Posts Tagged ‘smockey’

Introducing Songlines issue #125 (March 2017)

Posted on January 25th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


The March 2017 (#125) issue of Songlines is now on sale!

The special focus of this issue is on the power of music with features investigating how music can be an important and effective tool in political and social activism.


This very special issue includes an interview with folk artists involved in a new project examining the history of protest singing; an examination of the cultural suppression of northern Europe’s Sámi people; a report from the Dhaka Lit Festival where the threat of terrorism looms large; Baba Zula, the band who personify the incredible diversity of Istanbul; a Beginner’s Guide to the desert blues pioneers, Tinariwen; plus the latest CD and world cinema reviews. 


The Top of the World cover CD includes Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band, Renata Rosa, Black String, Erik Aliana & Picket, as well as tracks selected by the naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, including Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, Gurrumul and Bob Roberts.


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Get up, stand up! Music of resistance and revolution

Posted on January 24th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


Trump’s to blame. Or at least, he’s one of the reasons why we’re devoting the latest issue to the power of music and its ability to unite rather than divide people. The music we cover in Songlines is often far more than pure entertainment. Yes, it can make you smile, want to dance, or reduce you to tears. But there’s also a galvanising force about music that means it can be used as a powerful weapon in political and social activism – precisely why oppressive regimes tend to ban or censor it.

This month on the Songlines website we’ll be championing and celebrating those musicians who have stuck their necks out and sung out about social injustices, crimes and civil rights. We’ve gathered together several classic features from the Songlines archive that shine a light on a few of today’s most compelling voices of resistance. The revolution begins here!



The Western Sahara has been the subject of  dispute for many decades. One of its most eloquent activists and singers, Aziza Brahim, talks to Violeta Ruano about life in exile and how music and politics are inseparable.

Read: ‘Aziza Brahim – voice of the resistance’



Only the bravest artists take on the biggest enemies. Chris Moss singles out the main role models for today’s young, wannabe revolutionary musicians.

Read: ‘Essential 10: protest singers’



Nigel Williamson introduces Fela Kuti – a true original: ‘Never have life, politics, art and music been so inextricably linked together in one incendiary, insurrectionary and highly danceable package’.

Read: ‘Fela Kuti – a beginner’s guide’



In Burkina Faso music is at the heart of a movement that last year chased an autocrat from power. Bram Posthumus finds out how hip-hop artist and activist Smockey used rap and reggae to change the country’s political course.

Read: ‘Smockey and the rap revolution’



Two pivotal anniversaries in democratic history have been marked in a song project called Sweet Liberties. Julian May gets a history lesson from singers Maz O’Connor, Nancy Kerr and Martyn Joseph.

Read: ‘Sweet Liberties – the voices of democracy’



Canada’s most famous Inuit throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, has been stunning audiences since first collaborating with Björk. Marc Fournier witnesses the unforgettable live experience and finds out about her revolutionary ideals.

Read: Tanya Tagaq – Polar Storm’



The current turmoil in Ukraine is providing a fertile ground for some of the country’s musicians. Peter Culshaw travels to Kiev, the stricken capital, and talks to DakhaBrakha, one of the leading players.

Read: ‘DakhaBrakha – sound of a revolution’

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Smockey and the rap revolution

Posted on January 24th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


In Burkina Faso music is at the heart of a movement that last year chased an autocrat from power. Bram Posthumus finds out how hip-hop artist and activist Smockey used rap and reggae to change the country’s political course…

“Look, here they are; you can see for yourself.” Serge Martin Bambara, the 45-year-old better known as Smockey, shows the damage done to his Studio Abazon in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou. “Here the bullets went in. And these two big holes you see there, those were rockets. They probably thought I was here…” The iron door at the entrance has been repaired, sort of, but a glass partition has been shattered and in the wall at the back we count at least nine bullet holes. Who did this? The – now disbanded – private guard of the man Smockey helped remove from power, Burkina Faso’s ex-president Blaise Compaoré. They attacked on September 17 2015, one day after they staged a coup d’état, which failed only two weeks later.

The name Smockey is a French pun, taken from se moquer – to make fun of people, especially those in power. That is what he has been doing, mercilessly, for years, on his own and as part of a larger group of rap and reggae artists who have woken up an entire people. The attack on his studio was the last stand of an old guard clinging to its power and privilege. If anything, it has left the country’s revolutionary musicians more determined than ever to finish the work they started.


In 1960, France said goodbye to its colonies in most of Africa, including this landlocked country, slightly larger than the UK, part savannah, part Sahel. It inherited a colonial name: Upper Volta. This was not to the liking of a group of young soldiers who took power in a coup in 1983 and renamed it Burkina Faso – the land of the upright people. The leader of that coup was a charismatic captain by the name of Thomas Sankara. Only four years later a counter coup was orchestrated with the help of France and the revolutionaries were killed. Compaoré took over and under his reign, Burkina Faso was turned into a corrupt family business.

But a new generation was growing up, going to school and looking around their country. They didn’t like what they saw. Neither did the investigative journalist Norbert Zongo, who was casting unwelcome light on the way the ruling family enriched itself. On December 13 1998 his bullet-riddled and burnt-out car was found just outside the capital. Zongo and his three passengers were dead. Who did it? The same armed group that attacked Smockey’s studio. It is not coincidental that on Smockey’s latest album Pre’volution there is a song, ‘Dossier Zongo’, that demands that the inquiry into his death, buried by the Compaoré government, be re-opened. Sooner or later, the song says, the perpetrators will pay for their crime – ‘[Norbert] began the work of an entire generation / Let’s carry on that flame so he will truly rest in peace… / For impunity to end, we’ll re-open the Zongo dossier.’

There were other victims, like the outspoken singer Black So Man, author of the furious ‘Système de Vampire’; it was crystal clear what – and who – he had in mind. Only 32 years old, he was severely wounded in a suspect car accident in late 1997. He never recovered and died four years later. Smockey and his colleague, the reggaeman Sams’K Le Jah faced harassment, attacks and had their music banned. But they never stopped. Sams’K released his second album in 2007 – Une Bougie Pour Thomas Sankara (A Candle for Thomas Sankara). Smockey lampooned the rigged elections in his country in ‘Votez Pour Moi’ (Vote for Me) and typified the establishment with the title of his fourth album, CCP (Cravate, Costard et Pourriture) – Tie, Suit and Nothing but Rottenness Underneath.


In 2013, and inspired by the hip-hop led movement Y’en a Marre in Senegal, Sams’K and Smockey set up Le Balai Citoyen (Citizen’s Broom). The rappers from Dakar had shown the way by preventing an ageing megalomaniac, president Abdoulaye Wade, from taking an illegal third term. It was a matter of time before the brooms would spring into action and start sweeping away a government that was strangling the aspirations of the Burkinabé. Smockey says “when Compaoré decided to stay in power forever… that was the precise moment that we knew: it’s now or never. We talked, we organised, we didn’t sleep.”

The drama unfolded over the last two days of October 2014. On October 30, bribed parliamentarians were rushed into the National Assembly building from a luxury hotel next door where they had spent the night. They were about to endorse Compaoré’s plans. At the same time, commandos entered the building and set it ablaze. Even today nobody knows who they were, but the crucial vote was postponed. Forever. On October 31 hundreds of thousands marched on the presidential palace with one message to the president: get out. Among them were many women who had brought their cooking utensils with them. In this part of the world that is the worst message a leader can get. It means you’re cooked, finished. The same day, Blaise Compaoré was gone, after 27 years.

Smockey reflects “I think we invented a new kind of resistance. Peaceful, but firm. Certainly, we were not going to allow ourselves to get killed by responding to the provocations of the security forces. But we popped up everywhere, to the point that they no longer knew where to attack us.”


“Art was at the heart of this uprising. Many don’t realise that art is subversive and gets into people’s conscience,” Smockey says. It serves another purpose: to restore confidence and pride in Burkinabé culture, a theme shared by a new generation of rappers. “Zongo was my inspiration,” confesses 29-year-old Joey le Soldat. “My first album is an ode to his work.” Joey, who studied literature at Ouagadougou’s university, comes from a line of warriors: his grandfather was forced to fight in the French colonial army, his father was part of the struggle for Burkina Faso’s independence. And those battles continue, he says. “I called my second album Burkin Bâ. It’s a reference to the name Sankara gave to this country. My raps are in Mooré, my language, because that enables me to reach out to the majority of the Burkinabé, who are illiterate. I ask whether we still have people of integrity here, who share, who listen, who don’t steal. Musically I use electronics but the rhythms and the instruments I use are from here. That is how you stay original.”

“Revolution in this country is permanent. It’s been like that from the beginning.” Quite the statement. It comes from Art Melody, who was in a band with Joey le Soldat before both started solo careers. Art Melody recorded his latest album, called Moogho, before, during and after the revolution. Like Joey, he uses a highly effective mix of traditional sounds and modern beats from all around the world – and raps in Mooré and Dioula, the language from his hometown, Bobo-Dioulasso. Moogho means ‘World’ and talks about the inevitability of change in a country where corruption had become the norm, not the exception. But that is not all, says Art: “It’s not just a question of changing leaders. We must educate people, change mentalities. Who comes to work on time and who doesn’t? Who puts his relatives in important positions instead of people who are qualified for the job? There is still a lot of work to do.”

All these rappers and activists took to the streets in September 2015 when they heard that the presidential guard had staged a coup. They helped organise the resistance: a barricade here, a few burnt tyres there, all designed to wear the enemies out, confuse them. It worked: by the end of the month, the “most stupid coup in the world,” as the Burkinabé were calling it, was over and the country’s transition to democracy back on track.

The Avenue de l’Indépendance is so wide it can easily accommodate a military parade. Among the many government buildings here is an imposing once-white building: the National Assembly, now a charred hulk. Smockey decided to launch Pre’volution there. “It is a symbol. It should stay as it is. We want to turn it into a museum and make sure that everyone who sits in the new parliament must pass through here.” In other words: if you make a hash of your job of serving the people, you’re next.

Within a year, the people of Burkina Faso have removed an autocrat, seen off his armed guards and elected a new president. Apart from making spectacularly good rap music, there’s a few other things this country can teach the world.

This article originally appeared in Songlines #115. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, visit:

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Smockey – Pre’volution: Le Président, ma Moto et Moi | Album Review | Top of the World

Posted on February 7th, 2016 in Recent posts, Reviews by .


Words by Nigel Williamson

Smockey - Prevolution Cover

Revolutionary songs written right on the frontline

In October 2014, the people of Burkina Faso took to the streets to demand the removal of Blaise Compaoré, the country’s despotic ruler of 30 years. He fled and democratic elections were announced, but then cancelled following a military coup. Burkina hip-hop star Smockey was a key player in the protests, leading the youth movement Le Balai Citoyen, and this album collects the songs Smockey wrote before and during the uprising.

Mixing hip-hop beats with reggae and African rhythms, he sings in French and it’s a shame that translations are not provided for the lyrics are not only militant but full of sharp and savage wit. On the title-track he imagines giving le président a ride on his moto (motorbike) to show him the capital’s poverty-stricken slums. There’s a power-cut, the traffic lights fail and an accident occurs, so Smockey takes the dictator to the city hospital (named after Compaoré himself), where he can’t be treated because the facilities are inadequate. He follows this with ‘On Passe à l’attaque’, a stirring call to the barricades, ‘Dossier Zongo’, about the murder of a journalist critical of the regime, and a dozen more well-targeted musical missiles. Not just a collection of protest songs, this is the soundtrack to a revolution.

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