One of Mali's leading rappers and the voice behind one of the world's greatest kuduro hits share stage.
PONGO, one of the foremost kuduro artists in the world, the singer on the global club hit “Kalemba (Wegue Wegue)” and among the biggest talents on the Portuguese music scene, is ready for Oslo World.
She was born in 1992, and grew up in Angola, plagued by civil war. In her neighbourhood, people used music and dance, chiefly semba and kizomba, as useful distractions. On Sundays, they held dance contests in which eight years old Pongo dominated together with her father. These memories are present in her music and at her concerts, which have a tendency to end up in dance extravaganzas.
Her family had to flee from the war, and ended up in Lisbon. Pongo was pulled away from her roots, but also experienced a new world. Her music provided her with hope, and early on she started singing in church. As a teenager, on her way to school, she got to know a gang called “Denon Squad” who used to sing and dance to attract attention from the girls passing by. She joined them, first as a dancer, later on as a singer when the group got small gigs in the neighbourhood.
When she got older, she explored the club scene in Lisbon. It didn’t take long before she made a name for herself in the local kuduro scene. Kuduro is a trans-atlantic hybrid of hip-hop, house, zouk and soco. When she was fifteen, she made her debut on the monster hit “Kalemba (Wegue Wegue)” with Buraka Som Sistema. The song has been played in clubs all over the world - including Oslo - ever since.
After the success, Pongo went solo, at a time where the music scene in Lisbon grew radically more diverse, with music from the portuguese speaking parts of Africa at the forefront of the evolution. The city’s scene features a unique postcolonial mesh of nationalities — Angolan, Guinean, Cape Verdean and Mozambican among them — and the music reflects that diversity. It has become part of the portuguese sound in a way hard to imagine only a few years ago. Pongo is part of that development, and has become one of the most exciting artists in progressive kuduro, which she infuses with inspiration from her childhood in Angola, mixed with langa, zaïco, EDM, dancehall and tribal pop.
On her critically lauded debut EP, “Baia” from 2019, we heard a complete artist ready to take over the world. The next step, her debut album, will drop right before she enters the Blå stage during Oslo World.
Ami Yerewolo, who plays at Blå the same night is one of Mali's foremost rappers and an activist, who fights for women's rights both on and off stage.
Rap might not be the first genre you think of when the subject is the music from Mali, but things change, and today, Ami Yerewolo is among the most prominent artists behind this change. She is Malis most successful female rapper at the moment, but when people have tried to call her “Mali’s only female rapper”, she has protested in the most effective way possible. She founded a hip hop festival in her home country, with exclusively female artists on the roster. She has received several awards, both for her own music and her work on the scene.
She grew up in the small town of Mahina. Her grandfather, Sidi Danioko, became a key figure, a mentor and protector, encouraging her to fight for her own freedom. In 2013, she finished her accounting studies, left her home to live alone and focus on a professional rap career. It took courage. Perhaps that is the reason that she called her company, working for female musicians in Mali, “Denfari Events”. In bambara, “denfari” means “a child who is not afraid of challenges”.
When she was invited to join the rap collective 223, led by one of her idols, the rapper Yeli Fuzzo from Fanga Fing, she said no. “As a woman, you have to fight for what you want,” she has said in interviews. “I could never be anyone’s slave”. Shortly after, she released the debut album “Naissance”, followed by another solo album and a collaboration with Amazone d’Afrique. With her last album “AY”, which was released in the spring of 2021 on Blick Bassy’s new label, the plan is to conquer the rest of the world.
West African instruments like kora, ngoni and yebara are mixed with a blend of rapping in bambara and french, often about controversial themes like sexism and injustice in her music. “I’m not very political”, she has stated earlier, but circumstances have challenged this stance. The political discontent in Mali has grown rapidly, with contested election results, civil war looming in the north and a collapse in confidence in president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The rage cannot be ignored, even by artists who want to grapple with other themes. A song like “Lettre Ouverte” (“open letter”) opens with the cry “Trop, c’est trop!” (“Enough is enough”). It articulates the feelings of millions of angry, frustrated Malians. Yerewolo has become a rebel and a voice of the people by necessity.
She has reached listeners from all over the African continent, and she still wants more. She is ready to play for a Norwegian audience for the very first time at Blå, during Oslo World 2021.