Marie Gayeri, winner of the 2017 Burkina Faso National Traditional Music contest

This past Saturday Bobo-Dioulasso hosted the opening ceremony of the 19th edition of the Semaine Nationale de la Culture, an annual cultural festival and contest that showcases performers from throughout Burkina Faso.  This year's edition will feature 1287 competitors across five categories, performing arts, painting, culinary arts, French language literature, and traditional sports (archery and wrestling).  Every evening the performing arts events--modern music, traditional music, choral music, traditional dance, contemporary dance, theater--are broadcast live on the National Television.

For traditional musicians, in particular, the Semaine Nationale de la Culture is an important event.  It is one of the only opportunities they have to perform for a national audience.  The Best Traditional Artist of the Year title is a coveted prize that can be a gateway to a larger audience.  Marie Gayeri has dominated the Semaine Nationale de la Culture over the last ten years.

Marie Gayeri was born on January 1, 1980 in the village of Tiongokperi, a village in the commune of Piela, in Gnagna province in eastern Burkina.  She is married, the mother of four children, and the uncontested star of Gourmantche traditional music. Marie started singing for her own pleasure in 1993.  Her professional career started in the late 1990s when she started singing with Tipouguimba Lankoande, a legend of Gourmantche music.

Marie launched her solo career in 2003 when she participated, for the first time, in the Semaine Nationale de la Culture.  In 2007, she won the Radio Television du Burkina Faso national traditional music contest.  The following year she won the Best Traditional Artist award at the Semaine Nationale de la Culture.  In 2014, she once again took the first place prize in the national radio traditional music contest.  In 2016, she dominated the Semaine Nationale de la Culture, winning both the Best Traditional Artist prize and recieving a special prize recognizing her outsize talent.  Most recently, in December 2017 she won her third first place prize in the national radio traditional music contest.  Marie performs throughout Burkina Faso and has represented her country abroad, most recently in Cote D'Ivoire (2016).

Marie Gayeri is a humble and ferociously talented woman.  She unassumingly walks onto the stage, smiles shyly at her audience, cues her musicians and listens intently before igniting the crowd with her extraordinarily powerful voice.  I have had the good fortune of sitting just a few feet away from Marie during several of her performances and her voice just resonates in your rib cage.

This post features six unreleased tracks from a recording session in 2012 in Ouagadougou.  All of these tracks were recorded live in a small studio with just one room microphone, just like the national radio used to do it in the 1960s.  Needless to say, all of these tracks were recorded live, just one take.  The band (flute, lute, calabash) are in lock-step with Marie.

Marie Gayeri

Don't sleep on these recordings if you are interested in traditional music.  Marie Gayeri is one of West Africa's most powerful traditional artists and she remains undeservedly unknown outside of Burkina.

Special thanks to Namoano Guikierba for her help with this post.