Guns and guitars: Guinea Amazons march to own drum

Fri Nov 12, 2010 4:22am EST
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By Richard Valdmanis

CONAKRY (Reuters) - When Macire Toure isn't carrying her rifle on patrol through the streets of Guinea's capital, she's playing her saxophone with Les Amazones -- an all-female soldier band with hopes of international fame.

Like most in this turbulent West African country where people cast their ballots on Sunday in the first free vote since independence in 1958, she and her fellow musicians hope for political stability and a better future.

"During moments of difficulty in the country, we don't rehearse, we take care of the gendarmerie. But when there is calm, we do our music," she said.

The national guardswomen's band, now 20 strong, was formed in the 1960s under the administration of President Sekou Toure as a way to demonstrate gender equality within the military.

It started gaining traction as a commercial band in 2005 with tours to Europe and the release of two albums of rumba and afro-beat songs, mostly about love, peace, respect and patriotism -- never about politics.

At a rehearsal this week, band members still in their election security uniforms danced, sang and played their elderly instruments, misshapen, cracked and out of tune. But the music was sweet and upbeat and the players were smiling broadly.

They represent the soft side of Guinea's security forces, which have become infamous for indiscipline and brutality, and whose members have been implicated in at least two massacres of civilians in the past decade.

"Les Amazones are the main source of pride for the Guinean military," said Moussa Moise Diabate, the band's manager. "From the moment they start playing, even the victims of the military applaud their music."   Continued...