Singer-songwriter Daby Touré's latest album, “Amonafi,” is sonically compelling, but thematically it's for our time. A lot of the songs on it are about displacement and address many Africans' desire to go to Europe to seek a better life.
But, there’s one song though called “Oma” that suggests Europe is not all that it’s cracked up to be. So we wanted to know what Touré thought as the world witnesses thousands of migrants and refugees pouring into Europe right now.
His home base is Paris, and meets many people who've arrived there from far-flung crisis spots around the world, the starting point for "Oma."
"I wrote this song because I was seeing people every day outside," he says in an interview at Berklee's Café 939 in Boston. "And there was this woman down on the street ... I would always say hello and we would talk a little bit. And one day we had a really good talk. She told me about her life and the difficulties she has with her children — and the fact that she’s homeless. What surprised me was the way we are — everyday we pass in front of these people and we get used to it."
Touré, who is from Mauritania and Senegal in West Africa, says he really wanted to write a song and talk about her story.
"It wasn’t easy, but I did it because I was seeing these people coming out from everywhere — from all the poor countries and from Africa of course," he says. "What is really interesting to see is how people are reacting in front of these refugees coming out from Syria. Everybody is scared and we don’t have to be."
That woman he met on the streets of Paris, along with the refugees and the migrants who are coming over to Europe right now, seem to echo Touré's own story of displacement.
"My story is the same," he says. "When I was 2 years old, my parents got separated and my father started to send me everywhere: Senegal, Mauritania, to his mother, to his uncle. For him it was important for me to learn life earlier."
Touré says that because he was largely on his own, he had to learn to communicate with people and understand the differences between the communities he was dropped into and himself.
"Every time I had to find a way to make myself like ‘I’m part of you, can you accept me?' And so this is how my life started," he says. "So I can really understand these people I can feel exactly what they feel."
There’s another song on the album that is uplifting and nostalgic called “Woyoyoye.” It’s about one of the places that he grew up and where, from the sound of "Woyoyoye," he has fond memories, even if they were not necessarily happy ones.
"The best memories are when there was space growing up in the village and we used to have cows and we had to learn things really young. Everyday we had to wake up really early in the morning and life was really tough, but this is the way it works over there. You learn what it is to fight and survive and to make your own way."
Touré recalled one of his uncles that confronted him once when he was crying. This uncle tought Touré that life is about standing up.
"People don’t come to you and say ‘little poor baby, I’m going to give you a hug.’ No, that's is not the way it works," he says. "Life is hard, you have to learn that. You have to fight and understand that you don’t have time to cry or ask for your mom. Just get up, stand up and fight like the others."
On “Amonafi," you can hear the strong man that Touré became. But you also hear the smile he wears, and the positivity of a life filled ironically with lessons from displacement.