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Album Review

A leading reggae artist from Francophone Africa, Tiken Jah Fakoly is also one of its most articulate and outspoken voices. Censure, persecution, and exile (he fled his native Ivory Coast for Mali after receiving death threats, and he also has been declared persona non grata by the government of Senegal), have never prevented "Fakoly" from telling things as they are. His incisive, confrontational style contrasts with the more metaphorical or allusive lyrics of previous generations of African artists, and brings his persona closer to that of Bob Marley — clearly Fakoly's main influence, both musically and thematically. L'Africain is mostly concerned with the sad fortunes of the African peoples and their diaspora, and their everyday struggle against injustice and exploitation, be it at home by their own corrupt administrations, or in Europe by their past colonial masters and a society growing more and more intolerant of immigrants by the minute. A great example is his ironical version of Sting's "Englishman in New York," here transformed into "Africain à Paris," its new lyrics in French paint a very different and much harsher reality than the picturesque one of Sting's Briton in America. Other remarkable cuts include "Non à l'Excision," a moving plea against female genital mutilation, and "Ouvrez les Frontières," a call for the opening up of borders. Of course, its engaged discourse would not suffice to make this a good album if the music were not up to the task. Fortunately, this is where Fakoly truly excels: he is a superb reggae artist, one of the finest of his generation, in any language, able to seamlessly combine the sound and spirit of Marley's teachings with African instruments (kora, djembe, balafon) and contemporary concerns. In this sense, L'Africain is a treat even for those reggae fans who cannot understand French or are unconcerned by its politics (but then again, all true reggae fans should be). Produced by Kevin Bacon and Jonathan Quarmby (whose credits include Ziggy Marley, Finley Quaye, and Del Amitri), featuring guests Soprano, Akon, and Beta Simon, as well as Zebda's Magyd Cherfi, who wrote part of the material, L'Africain is one of the best reggae releases of 2007, and a worthy addition to Tiken Jah Fakoly's exemplary catalog.


Born: 23 June 1968 in Odienné, Ivory Coast

Genre: World

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

In the tradition of Bob Marley, Alpha Blondy, and his African griot caste, Tiken Jah Fakoly emerged in the late '90s as Africa's premier social critic through reggae. Born Doumbia Moussa Fakoly (June 23, 1968) into a family of musicians and oral historians known as griots, a role honored throughout Africa, Fakoly took an earnest interest in reggae as a boy growing up in the town of Odienné on the northern slope of the Ivory Coast. He formed his first group in 1987, giving them the name "Djelys,"...
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L'Africain, Tiken Jah Fakoly
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