Published on March 8th, 2016 | by Hondo0
Pre’volution – Smockey
In Burkino Faso, musicians don’t just bring down governments, they write the soundtrack as well.
Like Burkinabé hip hop artist, Smockey, for example.
Smockey started a grassroots political movement called Le Balai Citoyen (The Broom of the People) with Sams K Le Jah that was instrumental in bringing down President Blaise Compaoré.
Compaoré came to power in 1987 with French backing and in the decades that followed turned the country into a corrupt family business. Journalists were intimidated and killed. Musicians who spoke out against the regime were harassed and their music banned.
Not that that stopped Smockey. Smockey is a pun on the French word, se moquer, which, roughly translated, means to mock people in power. Smockey certainly lived up to his name by releasing a satirical single called ‘Votez pour Moi’ (Vote For Me) and an album called CCP (Cravate, Costard et Pourriture) – Tie, Suit and Nothing But Rottenness Underneath.
The Le Balai Citoyen protests started small, but as it became apparent that Compaoré intended to rig elections and cling on to power, it grew into a mass movement. Smockey appeared at huge rallies, carrying a broom that had become the symbol of the movement, a sign that ordinary people could wipe away the corruption and of the Blaise Compaoré regime.
Somehow – between leading protests on the streets of Ouagadougou and dodging rockets fired at his studio by the president’s goons – Smockey managed to record an album: Pre’volution: Le Président, Ma Moto et Moi.
The album features songs written before and during the uprising and has become the unofficial soundtrack of Burkina Faso’s turmoil. ‘On Passe à L’attaque’ is a guide to kickstarting a revolution; ‘Dossier Zongo’ lists political crimes committed under Compaoré’s and ‘On se Développe’ is dedicated to the Burkinabé revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, and recommends reactivating Burkina Faso’s textile industry.
The track garnering most attention is ‘Le Président, Ma Moto Et Moi‘ (The President, My Motorbike And Me). In it Smockey takes former president Blaise Compaoré for a spin around Ouagadougou on his motorbike, pointing out the poverty, the rundown schools and kids demonstrating on the streets. A sudden power cut takes out the traffic lights, they have an accident and end up in Hôpital National Blaise Compaoré. Despite carrying the President’s name, it is in a miserable state – his family laways goes to Europe for treatment.
Welcome to the real Burkina Faso, Mr President.
Now I like a song with a story as much as the next guy. But my favourite track on the album is ‘Fierté Chevaline’ (Chevaline Pride). I have know idea what it is about, which is ironic considering I’ve spent the bulk of this post lionizing Smockey’s political consciousness, but I love Awa Boussim’s voice. I haven’t been able to find out too much about her on the Internet, but I’ve tracked down an album on 7Digital so hopefully I’ll have more to say about her soon.
I also love the track that closes the album, ‘Combattants Oubliés’ (Forgotten Affairs). It was recorded with Amadou Balaké just before his death, and again I don’t really know what it is about. But the plaintive strains of Amadou’s world-weary voice juxtaposes perfectly with Smockey’s strident, insistent rapping. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Now, it’s not for me to tell Smockey his business. The guy did bring down an evil dictator after all. But to me his music works best when he incorporates local traditional instruments and collaborates with veterans from the Burkinabé music scene.
Check out the video below of ‘I-Yamma’, Smockey’s collaboration with Biri Lingani, a toothless legend from his dad’s home town, Garango. Smockey says he’d love to record more with Biri, but it’s difficult to get him into a studio and when you do, he just plays whatever he wants to.
Now that Blaise Compaoré is gone and Smockey has more time on his hands, I hope he gets Biri Lingani into a studio gives it a try. Just press record and see what happens.
I know I’d buy it.