All Female Orchestra – Cross-cultural collaboration in Mali

All Female Orchestra brings together female musicians from different ethnic groups of Mali as well as two Finnish musicians, Jenni Hannikka and Marjo Smolander. Both Smolander and Hanikka have a lot of experience in intercultural musical collaborations, especially with Malian musicians. The person in charge of this project in Mali is Salome Dembélé, whose wide networks and expertise in old Malian music traditions are a significant resource for this project.

For this subproject Dembélé, Hanikka and Smolander are planning a musical collaboration in which four or five other Malenese female musicians too will take part. Researcher Elina Seye will observe and analyze the cooperation process of the musicians. The project is carried out in three different periods. The first two will take place in Bamako, Mali in late 2022 and early 2023, and the third one takes place in Helsinki, Finland in late 2023. During the two periods in Mali the musicians will share their experiences and build their musical collaboration. The second period also includes recordings and performances. The third period consists of rehearsals and performances in Finland and possibly in other Nordic countries as well. The two latter periods will also include A Fo!, a Nordic–Malian band led by Jenni Hanikka, in which Dembélé and Hanikka have collaborated for several years.

Exchanges between different ethnic groups and intercultural work is common in today’s Mali, but the position of female musicians is still weak. The main purpose of this project is to offer female musicians an opportunity to network and to learn from one another. Through a collaboration crossing many types of borders we aim to find solutions to problems that limit female musicians’ chances to work as professional musicians. One way of supporting the careers of the attending musicians is to produce a record of the music created together. Also performances in Mali and in Finland will help the musicians develop their careers.

The artistic collaboration of All Female Orchestra is based on the assumption that regardless of the cultural and other differences female musicians do also have shared experiences of what it is like to work as a woman in a male-dominated industry. As the basis of this project is to bring female musicians from different  music cultural backgrounds together, expertise will be shared mutually, not just one way. Specific working methods and questions of what can and will be shared will be discussed together.

The collaboration between the musicians is another research topic of this project. The aim is to observe the interactions within the group of female musicians and to interview the participants in different stages of the working process. The goal is to focus on the intersections of gender, ethnicity, location and music tradition in the musicians’ actions and experiences and to analyze the multidirectional transculturation process during their collaboration.