DJ BBrave of Accra-based label Akwaaba Music notes that most people outside Africa having little interest in the people of countries behind the African music they enjoy, and he has a point. How else to explain the very low level of general knowledge about Africa, despite so much African culture being out there in the world?
At the same time, though, we do know that some of the people who take more than a passing interest in what's happening in various parts of Africa had their initial interest awakened by music. They heard something they liked, looked up the artist and found out something about him/her and where they were from that caused them to keep digging. And even if it means only one out of every hundred non-Africans who check out the music we highlight decides to keep digging until they're familiar enough with a particular place, culture and people to be able to approach newspaper reports from a more knowledgeable standpoint, that's still one more informed person than there was before encountered that artist. So we keep doing what we're doing.
Art Melody & Joey le Soldat
With that in mind, enjoy this free download from Waga 3000, a hip hop group from Burkina Faso, a landlocked former French colony in West Africa with a population of 15.7 million. Although Burkina Faso's economy has had an annual growth rate of 5% over the last five years, it is still an impoverished nation by any standards. It relies heavily on cotton, but its farmers,unlike their European and American counterparts, don't receive any subsidies. Unlike their counterparts, they also don't receive a fixed price no matter how much cotton they produce. Consequently, when American farmers flood the world market with cotton, prices fall and farmers in Burkina Faso feel the pain (along with those in Chad, Mali and Benin). More on this here. For a country that relies on agriculture, it also has poor soil and has had to endure recurring droughts (and another drought is expected this year). The recent upheaval in Mali is also affecting the country: at least 200,00 people have fled Mali for Burkina Faso and Niger.
But these aren't the only problem faced by the people of Burkina Faso. The country has been ruled for the past 25 years by former army officer Blaise Compaoré, who won re-election for a fourth term in November 2010! With this and a rising cost of living, the people of Burkina Faso, taking inspiration from last year's Arab Spring protests, took to the streets. However, Compaoré remains in power.
Thomas Sankara, the man who led the country from 1983 to 1987, was also a military man, but unlike Compaoré he was a visionary, one commonly referred to as "Africa's Che Guevara.
According to Wikipedia, he seized power with the goal of: ... eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power. He launched the most ambitious program for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent. His foreign policies were centered around anti-imperialism, with his government eschewing all foreign aid [how often do you read that?!], pushing for debt reduction, nationalizing all land and mineral wealth, and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritizing education with a nation-wide literacy campaign, and promoting public health by vaccinating 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles.
Other components of his national agenda included planting over ten million trees to halt the growing desertification of the Sahel, doubling wheat production by redistributing land from feudal landlords to peasants, suspending rural poll taxes and domestic rents, and establishing an ambitious road and rail construction program to "tie the nation together."
On the localized level he called on every village to build a medical dispensary and had over 350 communities construct schools with their own labour. His commitment to women's rights led him to outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy; while appointing females to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school even if pregnant.
He was overthrown and assassinated in a coup d'état led by the French-backed Compaoré.
Anyway, back to Waga 3000, which consists of lead rapper Art Melody, Joey le Soldat (Joey the Soldier), who, like many young people in Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou, can't find a job, even though he's educated, and Frenchman DJ Form (who happens to be the brother of the guy responsible for hooking up Art Melody with Redrum, the producer of the album we previously wrote about here).
The vibe of their self-titled album was inspired by the "cold heat" ambience created by the white and blue neon lights you find all over Africa, hence their metallic, retro-futuristic sound. You can read BBrave's article about the group here.
Listen to the complete album here. You might not understand the lyrics in the music, but you can still appreciate the vibe, the flow and the beat, and, as both Art Melody and Joey le Soldat are among the most politically-engaged Burkinabé MCs, you can guess that Bukina Faso's younger generation's frustrations are well reflected in their lyrics.
Waga 3000 is available at Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon.