Ami Yerewolo has been struggling to make it as a rap artist in Mali for 10 years.
Finally, though, things are working out for her. Today she drops her third album – AY – her first since being signed to the label of internationally acclaimed Cameroonian musician Blick Bassy.
The album is full of energy, and what sounds like anger too, but Yerewolo says it marks a new phase in her work.
“In my music I talk about things which concern me. I live in a society in which so many things are done to women, things which I myself have had to endure. I’ve been discriminated against so many times.
But in my new album I’m talking about my spirituality, because, after all, the difficulties I’ve been through have made me the woman I am today.”
Yerewolo was born in the small village of Mahina and grew up listening to the greats of Malian music, artists like Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare. She was not exposed to rap.
“Even me, I’m not sure where my desire to do rap came from… I think it was natural to me because I had things I wanted to say.”
Her family didn’t want her to do music at all, let alone rap.
“In Mali rap is associated with delinquents and street kids, so to see a woman, especially a woman with a certain level of education, who is determined to do hip-hop is very badly regarded.
“I had to sacrifice part of my youth, my childhood, my family – I pretty much sacrificed everything for my music.”
She didn’t get much encouragement from Mali’s music establishment either.
“There are certain people here who decide who should be given exposure and who should not. They don’t care about talent, they don’t care about the effort you are putting in. They look at you like you’re less than nothing. Excuse my language, but in Mali, you have to lick their butts to get on.
“I’m not saying all artists do that, but in general artists who succeed without doing that have succeeded elsewhere first.
“I’ve spent 10 years producing myself. I never found a producer, I never found a manager. I worked on the side to be able to pay to produce my songs, but now it’s OK thanks be to God.”
Bassy recognised Yerewolo’s talent and determination and signed her after just one meeting.
“He admired me as a rapper, and never tried to get me to do something else, to not be me. He also never asked me to rap in French or English. He loved how I rap in Bambara.”
Having finally had a piece of luck herself, Yerewolo is also doing her bit for other women in Mali who want to rap. She’s set up a festival of female rap.
“I don’t want my little sisters coming up behind me to face the same difficulties I had. I want to open the door to other young women. It can be hard, it can be complicated, but if they believe in themselves, they can succeed.”