Changing the African Narrative: Aya Nakamura

Aya Nakamura has been writing and releasing music on Youtube since 2016[1]; the Mali-born French musician would make her entrance into the international music scene in 2018 with the release of her second album, NAKAMURA. This album gained international popularity with the hit song “Djadja.”

In an interview with The Guardian[2], the artist elaborates on her ties to West Africa  and her Malian heritage. She explains that despite having grown up in the suburb of Paris, France, her Malian history was taught and understood through her mother’s role as a griot[3]. The appreciation that Nakamura has for her Malian roots are abundantly clear in her 2017 track “Ouman Sangaré,” dedicated in name to the award-winning Malian musician, Ouman Sangaré.

Early in 2021, she released the song “Bobo” which centers around an intimate female-male relationship that lacks respect toward the female, leaving the woman feeling better off without him stating: “J’veux de l’air, avec toi je m’emmêle.” Translated into English, this line says “I want some air, with you I get tangled [up].” There seems to be little influence of her heritage in this track’s lyrical composition.

However, when the music video was released, fans were surprised to see Aya in her Malian home, enclothed in designer brands, singing about her insufficient lover.

Aya Nakamura utilized a common route to success in mainstream music by drawing her audience in with catchy lines and a relatable love story, this pattern is especially common for international artists. Despite the small margins available for doing so, she does not assimilate to these western patterns of music composition without leaving room for her Malian roots. Oftentimes, African artists are viewed as escaping the misfortune of having been born in Africa. This creates the idea that Africa is inhabitable, and Africans need assistance in leaving their impoverished homes.

The artistic decision to film the music video in Mali was successful in challenging these assumptions without detering the audience but rather enticing them. Aya Nakamura’s choice to return to Mali and film this upbeat and empowering music video approaches misconceptions of Africa that loom over African artists today. Without making a political statement, the video forces the individual viewer to acknowledge this bias through a, at surface- level, breakup song.


[2] Amrani, Imam. “Aya Nakamura: Afropop’s Reluctant Face of Empowerment.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 23 Jan. 2019,,traditional%20Malian%20poet%20or%20singer.

[3] An oral historian in regions in and around Mali and Senegal. (Feminized to Griotte in French)

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