By Elsa Sichrovsky

In the 1980s, Niger underwent massive economic restructuring initiated by the aid requirements of the IMF and the World Bank. Young women who worked clerical jobs were hit hard by massive layoffs. Among them, a young Nigerien woman named Hamsou Garba faced being laid off from her job as a typist at a local bank, which she had held for eleven years. But when this door closed, Hamsou Garba found a window.

Far from being merely a typist, Hamsou Garba had been singing and performing from childhood. As a child, she transferred from an elite French school to an Arabic-French madrassa, which offered training in singing[1]. Just as her former livelihood was taken from her, the government recognized her musical talent and offered her a position as a “cultural mobilizer”[2]. This title gave her the status of a civil servant, which included a stable income and pension. It provided Hamsou Garba with the funding to develop a stable career as a professional artist, radio talk show host, and political activist.

Throughout her career, Hamsou Garba has boldly merged the potentially conflicting realms of music and politics. She has been an outspoken supporter of the Nigerien Democratic Movement for an African Federation and has produced songs promoting its leader, Hama Amadou. In fact, she was once accused of civil disobedience and imprisoned for singing a song urging citizens to vote for Hama Amadou[3]. Military regimes recruited her to put on performances to welcome foreign dignitaries. While Hamsou Garba’s political involvement has sparked controversy, having an active role in entertainment and politics as a Muslim woman in a patriarchal society is a groundbreaking achievement. Future generations of Nigerien women will be inspired to increase their public presence and make their voices heard.

She garnered a wide audience by performing in Hausa, Zarma, and French. Her musical talent allows her to be, in her own words, “my own author, composer, and editor” when she produces songs. She choreographs the dance routines that she performs with her fellow performers to accompany her music. With the entertainment group she founded, Groupe Annashuwa, she sings songs ranging widely from love and religion to public health, AIDS, and politics.

 

Hamsou Garba should have been congratulated for being able to earn a living through her passion for music, but instead, she met with jealousy and criticism from her colleagues. The griot community felt she was subverting their inherited cultural role.  Hamsou Garba did not come from musical family background but was simply pursuing a childhood interest in performing. Without a culturally or religiously endowed role, Hamsou Garba’s career as a female performer goes against deeply rooted social expectations for a Muslim woman. However, Hamsou Garba believes that her talent is a “gift from Allah”, which she is responsible to develop for the benefit of society.

In addition to her musical career, Hamsou Garba strives to empower women through her radio talk show. She discusses issues such as the lack of female representation in the local government to encourage women to be active in the political life of their communities. She actively engages with the audience and encourages them to call in with comments on the topic of debate. This gives women a platform to publicly express their views on important political and social issues, rather than remain invisible in a male-dominated political structure.

Wells Bring Hope seeks to give women the financial means and the social support to emerge from invisibility and develop their talents. There is hope for the new generation of Nigerien girls to have the confidence and the resources to pursue their dreams, starting with education and social awareness,. Join Wells Bring Hope in breaking the cycle of poverty and give Nigerien young people hope for a brighter future unimaginable to past generations.

You can enjoy Hamsou Garba’s energetic music here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRdIKH3W0Z0

[1] https://africasacountry.com/2013/12/four-nigerien-women-musicians-you-should-know/

[2] Ousseina Alidou, Engaging modernity: Muslim women and the politics of agency in postcolonial Niger. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

[3]https://www.actuniger.com/societe/11160-elections-2016-la-cantatrice-habsou-garba-sous-mandat-de-d%c3%a9p%c3%b4t-%c3%a0-la-prison-civile-de-niamey.html