TIKEN JAH Rocks Asmara Audience
When the Alliance Française first came up with the idea of having a concert by world reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly around 6 months ago, little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the greatest musical events by a foreign artist Eritrea had seen in years.
After toiling for months to deliver a spectacular and unforgettable event, the seemingly impractical idea of having an internationally renowned musician in Asmara began materializing. In the days leading to the first weekend of February 2012, posters on the streets of Asmara, in addition to radio and television announcements, advertised the concert by one of Africa’s most influential reggae musicians. And it was worth the wait: nicknamed the Bob Marley of Africa, Tiken Jah did rock Asmara audiences for two evenings, at Cinema Roma and the Bahti Meskerem Square.
The first concert was on the 6th of February, coinciding with the international day against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Exactly four years ago that day, Tiken, who is one of the few African artists engaged in the fight against FGM, had dedicated his song “Non à l’excision” to “all women suffering from FGM and to all those fighting against the practice.”
“… Non a l’excision, Je dis non a l’excision.
Ne les touchez plus, elles ont assez souffert…”
Roughly this goes translated as :
“…No to FGM! I say no to FGM!
Touch them no more, they have suffered enough!”
STOP FGM was the central theme chosen for the concert by organizers. The Alliance Française of Asmara, the PFDJ Cultural Affairs and the National Union of Eritrean Youth & Students (NUEYS) sought to increase the level of awareness of the law banning FGM (which has been in effect for quite some time now) as well as introduce education and awareness programs in every major city and even the most remote parts of Eritrea. This, in turn, could play a huge role in changing behaviors and attitudes thereby creating awareness stepwise in the society in to the effects of FGM.
Tiken’s songs talk about how slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism and globalization are but changing forms of the exploitation of Africa by the developed world. And even though most of his songs are in French, he performed a few in English. But no song other than “Africa wants to be free” sent the audience at Cinema Roma in a crazy wave of cheers, almost taking the roof off the place.
Probably the biggest musical hit of the evening, the song was dedicated for Africa and as Tiken left the stage and joined the audience, everybody stood up singing along “Africa, Africa, Africa, Africa wants to be free!”
“… Africa wants to be free
Like a lion in the jungle
Africa wants to be free
Like a bird in the sky
If you don’t know if you don’t
You’ve got to know
Mama Africa is not free
Oh oh free ! Oh oh free!
Mama Africa wants to be free…”
“Africa is not free, now we need the real independence: economic and political Independence,” Tiken Jah shouted. His words reverberated across the hall as he dedicated the song “to the fighters who made Eritrea free, because they were martyred for us for Africa.”
The same enthusiastic feeling was also witnessed during Tiken’s encore of his performance at the open air concert at Bahti Meskerem Square.
If there has ever been the time when I thanked the Alliance Française of Asmara for having created the opportunity to learn the French language, then this had to be it. It is one thing to listen to music and enjoy it, but it’s quite another to be able to really hear the words and understand what they are trying to convey.
I had completely fallen in love with the lyrics of the songs even before the concert. And the concert’s repertoire consisted of Tiken’s most famous songs, which included my personal favorites.
One of them was Plus Rien Ne M’étonne. In this song, Tiken talks about how the superpowers exploited Africa’s resources.
“…Ils ont partagé le monde, plus rien ne m’étonne !
Plus rien ne m’étonne !
Ils ont partagé Africa, sans nous consulter , Il s’étonnent que nous soyons désunis…”
When translated into English, these words would sound something like the following:
“… They have divided the world, nothing surprises me anymore!
they have divided Africa without consulting us
They were surprised of our disunity…”
After the end of the second concert, Tiken and his band had a short interlude before their departure. I managed to steal Tiken away for a brief but exclusive chitchat. One of the things I wanted to ask him was the origin of ‘Tiken Jah’, because I knew that his birth name was Doumbia Moussa Fakoly.
In his gregarious and humble manner, Tiken laid it all out for me.
“While still a young kid, my dad used to call me Tiene. My friend, who was in the band with me at the very beginning, had somehow difficulties pronouncing it right and always said Tiken. No matter how many times I corrected him, he would say it right once but always managed to revert to Tiken. In the end, I simply adopted it thinking that it would also be something to remember my friend with…”
He spoke in perfectly lucid English as talked about what the rest of his name meant.
“Jah is of course the term that the Rasta use to refer to God and Fakoly is the name of my ancestors…”
Tiken is in fact a descendant of the family of great Mandinka warrior Fakoly Koroma.
I then ventured my next question.
“Tiken, why did you choose to sing about FGM? I mean, it’s not often that you hear a man, and not only a man but an accomplished singer as well, addressing such an issue?”
“Well, these females are humans just like us. And when we are talking about FGM we are talking about cutting parts of the body. That has to stop. I know it might be tradition or a cultural norm, and I respect all that, but in today’s advanced world, we don’t really have to take up everything as it is. We need to dispose of the harmful practices.”
Apparently, Tiken not only has a big heart for his continent, but even a bigger and more humane outlook toward his fellow Africans.
In fact, with the firm belief that only education can bring change to Africa, he created a campaign called “Un concert, une école” (One concert, One School). With the money raised on his tours, he built a new school in Burkina Faso and Mali. He also built a school in his native Côte d’Ivoire and rehabilitated another.
It is because Tiken’s music speaks about many injustices done to the people of Africa, that many African listeners feel a deep affinity with his lyrics. As such, Eritreans also reiterated their support for his principles.
To that end, just to enlighten how Eritrea has always supported the greater emancipation of Africa from foreign domination, and at the same time to thank Tiken Jah and his band for their stupendous concert, the Minister of Tourism, Ms. Askalu Menkerios, threw a luncheon at Asmara Palace Hotel for the whole group.
A warm welcoming ceremony for Tiken Jah Fakoly & his band had also taken place ahead of the concert at the garden of the Embasoira Hotel. The ceremony consisted of a cultural show by Sbrit, Eritrea’s National Cultural Troupe. Present during the event were Ms Askalu Menkerios , Minister of Tourism; Mr. Sultan Seid, Chairperson of NUEYS; Mr. Ibrahim Ali, Head of Cultural Affairs Bureau at the PFDJ; Ms. Cecile Antonietti, Director of Alliance Française of Asmara; as well as various artists, musicians and invited guests.