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Heather Maxwell is an American vocalist, composer, and ethnomusicologist.

Her music is a decades-long love affair with rural Africa.

A beautiful voice. . . she plays kamalen n’goni, she plays balafon. . . she’s wonderful!”

–Habib Koité, Lotus Festival, 2001

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Raised in a musical family in the rural fringes of Flint, Michigan, Heather, her two brothers, and her mother formed a band together -- The Maxwells. They toured in churches and competed in talent shows throughout the state.


She developed her voice around the piano at family rehearsals and outside in the open air, calling the horses in from pasture and singing to the barn cats.


Taking her singing even further, she pursued formal voice training at Interlochen Arts Academy, and then at the University of Michigan.

During her junior year, Heather left Michigan to study music and dance at the University of Ghana and came back captivated. Since then, she's immersed herself in West African life, language, and most of all, music. 


Immediately after college, she joined the Peace Corps in Mali. There she learned to speak Bambara, French, play the kamalen n'goni and balafon, and toured and recorded with local musicians.

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Post-Peace Corps, Heather developed her vibrant Afro-jazz genre in Paris and in Abidjan. Even her later Doctorate studies back in the US revolved around African music, drawing her back to Mali, and then to South Africa and Hausaland, Nigeria. 


Heather's music sounds like her journeys: adventurous and anchored in the jazz and African folk music worlds.

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Since 2012, millions in Africa listen to Heather's voice each weekend as she hosts Voice of America's pan-African music program "Music Time in Africa." 


She visits Africa regularly, collecting stories and music from local artists, and sometimes performing and collaborating with them.

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