Tiken Jah Fakoly discusses persecution and politics ahead of show at Walthamstow Garden Party (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Ivory Coast reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly discusses persecution and politics ahead of show at Walthamstow Garden Party
For centuries artists, writers and musicians have been persecuted and imprisoned for using their art to expose political corruption and vocalise injustice – from artist Paul Klee, who was exiled to Switzerland under the Nazi regime, to girl band Pussy Riot, who clashed with Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Reggae musician Tiken Jah Fakoly is no different.
In 2002, he was forced to leave his home in the Ivory Coast as his life was in danger.
It was a time of political unrest. Ivory Coast military, loyal to then president Laurent Gbagbo, refused to accept electoral defeat to political rival Alassane Ouattara. As such, civil war had broken out, and Government rebels were considered a threat.
Tipped off that authorities were seeking to have him killed, Tiken fled to Mali.
His crime, he says, was to use his music to expose the corruption in the higher echelons of power.
Born into a family of Griots (storytellers), like his ancestors before him he uses his music to educate and inform, focusing on the social and political evolution of Africa and the injustices done to people of his country and Africans in general.
“I stood up against the war,“ he explains, “but my message wasn’t far from what the rebels were saying. I needed to leave and it was a good thing to do, because a few days later the military came looking for me.“
Shortly after his escape, he received a phone call telling him his friend, artist H Camara, had been murdered.
“I had told Camara that we had to leave, that we had to go somewhere else, somewhere out of Africa because it was dangerous,“ he explains. “I had been told by friends that the government wanted me dead, I was receiving calls from people who were threatening me, telling me I talk too much.
“I knew I had to leave, but my friend had said no, he did not want to go. He said he wasn’t dangerous, he was not a politician.
“Then one day he was arrested by the military and killed. He was only 47.“
Following his exile to Malia, he was declared ’persona non grata’ in Senegal, after criticising the then president Abdoulaye Wade.
Despite the hurdles he has had to overcome, Tiken has vowed to continue to expose corruption through his music and as such is considered a voice of the people – amassing a huge following, not just in West Africa, but in America and Europe too.
“My music is written to wake people up,“ says Tiken. “I see myself as carrying on the work of Bob Marley.
“In my songs I’m talking about the hope for Africa. Africa is the future.
“But we need democracy. Without democracy there is no freedom. We want stability. If there is no stability there is no investment. Without investment, there are no jobs for young people.
“Most of all Africans need education. What young African people don’t understand today is that Africa is very rich, but Africans are very poor. They can’t understand that Africa is exploited for its riches.
“When people awake to the importance of education here, they will fight for their rights. When we wake up, we will be free.
“No-one will change Africa for the Africans. Change has to come from us.“
Tiken Jah Fakoly will headline Walthamstow Garden Party, Lloyd Park, Walthamstow on Sunday, July 27.