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Interview: Tiken Jah Fakoly (2014)

Interview: Tiken Jah Fakoly (2014)

Interview: Tiken Jah Fakoly (2014)

By on - Photos by Franck Blanquin - 2 comments

"For many people the history of Africa began with slavery and colonization"


Tiken Jah Fakoly has been a militant singer since the beginning of his career, transmitting his messages and beliefs through his music. Being a major spokesperson for Africa, he is also fighting strongly against injustice beyond the stage. On June 2nd, he released a new album "Dernier Appel" [Last Call] teaching us that we should not give up and keep on fighting.

Tiken Jah Fakoly

How was the new album "Dernier Appel" made?

We began recording guitars, drum and bass in the Ferber studio in Paris. Then, we went to Bamako (Mali) to the Patrice Lumumba studio, which belongs to me, for the traditional instruments part.

We mixed the album in London. Musicians who accompany me on stage, played on this album. The sound engineer is Jonathan Quarmby and the musical director Sylvain Taillet.

I would have really liked to launch this album in Africa, but unfortunately the record company could not afford to offer plane tickets to all journalists. As we wanted to find Africa in Paris, we decided to organize the press conference in a migrant worker's hostel in the Paris 20th district.

From a musical point of view, we have seen a change since "African Revolution". What is this new album about?

I wanted to find some kind of balance in this record. We were looking for the original sound of traditional African reggae: the objective was to reach a subtle blend of traditional classic instruments with our traditional African instruments - such as the kora or Yabara...

The previous album sounded less reggae roots. However, it proved to be a huge hit, earning a gold disc in sales. But I received feedback from purist reggae fans who had a mixed feeling as they did not find that flavor. So, with this new album, I wanted to gather the new public recruited through the lyrics and music of "African Revolution" and also satisfy fans from the early days who liked the reggae touch of the very first albums. I think we found a good compromise to satisfy both audiences.

Alpha Blondy's presence was essential to convey a strong message to Africans

Could you tell us about your choice of featured guests?

I met Nneka and Patrice during my tours: we got together, as we have in common the same messages and the same passion for music.

Alpha Blondy with whom I had worked on a song from his latest album, is taking part in the track "Diaspora". His presence was essential to convey a strong message to Africans: "If you come to Europe to work, do not return to Africa only to build a house, but you shall also play a significant role in your country's life after your experience abroad. You shall speak to the youth about the awakening of Africa, the importance of having a democratic system, and a stable policy basis for the development of a country."

On this album, you wrote four songs in English, you also played during your last tour in English speaking countries. Are you trying to reach an Anglophone audience?

As my visibility has began to expand beyond the French borders, I am widening the target of my message using English, to make it also comprehensible to listeners in Anglophone countries. We had good feedback from our tours in England and the United States. People did not necessarily understand the lyrics but they felt the feeling. It’s like when we were listening to Bob Marley, and we did not understand the lyrics. But in reggae, the language barrier does not exist, you could feel the soul and the message of his music.

The language barrier does not exist in reggae music

You've always spoken honestly about Africa, and you’ve never feared to point out some problems. However, you named a song on the album "Nobody want to pay the price". Don’t you fear that the message can be badly perceived by Africans?

If you want to move forward, you must not hesitate to say things. I often watch documentary channels on TV: I noticed that a lot of countries have gone through coup d’etat and revolutions before reaching a democratic process. But I also saw that they have developed a successful education system... They pushed the boat together and the boat sailed.

This requires everyone in Africa to get their hands dirty. If we stay united and strong together, we will overcome troubles and we will win this fight.

If we stay united and strong together, we will overcome troubles and we will win this fight

In this process, do you believe that it is also important that the population in Europe and the United States become aware of the true African story, as the education they got is often totally wrong?

For many people in Europe and in other countries, the history of Africa began with slavery and colonization. We had the evidence in the speech of Nicolas Sarkozy in Dakar when he said that Africa did not enter history yet.

If we had properly taught the history of Africa to western youths, they would have looked at the continent differently and it would have changed many other things also. In fact, I really enjoyed when the new French president went to Nelson Mandela’s funeral with Nicolas Sarkozy! He was able to see by himself how Africa made history (laughs).

Tiken Jah FakolyThis is an important topic. You can ask any African who was Charles de Gaulle or Napoleon he will answer. But if you ask a young French, who was Thomas Sankara or Soudiana Keita... he does not know.

Yet, there are people who have fought battles and who made Africa history... but slavery and colonialism disrupted civilization that was running.

It is therefore important that the youths here understand that Africa was in a process of development that has been delayed, but it is the continent of the future.

Education is a very sensitive subject for you. You have your own association which builds schools. Do you also think that "Education is the strongest weapon to change things" as Nelson Mandela did?

Education is the key to the future: this is the base. That is why I created an association called “Un concert, une école“ ["One concert, one school"]. We built a college in Mali, two primary schools in the north of Ivory Coast, as well as a primary school in Burkina Faso and in Niger.

The dream of the band is to build a school in every single African country. There are 53 states... we hope to have the health and strength to continue this project.

People must understand that it is crucial to put our children at school. School can even provide solutions to problems between ethnic groups. Having a common language to explain themselves, can change many things. Yes, we definitely must use education as a positive weapon.

Our dream is to build a school in every single African country

The promo single War ina Babylon / Give Peace a Chance is actually delivering this message: "to move forward, you have to fight with weapons such as education, peace and political stability..."

Today in Africa, we must build and no more destroy in order to create a sustainable growth. The challenge now is to make a revolution through education and democracy... We must learn from the experience of some countries’ uprising like Egypt or Tunisia or the Crimea... Stability and respect of institutions such as the elected government, will allow us to move forward.

Although if we have disagreements on its policy, we still can denounce and criticize... but we must wait until the end of the term. A coup d’etat step back the progress of a country, there are many other ways to lead the fight.

We must learn from the best practices of the Western countries and adapt them for our development.

The challenge now is to make a revolution through education and democracy

As your career was evolving, you played a key role of spokesman of Africa. Isn’t it a bit heavy on a daily basis?

It is a huge responsibility, I pray every day for being modestly able to pass on my message. Anyway, I play reggae like Bob Marley. He came from a small island and he was the voice of the voiceless. I share the same principle. We’re making music, but above all it is reggae! It is our duty to carry on the music that speaks for the people and to the people, to hear their message. We must follow the footsteps of Bob.

Have you always been an activist before playing reggae, or is it this music that helped you to develop this dimension?

I think reggae uplifted my militant side. It would be a pity to hold such an audience, and not to use our talent to take a stand for a good cause.

Reggae uplifted my militant side

What are your projects for the year 2014?

We will release the album, then we will promote it with a tour that will last until 2015 or 2016. I also do concerts in Africa but is quite difficult, because organization is different and there is a lack of structure and sponsors. My wish is to make over there as many concerts as I do in Europe.

What’s new with your label since you’ve built your studio?

I built the studio Patrice Lumumba in Bamako, as well as two concert halls where many bands come to play. I do not produce artists anymore, because the music business is truly not an easy task... It is quite complex in practice to deal with an artist, while you're abroad on tour for example.

In the past, I produced an Ivorian artist Simon Beta and also an artist from Burkina Faso Jah Verity. We also recorded the first album of Takana Zion, that we finally never launched on the market.

The situation is very difficult to produce nowadays, because of the illegal downloading of music. However, my studio is open to all bands and artists, so that they can benefit from professional facilities at affordable prices. I also talk a lot with young artists.

Through your travels and your tours, how do you perceive reggae now in the world?

I think reggae is gaining ground little by little. When the reggae appeared in Jamaica, many thought that it would be a passing fad... and yet 40 years later, it is exported all over the world.

If artists continue to be the voice of the voiceless; if reggae keep the activist and militant side, its future will be bright. It should not be sanitized with commercial things like videoclip around the pool... (laughs). Its strength is its militant side: if we are still talking about Bob Marley nowadays, this is thanks to the power of his message.

40 years later, reggae is exported all over the world

In Africa, many young artists play reggae music. I can not produce them but I offer my experience and advice. Bob Marley predicted that when reggae will reach Africa, it will take its true meaning. Take a look at African artists as Alpha Blondy or Luky Dube, they delivered a strong message to the people. So I think the prophecy of Bob Marley came true...

This is also because reggae opened itself, that it was able to export. The reggae soak up the identity of the country where it is played. In Africa, we add our traditional instruments. Everyone can make this music its own and leave its mark, vibe and color, but keeping the militant side and the message are crucial.

Translated from French by Ping


Reproduction without permission of United Reggae and Franck Blanquin is prohibited.

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Read comments (2)

Posted by marlene boyer on 06.24.2014
Comme d'hab, c'est trop bon, bisous Tiken Jah Fakoly.

Posted by njoya on 06.24.2014
J'aime Tiken Jah Fakoly

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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