Bella Bellow is the diva of Togolese and African music. She performed at the Olympia in France in the 1970s. New Togolese artists have now reached the European charts.
Togolese music was recognized towards the 1960s and 1970s with the emergence of female artists. Bella Bellow is the most internationally recognized Togolese female artist, re-energizing Togolese music through her performances on stage. She is a highly charismatic, avant-gardist woman of the older generation of Togolese artists, namely Afia Mala, Fifi Rafiatou, Akofa Akoussa, Nimon Toki Lala and Yta Jourias.
"These ladies gave an identity to Togolese music," says Carlos Danklou, director of All That Production studio. "They exported Togolese music internationally. Nimon Toki Lala, Fifi Rafiatou, and Afia Mala are still alive today, inspiring the new generation to make Togolese music shine beyond its borders. As a producer, I thank them, thank you because they mapped out the path for the young generation."
Bella Bellow, the precursor
Bella Bellow paved the way for numerous generations of Togolese artists. She was the flagship of African music during a time when female Togolese artists hesitated to take the stage, especially in French-speaking Africa.
In 1965, on the Independence Day of ex-Dahomey (current Benin), she sang for the late President Hubert Maga. In April 1966, she participated in the 1st World Festival of Negro Arts held in Dakar, Senegal, which launched her international career.
Bella Bellow was one of the rare Africans to perform at the Olympia in Paris, then the most prestigious stage where every African artist dreamt of performing. She performed in Greece, former Yugoslavia, Germany and Belgium.
She was named "the African blues woman" in the Antilles (Guadeloupe and Guyana) and was applauded by more than 100,000 spectators at the Festival of Popular Music in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She passed away in a tragic road accident on 10 December 1973, in Lilikopé, 50 km from Lomé.
The new generation
In the '90s, a new generation of female artists took over from the queens of Togolese music, following the example of Santy Dorim, Edith Fever, Amy Coco, Djenny Djella and others.
Fifi Rafiatou, Akofa Akoussa, Nimon Toki Lala, Afia Mala and Yta Jouria toured the African continent and were welcomed by crowds in Cotonou, Bamako, Dakar, Ouagadougou, Douala, Libreville, Brazzaville, and Kinshasa.
This young generation took advantage of new developments in audio-visual recording to conquer the music markets of Togo and the sub-region of West Africa, leading to many collaborative projects.
It was at the peak of the new wave that artists such as Mirlinda, Reynia, and Finiki etc were noticed. These young artists released singles that were successful in Togo and beyond.
"They are to be congratulated because good music requires colossal investments. Today, you cannot organize a show in Togo without inviting artists like Almok, Dyana, Hat Queen, and Abitoramongst many others.There are new female talents emerging every year," said Kevin Dieudonné, who hosts Africa Hit on LCF Television.
The future was bright between 2005 and 2010 with artists like Adjoa Sika, Hat Queen, Shandy, the sisters Rosine, Almok, Kezita, Madame Abitor etc.
This success extended beyond Togolese borders allowing artists to collaborate with artists from the region and continent.
Today, more and more Togolese female artists, like Almok, Hat Queen, Kezita, Dyana, Sikavi Lauress, Christel Johnson and Mirlinda, take part in major festivals, which has earned them several distinctions at national and regional levels.
Since 2014, many female artists have joined to fight for Togolese music. Many albums and singles were released as well as concerts organized. Their presence on the African musical scene is now well established as they have performed at major events such as the Kora Awards, Femua etc.
"Competition is fierce between female and male artists and every artist who wants to make it has to offer high-quality productions. Today, Toofan is calling all the shots but female artists are our pride when it comes to Togolese music," said Dyana, a Togolese artist.