It is not surprising to learn how passionately Africans love reggae. I learned quickly when Evan Reiffel and I set up a memorial page after the passing of Joseph Hill of Culture. Heartfelt messages poured in from loving fans representing every African country. Africans not only love reggae, the talented musicians across the African continent have learned how to play and sing reggae at a level that is sometimes difficult to distinguish from Jamaicans. Even more so, there are African musicians and singers who have blended reggae with their African sounds resulting in an amazing mix that sometimes includes dancehall, roots, hip hop and tribal influences. The Ivory Coast is one country that has shown love for reggae. I asked Malayky, reggae singer of great depth and talent, who hails from the Ivory Coast to share his perspectives on the current state of reggae in Africa. ~ Sista Irie
1. How has reggae evolved in Africa over the past years?
Reggae has evolved slowly over the past years in Africa. There are many reggae artists on the continent nowadays because it seems to be the very place where there are many things to sing about. Reggae artists have a mission to educate the people.
The blending of African sound and reggae has not evolved too much. It started with Touré Kunda from Senegal with their famous title “Emma” in the early 80’s. They were the first to play percussion and balafon in their reggae music. Besides they marvelously sang in their African language making a hit with that song.
Then followed Alpha Blondy, Lucky Dube and Tiken Jah Fakoly. Alpha initiated a new kind of reggae he called “reggae yagba” originating from the traditional rhythm of Odiénné from the North of Côte d’Ivoire but he only cut a few numbers in that style. Otherwise, Alpha Blondy can’t be identified with a particular African sound except that he mainly sings in African language.
As for Lucky Dube, he succeeded in blending South African sound (Zulu sound) with reggae thanks to the genius ways of playing modern musical instruments like the drums, the keyboards and the guitar. The African sound was still present even though he was singing in English.
Tiken Jah Fakoly is the only one who actually used real African musical instruments (Kaméré N’guoni, sokou and kora) in reggae music. Things I also do because I teamed with him at a certain time of my career. Moreover, we are from the same region and culture.
2. What are the biggest challenges for Jamaican artists wanting to conduct a tour in Africa, also for African artists touring outside the continent?
The biggest challenges for Jamaican artists to tour in Africa are the lack of promoters and sponsors. In addition, African governments refuse to open their borders to this kind of music that attacks them and leads the people to open their eyes, to be conscious about exploitation, embezzlement and mismanagement. Therefore, they pretext the fact that reggae music is associated to drugs, rebellion and delinquency flaws, activities they don’t want their youth to be affected by. Tiken Jah Fakoly was forbidden in Senegal at the time of former President Wade and is still undesired in Democratic Republic of Congo with Kabila. All those leaders blocked the artists because they feared how their messages impact their people. Reggae music seriously bothers some of our leaders, whereas, many promoters need their consent before investing in reggae shows.
African reggae artists also face the same challenges as Jamaican reggae artists do. Furthermore, it seems there is no promoter looking for new talents to be revealed to the world. There is no opportunity offered to young talented African reggae artists to perform in the first parts of the concerts of those already famous and reducing their ability to tour outside the continent.
We must stop associating reggae with drugs, for it discourages sponsors to get into business. It is better to focus on the educational aspect and the awakening of conscious of people.
3. Should the limitations imposed on Jamaican artists who wish to tour in Africa result in improved ability of African artists to tour in Africa?
Normally that is what should happen. Unfortunately, we face a real lack of promoters. But if you’re not well-known in your own country it is difficult to dream about touring in Africa with its 54 countries.
We notice that Roots Reggae African artists are not seen on music TV channels. Television stations prefer exposing females in the video clips. If you don’t give in their desire that is targeted towards their large public, you will never have a chance to be promoted by them. The radios easily accepts us but not the television stations.
I was asked once by a TV to redo my video clip of my cover of “Many Rivers to Cross” with ladies exposing themselves to be in the so called “actual sexy trend”. Of course I refused.
Today’s music business has completely changed with the disappearance of vinyl records and CDs. With the myriad of radio and TV channels, it is difficult to be popular even though you are good. Social media is the only real way to do our promotion.
Thanks for the opportunity offered to me. I hope this kind of interview will arouse people’s curiosity to discover more about me, Malayky, through my CD “Radykal Roots” awarded the 2017 Best African Reggae Album by Reggae.fr in France. I invite fans to also check my new single “I Hear His Whisper.” I look forward to performing outside of Africa to share my experience in African reggae music with a large audience.
I and I see the Light! Maximum Blessings~ Malayky