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Interview: Alpha Blondy

Interview: Alpha Blondy

Interview: Alpha Blondy

By on - Photos by R. Deluze - 1 comment

"Not all Africa is a battlefield"


He was one of the very first reggae artists born in the Motherland. His career spans incredible 29 years now. Seydou “Jagger” Koné, better known as Alpha Blondy and dubbed the Emperor of African reggae, sat down with Valentin Zill in Paris in April to talk about his latest album 'Vision', music in Côte d‘Ivoire, his work as a messenger of peace of the United Nations and the difficult process of reconciliation in his home country after years of civil war. While Alpha is getting a bit long in the tooth, the fire in him is burning as hot as ever.

The legend from Côte d‘Ivoire on music and politricks

Alpha Blondy

What was the vision behind Vision, your 17th studio album?

A Vision of today, a vision of yesterday and my vision of tomorrow. Musical vision, spiritual vision, and social vision. Which means what I really wanted to say by choosing Vision is my spiritual vision first around me, around the world I'm living in. It's also my vision of the world as seen by the politicians. What I wanted to really emphasize is that politicians have forgotten to take care of the essential of their politics. The human being should be in the center of all politics. And that's not what I'm seeing. They replace human being by money. What I want people to know is money is made for the use of man. But it's not the opposite. That's the vision, the sad vision I have of the world. But I'm still optimistic. I hope that one day the politicians will realize that they're doing the wrong calculation. That they're gonna replace mankind in the middle of their politics. For instance, I tell you something. How can you imagine that the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] needed 30 billion dollars to eradicate famine on the surface of the earth. So every country, every citizen could eat at least. They did not succeed in getting 30 billion dollars. But when the banks had a problem, they got thousands of billions to take care of that. That's not fair. That's what I mean by we have to recenter the politics and the politicians. They have to recenter their priorities. The human being is the priority. And that's my vision, one of my visions.

You've pre-produced Vision with a mobile studio while you where on tour in various places in Europe, South America and so on. How is you mobile studio set up?

Alpha Blondy - VisionIt's a suitcase, a small suitcase like that. We got computers inside, we got a M-Box inside and a professional mic. In every city we arrived, before going to soundcheck, we had to do something in my bedroom, in my hotel room. So we did that in Europe here, in France I mean, in Germany, in Switzerland. We did it when we went to Marocco. We did some work in Brazil, Argentina. So that gives a special texture to the sounds. The musicians and I were in the mood of a live performance kind of thing. So you can feel that in the record we did.

You were in Johannesburg during the soccer world championship. Tell us about the impressions you got there.

I loved the atmosphere. We went shopping, and all over the place you could hear the vuvuzelas. At the hotel, me and my guys sitting and watching the girls passing by - sexy, sexy, you know, sexy something man (laughing) - so, anyway, all of a sudden a peer with what we call in French a canonciére - which means she was top-ranking - ... and she was kind of, ok guys, I see you later. And someone in the crowd said "Well, don't forget to protect your vuvuzela before you waka-waka". I found that sentence really beautiful. It was very nicely said. Protect your vuvuzela before you waka-waka. Don't let HIV take your life! That's how the song Vuvuzela was born.

Reggae music in West Africa generally seems to function like a newspaper or radio inasmuch as it talks about recent political developments and brings them closer to an audience that often can't read nor write.

That's true. That's true. Because when you sing in African dialects, people in the village, deep in the country, that's the way they are informed about what's happening. They feel it, they see it, but if they don't have access to the newspaper, if they don't speak French or English... When it's something in Dyoula, they can pick it up. They can understand. It's another dimension of communication. Reggae becomes something that allows people to communicate in different languages, tribal languages, you see.

Singing in African languages - that's the way people in the villages are informed about what's happening

Should music always transport a social message?

No, it can be a love message. You don't use reggae as a newspaper (laughs). But reggae talks about everyday life, reality. African reggae talks about the land where milk and honey don't flow, only blood and tears. Voila. That's not new for the people, because they see it. That's what they live sometimes. But not all Africa is a battlefield. No. You can sing love songs, you can talk about happy things, happy events. But African reggae talks more about what's happening in everyday life. And everyday life is not always bright.

What are your favorite Reggae artists from Côte d'Ivoire right now?

In private, I don't know. But I love Ras Goody (Brown), I love Ismael Isaac very much. I also love Beta Simon. They do some very good work.

When the civil war started in Côte d'Ivoire, some Ivorians went to Paris and created coupé décalé in nightclubs there. Does that music work for you, too? They don't have a real message to spread, just partying...

Yeah, coupé décalé at that time had a very positive effect on the minds of the people, because they were very confused, very scared, they were afraid to go out. So coupé décalé was the young kids, you know, who wanted to show of their nice clothes and "We got money and we show it", OK. This is a part of the craziness of music. But there was still some reggae going on, you see. And other music. But the coupé décalé, for me, was a very good thing to heal people's fear.

Would you say that reggae in Côte d'Ivoire lost out to newer styles like zouglou or coupé décalé?

I want zouglou to be. I want coupé décalé to be. And I want reggae to be! And besides of that - Ivory Coast, we got so many rhythms and dances. You mentioned a few, but you got the kineh, you got ziglibity, you got - I don't know, polieh. We have so many dances. All those dances should be. They are there to make people happy. All dances shall be. Our mission is to make people happy. If we can make people happy with zouglou, thank God. If we can make them happy with coupé décalé, thank God. Because we are here for that, to give happiness around us, to give hope. And I love people to dream! We're dream weavers. All musicians are dream weavers. And we wanna do our job. It's sure that life is not all blood and tears. In life, you got coupé décalé. In life, you also have reggae. So as long as people are happy, we're satisfied.

I love people to dream! All musicians are dream weavers

Some Ivorians were disappointed at first when you supported Gbagbo in the elections. But they had a lot of respect for you again when you asked Gbagbo afterwards to step down.

It's not because they love me that, you know, I have to do things that always please them. They don't have to love me. But at least I have to be free to choose who I support and who I don't. They talk about democracy and they want me to be a victim of their dictatorship. I'm free to choose who I support. If they'd really love me, they would respect my choice. But they don't have to try to influence my choice or impose their choice to me. I would never do that. Now those who love me will understand me. And those who don't love me should f*** off.

As a messenger of peace for ONUCI, do you feel responsible for the peace process not turning out as it should have turned out?

Alpha BlondyI did my best. I'm not a politician. So in the very beginning, for them to choose me as a messenger of peace means that the danger was there already. It means that all the politicians failed. For them to choose an artist like Alpha Blondy to become the messenger of peace for the United Nations was a prove that all the politicians didn't have enough credibility to defend peace. If the ECOWACS choose Alpha Blondy as a messenger of peace of ECOWACS in the Ivory Coast, it means that the Ivory Coast politicians failed. And I, with the little things I know, I tried to put our pieces together to avoid the war. But everybody was kind of tired of this Ivory Coast problem. The UN was sick and tired of being accused, France was tired of being blamed. The European community was accused, the international community was accused. In Ivory Coast, our problem was very delicate. Somebody said "The person who will tell you that he understands the Ivory Coast problem did not get the right explanation." Because if we get the right explanation, we cannot understand. At my level, I don't think about yesterday. I think about today's results. The war is far from us. The people started going to the marketplace, guys are going to work, salaries are going to be paid, hospitals gonna have medication, children might start going to school, and life goes on. The test that God put in our way, together we'll overcome everything by the help of the Almighty. But that's what I want to see: I wanna have a very optimistic vision of tomorrow, and not let what I saw yesterday have an influence, a negative impact on my vision of tomorrow for the people of the Ivory Coast.

Will there be some kind of reconciliation tour with other artists?

We have to. Reconciliation tour - I don't know [There will be a reconciliation tour with Alpha Blondy, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Ziggy Marley and others]. But we have to make reconciliation. Reconciliation is a must. If we want to heal our mental wounds, if we want to erase the bad souvenirs that we collected during this time of crisis, we all have to give our contribution in order to reach perfect and complete reconciliation. We have to talk to each other, we have to forgive. Even if we cannot forget, let's try to forgive. That's the mission that all Ivorians have to be submitted to.

Choosing an artist like Alpha Blondy to become the messenger of peace for the United Nations was a prove that all the politicians didn't have enough credibility to defend peace

Which measures should be taken on the road of reconciliation?

Ivoirité should be banned by a law. I'm going to ask the new government for that. They have to ban the concept of ivoirité. That's very important. Now if they don't ban the concept of ivoirité, they're gonna find me in their way.

Ivoirité reminds me of the fascist German blood and soil ideology.

That's ivoirité. I call it negro nazism. It's when in a Black country, some Black things are Blacker than the other Blacks (laughs). "I'm more nigger than you!" (laughs).

On Vision, there is a track called Ma Tête. It is about politicians trying to use you.

Ya, they all did. When they feel that what I'm saying is going to their favor, then they treat me as if I was a genius. But if I happen not to agree with them, then they treat me as if I was a mental case. So today, you need my help. Today you need me to come and rescue. But listen to this one, dig this one: Talk to my ass, OK, because my head is sick! Voila. Which means I'm sick and tired of being used by you guys. I'm sick and tired of being humiliated. I'm sick and tired of being insulted by you.

Do the recent revolutions in some North African countries let you gain hope for Africa's future?

Africa is the hope of the human race. You know why? Because the kind of nuclear business in Japan will not happen to the Ivory Coast, to Africa I mean. Tchernobyl - we don't have nuclear plants! So one day - knock on wood - I don't want that to happen, but in case that happens, and we have to move 20 million people, where are they gonna go to? You will see ten million tourists going to Africa. Because that day, they will realize that the human being, we are one small family. And if we live on this global land, nobody is - how do you say that... Don't say "This will never happen to me!" Never say that. Because nobody knows tomorrow. What's happening in Japan today could happen somewhere here. So we got to have land where we can save people and wait until the radioactivity wears off. They have to find a place to live for those 20 years. That day, they will understand that we all are part of that big human family. That's the lesson that God will teach us.

Africa is the hope of the human race

With all the wars going on, Lybia, Afghanistan, Irak, and with man-made catastrophes like the one unfolding in Fukushima, do you sometimes loose your faith in humanity?

No. Never. You know why? My grandmother said if you're looking, searching for God and you pass a human being, you'll never see God again. God is in the building of the world. It's not that God has built the world and is finished (claps hands). No, no, no. He keeps on building. And he himself is the journalist, he himself is the road paver, he's himself the mechanic. He's the farmer. He's the pilot. And he is the airplane. And he is the kerosine in the airplane. The Almighty is at work. You see what I mean? So all those catastrophes belong to the procedure of the building of the world. He's in the brain of mankind, it's God at work. So let's not feel desperate. As the Rastas say: God at the control!

As Bob Marley put it: "Have no fear of atomic energy, as none of them can stop the time!"

Exactly! Because God is time. He's not the master of time, no. He is time (in a deep voice). That's one of his names.

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Read comments (1)

Posted by Boemien on 08.27.2011
Alpha Blondy, you are the best...... Nothing else to say!!!

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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