summer, pretty much every young, outspoken woman cheerfully sang along to the catchy but very direct Afropop tune, and by no means only at all the urban festivals that have been shooting up like mushrooms over the past few years. Adults couldn't understand a word of Aya Nakamura's (24) street slang, which has roots in the suburbs of Paris and is very popular on social media.

In Belgium, the song by the French-Malian singer got stuck at number sixteen in the charts, but in The Netherlands and her homeland France, it went straight to the top. For our neighbours to the North, it was the first French-language song sung by a French singer to make it to number one since Édith Piaf's “Non, je ne regrette rien” in 1961. 1961! In the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, Nakamura said that the song packs a pretty angry punch, “about a woman who tells a boy (nick)named Djadja that he should start acting normal and stop spreading gossip and bedroom secrets on his smartphone. Especially if these presumed adventures between the sheets never actually happened.”

1685 AYA NAKAMURA
© Fifou

This self-proclaimed “première bad bitch de France” is completely fed up with the smear campaigns of boys who try to act tough by talking about all the people they have slept with on social media, and especially with the reversed burden of proof that is associated with it. “Once a story like that has spread, it is almost impossible to deny it. As a woman, it becomes your responsibility to prove that you did nothing wrong. I've had enough.”

And so have her friends and fans. Once she had spread the song via her own social media accounts, there was great relief. Phew, finally, someone who says it like it is! And it quickly seemed as though the whole world had adopted her statement, from the players of the French national football team, who celebrated their goals with the telephone gesture that she makes in the music video for “Djadja”, to the marchers who protested against violence against women.

Aya Nakamura, who was born Aya Danioko in Bamako in 1995, but who moved with her parents to the Paris suburb Aulnay-sous-Bois that same year, is not the first French-speaking singer to cause a furore outside the French-speaking community over the past few years. But she is the first black woman to do so with so much bravura and support. That's because unlike artists like Christine & the Queens for example, she delivers her message in the hip language of the projects and it is thus more aligned with international and American artists like Rihanna or Cardi B, who state more assertively that they will no longer settle for a subservient role.

On the other hand, she recently told the British newspaper The Guardian that the often-idealized image of African superwomen is not a benchmark either. “People have this idea that black women can do anything, but we're actually just like everybody else.” In other words, just let us be ourselves, like everyone else, and if you don't like that, get lost and leave us alone. This is a message with which her fans identify and from which they draw support, especially when it is delivered with the Afropop sounds that have become a mainstay of the charts.

From the age of sixteen, Danioko, who was later to rename herself after a character on the NBC show Heroes, started making music with friends. She would then upload it and her fame gradually grew. On the two albums that she has released so far, Journal intime (2017) and Nakamura (2018), the rough language of the street is enveloped in both Congolese rumba and traditional Malian string instruments as well as much smoother R&B, hip hop, and reggaeton beats produced with synthesizers and laptops.

“If you're descended from a family of griots, that automatically has an effect on you,” she continued in The Guardian. “They used to travel from village to village telling their stories and played the role of the media for past generations.” Even after the family had moved to France, her mother continued to sing her worldly wisdom at family gatherings on Sundays and at traditional weddings. In the meantime, uncles and aunts taught her about Malian culture. But the no-nonsense attitude that so strongly characterizes her music, a bastard child of the outskirts of Paris and the social media age, is entirely her own. “I have been very strong-willed since I was a child!”

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