By Saraah Bikaï
Festival des Nuits d’ Afrique 2018 was truly a blast, filled with African themes charming and enticing our senses, traditional dishes, workshops, dance classes, the Timbuktu market and an incredible lineup of African artists from all around the continent and it’s diaspora. I had the privilege to sit and discuss with a few of the geniuses performing at the festival and get an interesting insight on their art and their values. None of them failed to captivate me while sharing a glimpse of their world. I had the opportunity and honor to converse with Femi Kuti, Nigerian virtuoso and son of the renowned Fela Kuti. Noubi Trio an eclectic group combiningWest African sounds, guitar bass and Cajón. Diely Mori Tounkara, Malian and Senegalese raised Kora prodigy and finally Afrotronix , avant-garde Afro futuristic concept artist and musician originally from Chad
The conversation discussed their overall outlook on the future of music as African artists, their inspirations, influences and the great teachers they have had in their lives. Which all led me to the understanding that though they were are all distinct and unique in their own way, they shared similarities both in their ideologies and inspirations. These similarities stemmed from their ingrained traditions of storytelling and the cultural importance granted to the elders in teaching and training younger generations into becoming expert.
“I come from a family of Griots, “ says Mr Tounkara “The Griot, in others words is a mediator. They are storytellers. Before we did not write history It’s the Griots who were the guardians of the history” Dieli Mori Tounkara for instance told us more about the need to learn from someone else and his use and apprenticeship of the Kora.
He defined the instrument as “A mystical instrument, the ancestor of the Harp. Kora is a traditional instrument made from Calabash a hard shell inedible fruit in the family of squash. This fruit is usually used to create artifacts. The instrument is constituted with fishing threads hard wood and cowhide. The sound is closest to the harp. Oftentimes people believe that African music is only for people to dance to, African music is way more versatile than that .The Kora has changed a lot of musical genera. “ This instrument allowed him travel, meet people and collaborate with various artists.”
In addition to Mr Tounkara , Noubi Trio also traveled with the instruments that they use. The group took a geographical and historical trip by picking Cajón as their main instrument .
”Initially The Cajón was just that I wanted to create something a little more intimate with the least people possible.” Explains Noubi Trio “ The Cajón was the element I had found that was the most complete to me, in order to replace the drums, and percussion. I learned it and as I was using it, I knew that the Cajón was actually part of my story as an African. “ The world of the Cajón is connected with the fact that during slavery in Peru, Afro Peruvians used boxes that they had worked with in the fields to pick vegetables and fruits. These same cases were reused after work by the enslaved in order to make music and remind them of their countries and traditions. This is a story strengthened his overall relationship to the instrument. “Cajón is more likely used in Peru, Spain in flamenco but less so in Africa where it is not well known. It’s a challenge for me to bring it back to its origins, to introduce it to Africans and show them that it is also theirs.”Noubi trio also told us about their inspirations : “ I already heard my uncle who was guitarist. He made me want to play guitar” .
In terms of inspirations, various artist were influenced by their elders and the previous generations.
Femi Kuti for instance had a path to follow and a specific ideology that he today shares with his nine children. He opened The New Afrika Shrine an entertainment center located in Nigeria the center values art, expression, emancipation and activism. “The shrine has been the focal point to fighting corruption and injustice “ expresses Mr Kuti “. It’s a venue that stands liberated. I try to make people understand that it’s not about money, it’s about us spreading the message against oppression. To enlighten people who do not know about Malcolm X, or Martin Luther King, Marcus Gavey , Patrice Lumumba , my father. It was built to honour great people who have fought for the emancipation of Africa.“
Each of the albums being played defended his idea that Africans need to educate and emancipate themselves.
By firstly being aware of their history and conditioning in order to break the mental and physical chains
“Africa for Africa , was dealing with the importance of Africans to start to tell their stories. “says Femi Kuti “To believe in themselves and understand that the continent , the African countries are colonial names . All these borders are put there to just divide us. We need to work around this or else we will continue to fight one another. The francophone or the Anglophone countries find it very difficult to agree, we have to understand these are colonial structures and we need to love and care for Africa. We need to understand that war will never solve our problems . We need to stop all these internal fights .”
“No place for my dream “ he follows “ Is about great people who had the same visions , who were either killed or silenced. People ask me why am I going through this if the same thing could happen to me. In the song I am saying that I still have to strive and continue because I believe in this. One people , One world today is where my mind is . I believe we all need to understand we are in one planet , and if we don’t understand this we are all going to be in trouble. This album is more trying to bring the world together to understand we are all one.”
Some parts of Nigeria are in very critical political conditions such in the city of Maiduguri,located in North East Nigeria with the Boko Haram atrocities . Femi Kuti started working as UNICEF spokesperson for those children and a defendant of their rights.
“So many children have lost their parents. They are malnourished, they are very helpless so my job was to enlighten people about their plight and see if we could get more donations to help them.”
Despite the realization of chaos and the fragmented history of the world all those artist were able to discuss their power in changing the world . Afrotronix for instance, the Chadian artist mixing Sahara blues , and traditional songs from his tribe Sara, expresses himself through 3 different approaches, choreographies, movement of the body and melodies.
He explained, “ The future of afro futurism is a struggle. For this movement to persist and take its place, it must continue to be inclusive. It would be necessary for every people, to recognize the struggle, because the idea of Afro futurism is really a future based on values that have been neglected and judged as primitive. We try to look differently and say; what is valued in society today, are the good gestures, the respect of the other, therefore add value to what is sacred. Not in the material, the revenues or the market values.”
Noubi added “ Music is also a way for me to express myself for people who have a lot to say, who have their opinion but who are not heard. I am fortunate to be able to be in front of an audience and to be able to express myself and be heard, allowing me to say things that I think should be heard. The situation of African youth is a great energy that Africa is losing every day in Atlantic Ocean.” Femi Kuti concluded by saying “We need to understand where we are to prepare ourselves to the future . We cannot disregard that big part of our history. We have to hold everybody accountable for that history. People in America have to apologize; they have to do something about it because they are main players. You ask me if I believe that all these problems will be solved in my lifetime, I don’t think so. But then again if there wasn’t Malcolm X and great people like this who enlighten people like me and many more to speak out or know their history we would probably not care , or just accepted that we are “ slaves” and that we have to remain slaves. So it probably will take another 50 – 100 years to totally be emancipated but I think that everybody has a play, it could be fashion, medicine it could be anything we all have a role wherever we are as Africans. We have to identify to this fight for change and I think it will take a very long time for us to speak with one voice. But again we shouldn’t lose focus and understand that we are many voices. One day the people will rise and there will be peace all over the world. This is my greatest hope. I believe that it will be a time of global revolution, where people just understand that oppression has to stop, corruption has to stop . I believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel . I am more optimistic than in my past albums .This is probably because at my age, being a father. I have to find an answer for my children and my mind is working in this direction. It would be wrong to be a father and tell my children that there is no hope, so why be a father ? ”