Magazine article African Business

The Kissi Queen: Guinea's Rising Star

Magazine article African Business

The Kissi Queen: Guinea's Rising Star

Article excerpt

Odju Watcha

By Sia Tolno


Cat: Lusafrica 562522

Sia Tolno comes from KLssi country, in southern Guinea, a region with a proudly independent ethnic identity and language distinct from the more familiar Mandingo tongue of Guinea.

The Kissi people live in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and are a minority population in all three West African countries. Increasingly, in order to escape various hardships, these people have drifted from their rural rainforest homelands to the large urban sprawls of Freetown and Monrovia, but have retained a strong affiliation with the culture and beliefs of their ancestors.

As a young girl, she had the ambition of becoming a lawyer, but the conflicts that threw the sub-region into chaos meant this could never be. Instead, her challenging childhood saw her father emigrate with the family to Sierra Leone where he went on to teach French. So in her early years she experienced conflict and the ever-present danger of inter-ethnic violence.

After the war began in earnest in Sierra Leone, the memory of which still echoes in Tolno's songs, she made Conakry her home base and used her voice to earn a living, singing in the bars and nightclubs of Guinea's capital. At first, it was a question of performing a cabaret repertoire, covering the songs of the likes of Nina Simone and Edith Piaf, but gradually she found her own voice and starting to write her own songs.

Although she also tried her hand at acting, and was very successful, gradually music came to dominate her life.

Appearing on a TV show being broadcast from Libreville, her gutsy, powerful delivery was noted by both Claudy Siar from Radio France Internationale and Pierre Akendengue, the great Gabonese musician, who pestered his producer, Jose da Silva, to sign the Guinean singer. …

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