From North to South Africa, everyone will tell you: Guinean women are well-known for their character!
A first meeting with Sia Tolno confirms the stereotype: she is not only beautiful, she is decisive, strong and determined too. What we immediately wonder is why we have only just found out about this rising star, a woman in her early thirties with a golden voice (she has already been compared to Miriam Makeba) and an easy body language that suggests great stage presence. So how on earth have we managed to miss out on her until now?
Well, Africa is still a long way off, and especially Kissi country, a southern region of Guinea with its own ethnic group, language, dense forest and… record rainfall. That’s where Sia comes from, not the more familiar Mandingo Guinea at all. The Kissi people actually live astride three countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. That’s colonial borders for you...
When the Kissis decide to leave their forest (not a decision to be taken lightly, since they have the greatest reverence for their lush, humid land), they tend to head to Freetown or Monrovia rather than Conakry. The Kissis we meet outside their own country speak English more often than French, and their artists are more inclined to set their sights on London or New York than Paris.
That was very much the story of Sia Tolno, whose father left for Sierra Leone to teach French when she was very young. At the time, Sierra Leone and Liberia were going through a troubled period that is still firmly engraved in Africa’s collective memory… and Sia’s too. She talks a lot about war, especially the worst kind of all: civil war. She also sings about it, in an effort to exorcise the demon.
As a girl, she wanted to become a lawyer, but the throes that rocked the sub-region threw the whole social system out of kilter, doing little to pave the way for such a career. As a young woman, she loved acting and soon made a name for herself with her flawless diction and endlessly inflected voice. Music was just a step away.
She took that step slowly. Here and there, she was asked to perform great classics from other great singers in drinking dens or cabarets: the Nina Simone version of Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me) or Piaf’s La Vie en Rose - not songs that lie within everyone’s grasp.
This peaceful, rather anonymous routine, could have continued indefinitely had she not at last been discovered by a producer who arranged for her to record her first album in 2002. It won a Djembé d'Or award. At that point, Sia Tolno began to write her own songs.
The other defining moment came in 2008 in Libreville, where the famous TV talent show “Africa Stars” is recorded. Sia was the Guinean entry and made a strong impression on both Claudy Siar from Radio France International and Pierre Akendengue, the great Gabonese musician, who urged his friend (not to mention producer) José da Silva to sign the Guinean singer.
He did so. Today, in Cuba, Paris and Conakry, Sia Tolno has finally been able to record a album worthy of her talent, working with the finest musicians directed by maestro Kante Manfila. Now it is ready to melt into your ears. A star is born…
« Eh Sanga » CD Lusafrica 562302
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