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Sia Tolno wins the 2011 RFI Discoveries Award


The jury presided by Richard Bona has elected Sia Tolno from Guinea-Conakry as the winner of this year’s RFI Découvertes Award. The artist topped the final selection, ahead of Bongeziwe Mabandla (South Africa) and Metzo Djatah (Senegal). Djatah took the Internet public’s vote, which counted for one voice in the judging. Tune into RFI and RFI Musique over the next few days to hear Sia Tolno’s music.

Originally from Forested Guinea, a region in the South of the country, Sia Tolno comes from a village from Kissi country on the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia. Her father was a French teacher in Sierra Leone, where the young woman lived as a child and where she began studying. But at the first stirrings of civil war, the family returned to Guinea. More English-speaking than French-speaking, she experienced her return as a form of exile: she had never really known Guinea, having lived so long outside it.

She learnt to sing at an early age with the cousins she visited in the holidays. When she returned definitively to Guinea she had to find work: so she sang in the cabarets and piano bars of Conakry. She sang songs by Whitney Houston, Edith Piaf or African standards.

She had already begun to write songs and compose, when, in 2002, she was spotted by a producer. Her first album, La voix de la forêt, came out soon afterwards. She was awarded a Golden Djembé as Best Female Voice of the Year.

First international steps

It was in 2008 that she became really well-known, when she appeared on the TV show Africa Star in Libreville, (finishing in fourth place). That was where Pierre Akendengué, the internationally acclaimed Gabonese musician noticed her and urged his friend, the producer José Da Silva, to sign a contract with this young woman.

So, in 2009, her first album was released with Lusafrica, produced and arranged by the master Kanté Manlifa. Eh Sanga (which means "suffering" in the artist’s mother tongue) is a dark disc sung in French, English and Kissi. She has the good fortune to be accompanied by the saxophonist Mamadou Barry.

She returned to composing and in 2011 in the Mory Kanté Studio in Conakry she recorded a new album arranged by François Bréant, ex-producer for Thione Seck and Salif Keita. Sia, passionately denounces "demokilling" as she calls it, a pessimistic African version of democracy. My Life, is its title, and it will be released at the end of September 2011. The first track, Odju Watcha, combines electric guitar with her own type of afro-funk, sung in a creole which mixes Kissi and Mende, two of the languages spoken in her native region of Guéckédou.

This track reflects her personality well. Today she is being compared to Miriam Makeba, doubtless because of her unquestionable energy, the depth of her voice as well as the pan-African musical vision she offers.

Translation: Caroline Preller

Sia Tolno on MySpace

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