When the Exiled 'Reggae Rebel' Hit Home

by SOC Okenwa

Music is the food of life, so the saying goes. Without music I wonder how we would have been stimulated melodically. Without music nobody would have known Michael Jackson, Bob Marley or Lucky Dube. Without music millions whose profession it is would have been deprived of the great opportunity to make name and money. Without music popular musicians like Bob Geldoff would not have found the platform to rally world attention for the human tragedy in Ethiopia, Somalia and elsewhere in Africa. With music the world is a good place to live in; with music humanity like King David worships the Great God. Like narcotics and other drugs millions are hooked to music; that’s why you have teenagers in the West whose behavorial abnormalities are traceable to heavy metal music with its violent lyrics.

Reggae is a music genre that appeals to my soul apart from gospel music. The Jamaicans popularised reggae music and even their national football team is called “reggae boys”. You have all-time greats like late Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, Culture, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear and a host of others. Back home in Nigeria you have Ras Kimono, Isaac Black, Orits Williki and others. In Africa generally three great reggae artistes are highly rated: Lucky Dube, Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly. With Lucky Dube murdered in his homeland we now have two Ivorians left flying high the Selasian Jah flag!

The first time I had a public encounter with Tiken Jah Fakoly was in August 2000. Late General Robert Guei was in power having successfully toppled a democratically elected Henry Konan Bedie’s government. It was the independence anniversary of the French-speaking sophisticated country called generally “the sub-saharan African miracle” and there was a free concert at the Independence Square at the heart of “le Manhattan tropique” (the tropical Manhattan) Plateau Abidjan. Tiken was one of the musicians billed to entertain the crowd of more than a hundred thousand.

There and then at about 2am in a national concert been televised live Tiken was on stage and suddenly the Republican Guards took up positions around the Independence Square menacingly. Words were sent to the rugged reggae man on stage to tone down his anti-government anti-military songs or risk arrest. Tiken Jah Fakoly addressed the crowd immediately urging us to stay on as nothing would happen! He continued his offensive messages and instead of being arrested the military junta ordered that he be cut off national TV and resumed broadcast of events only after the dread-lock-wearing young reggae rebel had left the scene!

As President Laurent Gbagbo electorally rattled General Guei as the unintelligent military dictator sought to rubber-stamp his democratic transmogrification Tiken continued his reggae journey but this time broadened his campaign for African unity, real independence and economic emancipation. He sang against mass poverty, social injustices and ugly games politicians play. As the war broke out Tiken released a controversial album in which he publicly called on the President to “quitte le pourvoir” (quit power). The song did not go down well with the authorities trying to contain a hydra-headed rebellion that had cut the country into two administrative parts.

Tiken Jah Fakoly’s life was seriously threatened and he left for exile in France in 2002. His album was banned subsequently. From France Tiken was invited to Bouake by the former rebels to play for them. He temporarily relocated to Bamako Mali; whenever he desired to visit Africa he would head for Bamako where he has millions of fans. A concert last year in a Bamako stadium had approximately 15 thousand fans in attendance! From abroad Tiken took on the system and sometimes granted acidic interviews that told truth to power. He maintained upon his return that the civil war had only benefitted the minority!

Tiken Jah Fakoly is a controversial hugely popular successful reggae musician. Some see him as arrogant and others as a rebel against the establishment. Before his date with exile he had condemned musically the notorious “carte de sejour” here, a resident permit document which generated a lot of bad blood between foreigners and the Ivorian government under Bedie and Guei and later Gbagbo accused of xenophobia. (The Gbagbo government had annulled ‘carte de sejour’ last month!) He sang against exclusion and corruption especially the exclusion of the powerful opposition figure here Alassane Dramane Ouattara (ADO) from the political equation on account of his alleged Burkinabe paternal roots.

Few weeks back the enfant terrible of Ivorian reggae music hit home from exile after five years. And last Saturday he organized a peace and reconciliation concert which attracted close to twenty five thousand fans in ‘Parcs de Sports’ de Treichville Abidjan. I was there and was amazed at the reggae rebel’s raw energy and talent. Backed by a professional band made up of almost 90 percent White men and women Tiken thrilled the crowd (which included two serving ministers) from 6 pm till 11 pm. Before the concert he had paid a courtesy call on some ministers, the President of Social and Economic Council Dona Fologo, the Prime Minister and the President himself.

During the concert Tiken was unrepentant as he railed against African Presidents whom he labelled “assassins”. He took the West to the cleaners accusing Europe and America of being behind the African tragedy. For Tiken Jah it is not normal for us to go buy cars made in the West at their fixed price only for the Westerners to come here and impose price on our local products like coffee and cocoa. It is wrong, according to him, for the Westerners to make visa applications and delivery stringent when their own visa demands are always processed on time and with little or no obstacles. That is what he sang about in his latest album: ‘ouvrir les frontiers’ (open the borders). He made it clear that Africa is a rich land but the conspiracies and injustices of 100-year colonialism and 400-year slavery has done Africa in.

Saying that ‘Mama Africa’ is beautiful (one of the songs in the new album rendered in good English) Tiken declared that for many years the World Bank and IMF has been borrowing money to Africa but yearly the conditions and situations get worse questioning the African leadership and conditions of the loans. He said after the second World War America rallied round Europe and voted billions of dollars for the reconstruction of the old continent asking furiously why the same strategy should not applicable to Africa worse than Europe post 2nd world war if the West are sincere.

Tiken Jah Fakoly paid glowing tribute to great Africans like late Kunta Kinte, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara

, Steve Biko, and Nelson Mandela. He admonished African leaders to take seriously issues of governance and abandon the penchant to loot the little resources available to ensure the development of our peoples. Besides he exhorted his compatriots to prepare themselves for the post-crisis general elections coming up in the middle of next year asking the crowd if general elections in France or America produce violence and deaths to which they shouted “no”.

For Tiken there should be no reason why elections in Africa should always produce death, destruction and violence. When he finished his speech my mind raced back to the Maurice Iwu April deeply-flawed general elections in Nigeria which witnessed thousands of our compatriots violently killed or brutalised by both the military and the police drafted to the scene by Olusegun Obasanjo and his PDP chieftains. Iwu deserved some ironic felicitation for organising the very worst election in our troubled history.

I felt good indeed listening to a reggae prophet who knows what he was talking about and what he is fighting for. With Lebanese, and other White nationals, young boys and girls among the crowd freely rocking’n rolling the mainbowl of Parc de Sports in Treichville wore a combative cross-racial mood. At a stage when the fans became unruly (almost uncontrollable by a heavy battery of security presence) with some of them overtaken by emotion jumping over to the stage to hug or touch Tiken he asked them to calm down cheerfully telling the over-excited ones: “reste vous tranquille les gars, apres ce show on va se djar au quartier” (remain calm guys, after the show we shall paint the neighbourhood red).

As I drove away from Treichville Sports Park as the concert was rounding off I was playing Tiken Jah Fakoly’s new album in my car and I could not help but notice the lyrical sincerity in his war against the killers of the African dream. The Ivorian reggae crooner stormed home with three international awards he won in France as the best reggae musician in Africa. He will go places with his kind of battle for better treatment of mother Africa by her enemies and friends within and without. Long live the reggae rebel! And long live the struggle!!

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1 comment

nelson December 20, 2007 - 10:02 am

I felt a deep connection with all that you have just relayed to the entire world about the harsh rule meted to africans by the western thiefs.

The only solution to the african problem is if we africans throw away the christian and islamic religion and uphold the traditional african valuus because the western world met this great religion before the baterdized it and made thier own religion supreme above all other religion


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