Awa was born in 1972 in Bamako, the capital of Mali, but she spent her childhood in Dire, in the Timbuktu region of the north. She is a descendent of two great empires, The Songhai of Dire, and the Mande, or Malinke, of Kayes. Awa’s family name, Sangho, indicates that she comes from the Mabo, griots—musical historians—of the Songhai. Griots are charged with honoring the histories of families in their region. Awa’s mother is a Kouyate—a Mande griot—and her earliest memories include watching her mother sing at weddings and naming ceremonies. As a child, Awa showed clear musical talent, singing everything she heard—children’s songs, Songhai, Mande, and Bambara numbers that were played on the radio, even blues, which has a special resonance in northern Mali, as evidenced by the career of one of her great musical mentors, Grammy-winning guitar maestro Ali Farka Toure.



Awa Sangho is a proud daughter and shining star of West Africa. Raised in the desert north of Mali, where her stunning voice was first recognized and celebrated, educated in Bamako, where she learned the trade of music, Awa established herself in Abidjan, the capital of music production in the region in the 1980s. There, she sang, danced, acted, and began to travel the world with the legendary Ensemble Koteba, and the women-led band she co-founded in 1993, Les Go de Koteba. All this was preamble to Awa’s move to New York City in 2011. This year, Awa unveils her first solo recording, Alataye Tougnaye “The Truth Belongs to God” (Motema). The album draws upon all Awa’s rich experiences, and realizes her long-held goal of presenting a personal musical vision, and assuming the role of cultural ambassador to the world.

Awa was raised by her grandmother, who encouraged her to set her sights high. She moved on to Bamako for schooling, and then, in 1988, to Abidjan to live with her father. “Abidjan was very cosmopolitan then,” Awa recalls.  “Everyone was coming—Mory Kante, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour.” In this exciting new milieu, Awa auditioned for the prestigious Ensemble Koteba of Abidjan, led by Souleymane Koly. She passed easily, and began a demanding apprenticeship in acting and dance.


Ensemble Koteba demands much of its artists. They must be authentically African, but also tuned into Abidjan’s diverse cultures and urban sensibilities. Koteba performances deliver a total show, combining music, dance, and theatre.


Awa shone in all areas, and quickly established herself as one of the most talented artists the company has ever seen.  Awa joined a contingent of some 25 Koteba artists to complete a 10-month performance and teaching residency in France. She went on to perform with Koteba in landmark European productions in Limoges (1988), Bordeaux (1990), Paris (1991), Avignon (1993), among others. Koteba also performed in the US, and, of course, in Africa, including the Francophonie Games in Niamey, Niger (2005), and the Togo Nouveau production for national reconciliation in Lome (2006), where Koteba trained and performed with 300 local artists.




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