Bamako, is Simphiwe Dana’s fifth album, having released Zandisile (2004), The One Love Movement on Bantu Biko Street (2006), Kulture Noir (2010) and Firebrand (2015) – prior to Bamako (2020). This recent release is an album of labour and tears after Simphiwe spent 20 hours per day for two years to gift it to us. Dana’s aforementioned albums which all came before Bamako, long cemented her as a maestro and a lyricist that writes like her ancestors tell her of their meetings with their God. There isn’t a single word that is unnecessary nor out of place.
Simphiwe Dana is one of those artists that make you feel – both feelings that you are familiar with, and ones that you will discover as you listen to her sing. She takes you to places you never knew existed; with Bamako she brings us home; an Africa without borders. The album is an African child who goes between its parent countries; Mali and South Africa. Bamako is a Pan-African album that tears asunder boarders and sings to you that you are welcome here. Co-produced by another legend, Salif Keita who, it is almost impossible not to hear throughout the album. With a wealth of instruments gracing each of the 13 tracks. The theme of love and heartbreak is one that has existed since the beginning of time, but it has never sounded this beautiful. It is a theme that people across ages and histories can relate to. On most songs, I felt like Simphiwe had detached her heart from her chest and took it with her to the mic – with all the wars it had survived, for God to listen to, answer and account, for these tragedies that it had experienced. However, if God couldn’t do this, all God had to do is listen. When your heart has been shattered by a person you thought loves you or a person who once loved tou, what can a songstress do but sing the blood that leaks from her heart away? This over consuming darkness that rips the heart and overshadows all the parts where love used to exist is evident on the second track of the album, “Kumnyama”. What can a musical genius do when she realises that the heart has a mind of its own and sometimes, it will go back to the hurt, trying to mend the little that is left between her and her lover?
A musical genius can only sing when she has tried to love and save love that, she forgets herself. A musical gift like Dana can only sing when she realises that some things are better left unfixed. These themes are ever present in “Ndizamile” and “Mr I”. Simphiwe gives us the honour of walking through her heart like never before. To walk through it with our shoes off,…… and to listen to it crumble. The ear and soul hears pain so deep it drives the listener to tears. Bamako seems to be the first album where she opens the door to her heart for us, where Dana doesn’t sing as part of the nation but, rather, as an individual. This is a humanising album. It forces us to rethink and adjust the lens we use to view the people that we admire, peoples who tear their limbs for us to recognise and give language to our own heartaches. We see Simphiwe as human and not a deified person on a pedestal, immune to pain and agony. Dana tells us that she once loved someone so hard, she broke herself and laid all that she is for the lover to trample all over her. A musical gift like Simphiwe can only sing when she decides some things are better left unfixed…, and that is what she takes us through with Bamako. The artist describes herself as “umgcini wamaxesha – the kind of artist who has her hand on the pulse of society”. So she does not shy away from singing about politics. The overtly ‘political songs’ on Bamako are “Usikhonzile”, “Masibambaneni”, “Mkhonto” and “Zabalaza”. “Mkhonto”, is another song about heartbreak but this time for the nation. For our hearts breaking over the leaders who turn their backs on the people they vowed to lead, thus reminding us that even our own leaders can break our hearts and turn their backs on their people without shame or a ticking consciousness as if they were spellbound.