Thursday, 8 March 2012


Bafing Kul in concert in Paris
Not many performers could engage an audience with a song denouncing female circumcision, but Malian reggae singer Bafing Kul managed to achieve this at a concert in Paris this week to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8.

“Circumcision is mutilation,” he told spectators, urging them to chant along with him at the concert held at UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency.

"The practice has no cultural relevance,” he added.

Kul and Moroccan soul/jazz singer Oum were the featured performers at the concert, and it was a pity that their show wasn’t more widely publicised because they had an important message about the need to continue defending women’s rights.

According to the World Health Organization, some 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of female circumcision or genital mutilation.

The practice involves “removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and hence interferes with the natural function of girls' and women's bodies”, WHO says.

Genital mutilation “causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth also causing dangers to the child,” the organization says.

Art is one way to draw attention to these issues, and Kul seemed at ease with using his music as a “weapon against ignorance and fundamentalism”, as he put it. With infectious rhythms and an energetic stage presence, he presented music that harked back to the best days of reggae, when lyrics had meaning.

Kul might try too hard to channel Bob Marley, but he stands out for trying to tackle serious issues when so many other singers seem content to produce commercial drivel. In Mali, 80 percent of women are affected by genital mutilation, so Kul is breaking with tradition when he condemns the practice. His First album “Yelen” has 11 songs that call for justice, equality and respect for human rights.

Moroccan singer Oum with her band
For her part, Oum entertained the audience with a mixture of funk, jazz and pop. The Casablanca-born vocalist sang in English, French and Arabic, and her pure tone did justice to the different styles of music even if at times she seemed to fuse too many elements.

Oum was at her best when she performed songs that had echoes of traditional Moroccan culture mixed with African beats that made one want to stand up and dance.  She said she was glad to be a voice for her country and for Africa, and to represent women singers who don’t fit any prescribed mould.