African Voices

The African Voices Project (AV)

African Voices


Alex Zito, Masse Ndiaye, Leigh Swigart and John Hutchison after an AV interview
Alex Zito, Masse Ndiaye, Leigh Swigart and John Hutchison after an AV interview

To promote African language literacy and to serve the interests of African language readers throughout the world.


The AV project began in 2006 with a suggestion from Alex Zito, then a Boston University graduate student researching West African language literacy. He thought that first-person stories about the experiences of Africans in the diaspora might inform and interest African readers and make Africans want to read these stories in their own languages.

The idea of the project was to produce African literature in African languages capturing the plight and the lives of African diaspora emigrés. He and his professor, John Hutchison ALMA Director, began inviting African friends and acquaintances to become part of the project. The project grew in scope and involved the contacting of many Africans, not only students but all whose stories would be of interest to potential African language readers. The results are shown here, and we continue to add the stories of many different Africans, from all walks of life whether here in the diaspora, or even in Africa.

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The AV Project is sponsored by the West African Research Association (WARA) and its African Language Materials Archive (ALMA) Project.

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Background essay

The recent history of African education has been marked by a plethora of efforts in the non-formal realm that have fallen under the rubric of adult education and (maternal language) literacy programs. The universally touted wisdom, magnanimity and experience of an organization like UNESCO in this domain are accepted unquestionably, and UNESCO is lauded for its efforts. However, have such organizations, in fact, discovered the formula necessary for encouraging widespread literacy, particularly in maternal languages? In all but a few exceptional cases, adult literacy programs have failed to produce a print-rich, literate environment and a culture of reading. Whether providing instruction in the colonial language or in local African languages, the non-formal sector has yet to succeed in improving literacy rates in Africa. Today there are NGOs that are succeeding at literacy perhaps more than the national literacy services.

This project identifies and proposes other efforts linked to emerging “literatures” which, given their timely and topical nature, offer great promise and linguistic and cultural continuity in spite of the chaotic turmoil of our globalized planet. Here, are collected, oral narratives, produced by those who have for one reason or another been displaced in today’s world, in their own languages. For this kind of narrative, which is compelling for a broad range of stakeholders, the voices are of those who for educational, environmental or political reasons have been obliged to abandon their traditional homelands, who have been drawn to a capital city or other metropolis, perhaps for employment and economic reasons. It includes those who for one reason or another have given up their country and emigrated to another country with greater employment and income opportunities.

Alex Zito suggests that the topics of urbanization and emigration could foster a literature and spawn a readership in Africa. That suggestion constitutes the foundation of AV. Though in its infancy, it has already proven extremely compelling and moving.

Alex Zito and John Hutchison have done research on the evolution of literate environments and the history of literacy. They have come to realize that literacy programs and efforts in Africa could benefit from a greater awareness of how new generations of readers have been spawned elsewhere in relatively short periods of time. Zito is a doctoral candidate in Boston University’s University Professors Program doing an interdisciplinary doctorate on the form and practice of publishing in African languages in West Africa.

Read Why immigrant narratives? by Alex Zito. (pdf)

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The AV Interview

The AV interview typically takes a little over an hour. We normally begin by asking the subject to speak in English or French giving an autobioraphical account of their lives both in Africa and in the diaspora, for not more than 10 minutes. Drawing from that autobiography, we then agree upon a subject to discuss in depth in the subject’s first African language, and ask the interviewee to speak up to 20 to 30 minutes on that subject if possible. A second and third theme are then selected for this treatment, in keeping with the time limit constraints. The video recordings are then transcribed in the African language and translated into English. AV interviewees sign a release form giving us authorization to use the recorded material for non-lucrative educational purposes only. They are also given a remuneration as a gesture of gratitude.

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African Voices Interviewees

Yelimane Fall, Senegalese Calligraphy Artist
(see video)
Yelimane Fall
Yelimane Fall is originally from Ganjool (Gandiole), in the Louga District of Senegal. He studied in a French-medium primary school, and then went to a Technical Secondary School (le Lycée Technique André-Peytavin). He studied woodworking there. After completion, he then served in the army and worked in the Department of transmission, in radio and telephone. He completed his military service in the town of Ziguinchor in the Casamance area. After that he worked as an industrial illustrator in Dakar. He drew up all types of plans in wood. He then became the technical and administrative director of a wood construction corporation.
Along the way, Yelimane became familiar with the Quran and learned to read and write in Arabic. God gave him the inspiration, and made him hunger for Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba, the founding shaykh of the Murid movement in Senegal, and to want to work for him, so he left that office position and entered the way of tarbiya.
Yelimane Fall with Alex Zito This interview of Yelimane Fall was conducted by Dr. Alex Zito in the spring of 2012 during Fall’s third trip to the United States, on the occasion of an exhibition of his work in a gallery on the Boston University campus. In this interview, Yelimane Fall speaks in great detail and at length on his own life, his understanding of faith and religion, and the relationship between his faith and his art works. He draws on many sources for his inspiration and for his material, including passages relating to his faith in both Arabic and in Wolof as expressed in the Quran, and also in the works of the founders and leaders of the Muridiyya Sufi order of Senegal. Muridiyya is a powerful movement with its own elaborate system of pedagogy and discourse which Murids adhere to in order to solidify their relationship to the founder of the movement, Ahmadu Bamba Mbakke. Through the means of calligraphic art rooted in Arabic language characters as well as Ajami Wolof characters which involve the use of Arabic language characters to express the Wolof language, Yelimane Fall captures this relationship that Murids have with the Muridiyya Sufi order, its prophets, leaders and practitioners.
A painting by Yelimane Fall Fall said:
“Lack of studying the Quran or Islamic sciences is not a handicap. I liken it to a game we used to play, where one of us would lead, and the rest would place their hands each other’s shoulders forming a chain, then close our eyes. Even though we couldn’t see where we were going, the one leading had his eyes open, he knew the way. So whoever follows the way of tarbiya, finds a godly man who can lead him to his Lord. Wherever such a person is going, he goes there for God’s sake. So if he takes you by the hand and you follow along, wherever he ends up, you arrive there with him.”
“One day, my shaykh explained to me, the Murid way has two types of people: those who work and those who worship God. The one who worships God must have peace and resigned faith: if he finds himself being called back by the things of this world, his worship of God will not be fulfilled. In order for the one who worships God to satisfy his work, he needs a worker to assist him. So when he completes his work, he should also extend gratitude to the one who worked for him and made his own work possible. And that thanks is a blessing. Myself, the thanks of Sëriñ Tuubaa are all I seek. Everything I do, in Senegal, here in Boston, everywhere. If I don’t have the thanks of Sëriñ Tuubaa, I will not have what I want, either in this world or where I’m headed in the next.”
Abel Djassi, Cape Verde, (English, Kriolu di Santiago) 14 November 2006
(see video 1: English intro) (see video 2: interview) (transcript pdf)
Abel Djassi Amado Abel Djassi Amado is a Cape Verdean immigrant to the United States. His name, Abel Djassi was given to him in honor of Amilcar Cabral, whose nom de guerre was the same. He left the islands in 1993 to pursue his college education in Portugal where he studied International Relations. He came to the USA in 1999. He served in the Army in Iraq, and has resumed his studies now. He is studying Political Science at Boston University and intends to do his doctoral dissertation research on Lusophone Africa. His interview is presented in English and his first language, Kriolu.
Lamine Sawadogo, Republic of Mali (English, Bamanankan) 21 November 2006
(see video 1: English intro) (see video 2: interview) (transcript pdf)
Lamine SawadogoLamine Sawadogo is a Malian immigrant to the US who was born and raised in Bamako, Republic of Mali. After completing his secondary school studies and passing his Baccalaureat exam in Mali, through his own resourcefulness and completely self-financed, he succeeded in coming to the US in 1978, and began to study Business Administration at the University of Massachusetts-Boston while working in the evenings to support himself. Today he is an American citizen and has his own successful business which focuses on exporting critically needed equipment to African countries. His interview is presented in English and his first language, Bamanankan.
Joh Camara, Republic of Mali (English, Bamanankan) 5 December 2006
(see video 1: English intro) (see video 2: interview) (transcript pdf)
Joh Camara Sidi Mohamed Camara, known better as Joh Camara, grew up in Bamako Kura, a quartier of Bamako, Republic of Mali. His mother’s side of the family were bards, and he grew up exposed to their artistry and learned dancing and drum playing from a very young age. While becoming skilled in the cultural arts, he also studied at ECICA, the Central School for Industry, Commerce and Administration. He spent some time in France and also got an opportunity to come to the US to the Boston area in the late 1990s, and discovered that his artistic skills in music and dance were in demand. He now lives in Roxbury and has his own music and dance group known as the Troupe Sewa which is well known in the Boston area. He and his group perform throughout New England. He also teaches Malian drumming and dance at Harvard University, Boston University, and Tufts University, among others. His interview is presented in Bamanankan, his first language.
Ada Luntu, Republic of Niger (Hausa, Fulfulde) 5 December 2006
(see video 1: Hausa intro) (see video 2: interview)
Ada Luntu Ada Luntu is a Fulani artisan from the Republic of Niger. His interview is in Fulfulde and Hausa.
Barema Diawara, Republic of Mali (English, Bamanankan) 6 March 2007
(see video 1: English intro) (see video 2: interview) (transcript pdf)
Barema Diawara was born in Mopti, on the Niger River, in the Republic of Mali. He came to the US in 1989 and began his life here in Washington, D.C. Today he lives with his family in Malden, Massachusetts and works as an entrepreneur. His interview is in English and in his first language, Bamanankan.
Masse Ndiaye (English, Wolof) 10 April 2007
(see video 1: English intro) (see video 2: interview) (transcript pdf)
Masse NdiayeMasse Ndiaye was born in Thies in Senegal. He was chosen to receive a scholarship by his department at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar to travel to the US to teach French at a high school in Meridian, Idaho, near Boise. Today he has nearly completed his PhD in the Department of Political Science at Boston University where he focused his dissertation research on the political situation in Senegal. His interview is in English, and in Wolof, his first language.
Akalpa John Akaligaung, Ghana (English, Mbuli, Hausa) 20 September 2007
(see video 1: English intro) (see video 2: interview) (English intro transcript pdf) (Buli transcript pdf) (Hausa transcript pdf)
Akalpa John Akaligaung Akalpa John Akaligaung is from Ghana. He is a graduate student in the School of Public Health at Boston University. His interview is in English, Mbuli, and Hausa.
Zoliswa Mali, South Africa (English, Xhosa) 27 September 2007
(see video 1: English intro) (see video 2: interview) (transcript pdf)
Zoliswa Mali Zoliswa Mali is from the city of East London on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. She completed her primary, secondary and university studies in South Africa, and completed her Master’s Degree at Stellenbosch University. She then came to the US and did her PhD at the University of Iowa, before being hired as an Associate Professor of African Languages and Linguistics at Boston University where she is responsible for instruction in Southern African languages. Her interview is in IsiZulu and in IsiXhosa.
Fatimata Coulibaly Sanogo, Republic of Mali, (English, Bamanankan) 3 October 2007
(see video 1: English intro) (see video 2: interview) (transcript pdf)
Fatimata Coulibaly Sanogo Fatimata Coulibaly Sanogo was born in Sikasso in the Republic of Mali. She completed her secondary school studies in Bamako, and then continued her higher education at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, a college for teacher training. She taught English for fourteen years in a secondary school before becoming a high school principal and then Inspector of English at the Ministry of Education. She spent the year 2006-07 at Boston University as a fellow in the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program. Her interview is in English and in her first language, Bamanankan.
Kapya (John) Kaoma, Zambia, (English, Bemba) 13 December 2007
(see video 1: English intro) (see video 2: interview) (transcript pdf)
John Kapya Kaoma John Kapya Kaoma was born in Mwense District, in Luapula Province of Zambia. He studied at the Theological College of Central Africa in Ndola, Zambia. He won a scholarship to go to the UK and completed a Master’s Degree at the University of Bristol. He became a priest in the Anglican Church. He later came to the Boston area to study at the Episcopal Divinity School and also in the School of Theology at Boston University. His interview is in English and in Chibemba.
Fallou Ngom, (English, Wolof) 29 June 2009
(see video 1: English) (see video 2: Wolof) (English transcript pdf) (Wolof transcript pdf)
Fallou Ngom He became Associate Professor of Anthropology at Boston U. in 2008. He works in sociolinguistics and literacy. Fluent in a number of West African languages, Professor Ngom is currently conducting comparative research on Ajami literatures of several Muslim ethnic groups of the Senegambian region. He also works in Forensic Linguistics with a focus on refugees and asylum seekers from West Africa. This new field uses Language Analysis as a way of determining the accurate national origin of some asylum seekers in many Western countries.
Addi Ouadderrou (English, Tamazight) 18 February 2010
(see video 1: English) (see video 2: Tamazight)
Addi Ouadderrou Tifinagh characters in a work of art Addi Ouadderrou was born in the village of Mizguida, in the province of Arvehidia, near the Algerian border in the eastern part of Morocco. In his home village, there were both Imasight and Arabic Moroccans. Addi’s father was very strict about requiring his family to maintain their language and their culture. Tamasight was always the language of the household, so much so that some of their neighbors said that even their cats spoke Tamasight. Addi moved to the USA in August of 1997 and today resides in the Boston area and works as an entrepreneur. He imports artisanry and household items from Morocco and maintains a store known as the Moroccan Caravan, in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Mahamane Diarra 2 November 2009
(see video: Hausa)
Mahamane Diarra Mahamane Diarra is a Nigerien immigrant to the U.S. While in Niger, he lived in Niamey and Maradi. He later traveled to Kaduna for school. In Niamey, he worked with the Special Olympics. This gave him the opportunity to come to a Special Olympics event in Connecticut and eventually led to his immigration to Boston. He has worked various jobs in the U.S., and in this interview discusses his most recent job as a taxi driver.
Aminata Dembelé
(See video)
Aminata Dembelé Aminata was born on the 23rd of September 1963 in Bamako, Republic of Mali. Today she works as the General Secretary (Forobakalatigi) of the N’Ko Mouvement Culturel pour le Développement. Aminata came to the learning of N’Ko-Kan through the N’ko radio broadcasts in the 1990s and then in 1997 she became the student of Karamogo Bamba, the longtime leader of the N’Ko movement in Mali.
Malam Abdou Bako
(See video)
Malam Abdou BAKO was born in 1970 in the town of Kribitoa in Goudoumaria, Republic of Niger. He graduated from the Lycée Idriss Alaoma in Diffa and completed his Baccalaureat in 1991. He attended the Université Abdou Mouomouni from 1991 to 1994 where he majored in Physics and Chemistry. He studied business management at the C.F.R. and later was trained as an Information Technology Engineer at Niger’s Institut Africain de l’Informatique from 2009-2011. He began working in desktop publishing as early as 1995, and then worked in educational publishing in national languages beginning at Editions Alpha (1997-2000), at Editions Abasa/Ministry of Basic Education Bilingual Education Project 2PeB/GtZ, and then later in the support for basic education project (2004-2007). Since February of 2009, he has worked as the Associate Director of Editions Gashingo, a national language publishing company that grew out of the Bilingual Education Project. He has demonstrated a profound commitment to the importance of maternal language education in Niger and has made it his life’s work.
Adamou Ganda, Niger (French, Zarma)
(see video)
Adamou Ganda Adamou Ganda is Zarma by birth and speaks Zarma as his first language. He was born in Kouré, Republic of Niger, in 1953. His older brother, Oumarou Ganda, raised him after they lost both of their parents. He eventually pulled Adamou out of school and had him began to learn film and production work in the growing Nigerien film industry of the 1970s. By 1989 this industry had slowed down. Adamou worked in various jobs until 1992 when he began working for the Boston University Study Abroad Program as a watchman.
Maman Sani Sale
(see video)
Maman Sani SaleMaman Sani Sale is Hausa and speaks Hausa as his first language. His father is from Nigeria and his mother from Mirria, near Zinder in Niger. After his parents divorced, Sani lived with his father and attended Koranic school. He later spent some time attending school in Kano, Nigeria. After that Sani worked various jobs around Niger. He eventually married and settled in Niamey with his wife and children. At the time of the interview he was working as a watchman for the Boston University Study Abroad Program.
Binta Haidara
(see video)
Binta Haidara Binta Haidara was born in Timbuktu, Republic of Mali. She is a Songhai woman and thus speaks Songhai/Zarma as her first language. She also speaks Bamanankan. Binta came to Niger to live with an aunt and look for work. She began working as a housekeeper and eventually secured a job with the Boston University Study Abroad Program.
Hama Amadou
(see video)
Hama Adamou Hama Amadou is a Fulani man who speaks Fulfulde as his first language. He also speaks Hausa. He was born in 1960 in Kirkissoye, a neighborhood in the Harobanda (over the river) area of Niamey. As a youth he attended Koranic School. He also learned how to farm from his family. In addition to farming, he has held various other jobs and at the time of the interview he was working as a watchman for the Boston University Study Abroad Program.
Oumar Diogo Bah
(see introduction and biography video)
Oumar Diogo Bah
Oumar Diogo Bah was born in Dalaba in the Futa Jalon of the Republic of Guinea on the 9th of October 1987. He attended primary school in Dalaba and then went to the Lycée Béanzin de Dalaba and passed his Bac examination in 2008. He then moved to Conakry and attended the Université Mercure and obtained a Licence en Gestion Commerciale in 2011. Later that year he moved to Quebec City, Quebec, Canada where he is now a student in Management at the College CDI-Quebec. As a result of discussions with John Hutchison about archiving and family history, and after a visit to his family’s home village of Compaya near Labé in the Futa Jalon, Diogo became extremely interested in learning more about his family’s history. He also took it upon himself to document that story. On the 19th of October, 2010, he traveled to Compaya and spent ten days there interviewing the relatives of his mother, Hadja Nafissatou Bah and his father, El-Hadj Mamadou Saliou Bah. He filmed more than an hour of footage from various family members about the Bah family and the grandparents of his parents.The interview of Oumar Diogo Bah is posted below on the ALMA site. His film on the history of his family in Compaya, Guinea, will be posted soon.
Angels of Rwanda
(see Rwanda Dancers video) (see Penine Uwambaye video)
Penine Uwambaye Singers

PerformersMale performers
Traditionally, Rwandan people are pastoralists and raising livestock is an important part of their livelihood. In the video presented here, 4 young women from Rwanda perform a traditional Rwandan women’s dance known as the Amariza dance. The movements of the dance capture the importance of cattle with gestures that express the shapes of cattle horns.

The women members of the group are known as the Angels of Rwanda and they are from the town of Goma in the border region between the D.R.C. and Rwanda. They presently reside on the North Shore, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Mme. Penine Uwambaye is responsible for the group of young women which is made up of:

  • Queen Gajo, a Newburyport High School student,
  • Josephine Sebagisha, a student at Northern Essex Community College,
  • Laurence Sebagisha, a business student at Northern Essex Community College,
  • and Kellia Isimbi, also a Newburyport High School student

In this video, The Angels of Rwanda dance together with a group of young men also from Rwanda. The men include Murinzi Ndirima Fiston, Kevin Cyusa, Kin Shema Ian, and Cephas Emmanuel Rwigema. The performance took place in the spring of 2013 in the Church of the First Religious Society (Unitarian Universalist) in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Penine Uwambaye, also from Rwanda, joins the performance with first a song in English, and then a song in Kinyarwanda, the latter entitled Amarira Zanze Gukama (The Tears Won’t Stop). It is a love song expressing loyalty and fidelity. She is joined by the choir of the same church.

These performances were filmed by John Brown, Photographic Artist and owner
of the Spirit of Newburyport.

Ouma Abdou
(see video)
Ouma Abdou

Ouma Abdou was born in Magaria, Niger in 1959. She went to primary school in Magaria from 1966 to 1973, receiving her C.E.P.E. in 1973, and then to middle school also in Magaria from 1973 to 1977, receiving her B.E.P.C. in 1977. She went to Normal School in TIllabery from 1977 to 1980, and completed her D.F.E.N. and B.A.C. in 1980. She entered the School of Education at the Université Abdou Moumouni from 1980 to 1982, completing her D.A.P. in 1982, and receiving her D.U.E.L. in Modern Letters in 2002. She attended the School of Letters from 2001 to 2004. From 2010 to the present she has continued her studies at the Université Abdou Moumouni (license master 1 and license master 2 from 2011 to 2013 in Anthropology: Cultures & Societies). She is preparing a thesis.

Ouma Abdou & Yazi Dogo
Ouma Abdou during interview with Yazi Dogo

She has been trained in library work, information technology and the internet, as well as administration and local governance management and decentralization. Ouma has been awarded the Special Zarouma Litterary Prize for her novel Tuwo ya yi Magana, written in 2001. She received the encouragement prize in 2005 with her work Diyar Tabarma. She has written more than 30 novellas, and has authored several education consciousness-raising plays.

Mai Machinama
(see video)
(Kanuri transcript pdf)
Mai Machinama
This is an ALMA African Voices interview in the Kanuri language of Northeastern Nigeria of His Excellency Mai Machinama, Emir of Machina, by the ALMA Director John Hutchison.
Issa Diallo
(see video)
Issa Diallo
Issa Diallo is a member of the Board of the African Language Materials Archive, and has been a colleague of Prof. John Hutchison since John spent a year’s sabbatical in Ouagadougou in 1998-99. During 2017, Issa came to the Boston University African Studies Center as a visiting scholar and learned what AIRBNB means in the Boston area. He is a crusader for African languages, and plays an important role in the documentation and the teaching of Fulfulde (Pular) in Burkina Faso and throughout West Africa. In this presentation, he discusses the story of his own language, his career, and the role he has played in academia in Burkina Faso.

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Frank Antonelli and Jeremy Tipton

Many thanks to the personnel of Geddes Language Center at Boston University for their expertise in videotaping the AIV interviews, particularly Frank Antonelli, Production Coordinator and Jeremy Tipton, both shown here, and also the Director, Bob Rothstein.

Lori Delucia

Lori De Lucia, M.A. in Cultural Production, Brandeis University, has been instrumental in videotaping and editing African Voices interviews and preparing them for the ALMA website. Many thanks to Lori, shown here in Boston, MA.

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