Reggae Star Fakoly Strikes Dissenting Chord

With his biting lyrics that name and shame African leaders and denounce Western politics, West African reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly knows his music has made him as many enemies as friends.

Reggae Star Fakoly Strikes Dissenting Chord

The 37-year-old singer, who lives in Mali in self-imposed exile from his troubled home of Ivory Coast, is one of the most powerful voices for young African people.

But he is also a thorn in the side of African politicians.

Songs such as "Quitte Le Pouvoir" ("Get Out of Power"), in which he rails against African leaders who stay in office after their elected terms, have rattled several political figures including President Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast.

"(My music) is not banned officially, but when the album "Coup de Gueule" ("Outburst") came out in September 2004, some young people close to President Gbagbo went to my distributor and threatened to burn down his business," Fakoly told Reuters before a concert in Gateshead, England late last year.

In the oral cultures of West Africa, politicians are well aware that music is much more than background noise.

"With everything I've said, I know that I haven't made only friends. I know that I've made some enemies too. But that shouldn't hold me back from what I'm doing. I must continue to work," Fakoly said.

POLITICAL INFLUENCE

West African music has a long history of social and political influence; pop songs are listened to as much for their lyrical content as for their melody and rhythm.

Since the 14th century, griots -- musicians turned political and social commentators -- have been feared by Africa's elite for their sharp tongues and pointed criticism.

Their legacy lives on in West Africa's hip-hop singers who channel the concerns of young people, living tough, desperate lives in countries where authorities are often perceived as being corrupt or indifferent to the plight of their people.

Ahead of presidential elections in 2000, Senegalese rappers took to the streets alongside the candidates.

They used tight rhyming lyrics and musical metaphors to encourage young people to vote and get rid of then President Abdou Diouf's Socialists, who had ruled for nearly 40 years.

Diouf lost the elections, making way for the current president, Abdoulaye Wade, and his Senegalese Democratic Party.

Fakoly's role is similarly politicized; he denounces injustice, racism, tribalism, war and Africa's colonial legacy -- themes also tackled by Ivory Coast's other non-conformist reggae great Alpha Blondy.

"If people want to say something to the politicians that they can't say themselves, I hear that and I tell (the politicians) myself," Fakoly said.

In Fakoly's most popular song "Quitte Le Pouvoir," the Ivorian teams up with Senegalese rapper Didier Awadi, who was among the musicians on the campaign trail in 2000.

"Monsieur le President, without incident, get out of power," raps Awadi, echoing Fakoly's lines: "There's the door, go out peacefully, no bullets, no blood, we've had enough."

Eric Soul, 32, a Rwandan-born DJ and cultural activist based in London, says Fakoly's message strikes a chord across Africa.

"Tiken Jah is expressing the fundamental issues of Africa and the deep feelings of millions of young Africans in a simple language they can understand," said Soul.

"These are the same kinds of debates that young people are having in the living rooms of Kinshasa, Nairobi, Dakar, Kigali."

"I WILL CONTINUE TO SPEAK"

Fakoly discovered his taste for writing political lyrics when violent street protests broke out in Ivory Coast during a vote in 1995, two years after the death of founding President Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

Houphouet-Boigny had ruled the former French colony with an iron hand as a one-party state for 33 years, and Fakoly began to write songs denouncing corrupt politicians and abusive regimes.

Ivorians used Fakoly's songs to voice their rage and disappointment as the country hailed as Africa's miracle state in the 1970s -- when it became the world's top cocoa producer -- declined under collapsing commodity prices and political unrest.

In 1999, Fakoly's album Mangercratie -- the title track demands that politicians respect Africans' rights to have food on the table -- was released in France and sold half a million copies, not counting pirated editions.

After working for years abroad, Fakoly decided it was too dangerous to return to his home country, where a civil war exploded in 2002 when rebels seized the north. A peace process is inching forward now but the country remains divided.

Fakoly chose to live in Bamako, the low-lying dusty capital of Ivory Coast's northern neighbor Mali.

"I don't want to live in a country where there is no justice or equality. If I am in a country where things aren't working, I'm going to speak out and if they kill me, they kill me, it's finished, I am dead," he said.

"But if I can go somewhere and continue to speak, I will do that."

Source: Reuters

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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