A retrospective look at Africa’s music scene in 2015

2015 saw Africa’s musicians use their songs to spread awareness about Boko Haram, promote peace and reconciliation and challenge stereotypes. It was a year where the continent’s diversity and eclectic musical traditions were on display.

N’DJAMENA, CHAD (VIGILANCE PLUS) – ‘Lets open our eyes’ was the message a collective of Chadian artists called Vigilance Plus spread through music as a way to raise awareness on Islamist group, Boko Haram.

The group is made up of about 10 artists whose song lyrics encourage people to be vigilant in buses and public places like markets, bars, and hotels.

The song was played on local radio and the music video on Chadian television.

It was also was written in different languages, including French, English, local Arabic, Sara (from southern Chad), and Peul in the hope of spreading the message to other countries affected by Boko Haram.

Rapper, Ray’s Kim is head of the collective and also the one who started the project.

“We truly extend this call of vigilance to all the people who have experienced attacks, who are at risk of attack, or who are being threatened. We call on everyone to be vigilant. We know that Cameroon is being attacked but also Niger, Mali, and Nigeria. We know that today, Central African Republic is at risk of attack at any moment, so we are calling on these people to be alert in order to counter all groups that will harm human lives,” said Ray’s Kim.

Chad is part of a regional military task force fighting Boko Haram.

Soldiers were deployed alongside troops from neighbours Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger to tackle the militant group and end the six-year insurgency that has killed thousands.

Boko Haram, which calls itself the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) since pledging allegiance to the militant group that controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, has stepped up attacks in countries around Lake Chad Basin area in recent months in response to the regional offensive.

Nigerian pianist and songwriter, Cobhams Asuquo is also using music to preach hope and inspire his listeners,

Cobhams is visually-impaired. He was born blind but says that never stopped him from pursuing his goal to become a musician.

His work is a fusion of different genres including, RnB, Jazz, classical music and various African rhythms.

Still, he says it was hard going when he first started and he’s had to overcome many challenges.

“Like any other success story, you know, I’ve had moments where I had to fail forward, where I had to learn you know, where I had to do all kinds of things you know. I would go to people’s studios you know, and just hang out and listen to them work and you know, I would hope that one day, I’d be lucky to get on the console, or you know, get on the system and you know, do my own thing you know, and then eventually when I started to do that there were times when you know, I would sleep on many studio floors and I would dream of owning my own studio you know, and there was a time in my life, a time I describe as poor, broke and homeless when I just went from studio to studio and I just made music and it didn’t matter what I got paid,” he said.

Despite growing up in a poor community and with a disability, Cobhams was determined to make his dreams come true. His life and music are a reflection of the optimism and drive that propelled him to the top of Nigeria’s music industry.

Battling great odds to bring their music to the world, the musicians of Malian band Songhoy Blues had to flee their homes in the north after Islamist militants took over their part of the country in 2012.

Before the crisis, Mali had a reputation as a rare example of a stable democracy in a tumultuous region. The Islamists imposed Sharia law and banned a wide variety of activities, including music or any other form of entertainment. For Songhoy Blues singer and guitarist Aliou Touré, this was the last straw.

“It was a question of life or death there not only for us in particular but for the whole population of civilians. We are talking about jihad here, we are talking about Islamists, we are talking about the armed groups. In such circumstances when your security is under threat, one better escape somewhere where they can be offered safety. That is exactly the reason why us and most of the northern population moved down south,” said Touré.

While the band’s music is mainly the fusion of rhythms and tunes from the north and the south of Mali, they are also influenced by a lot of modern western musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, adding the rock sound to the music.

In early 2015, Songhoy Blues released its debut album ‘Music in Exile’ that includes their hit ‘Al Hassidi Terei’ and that tracks the culture of their country as well as the Malian conflict.

As Touré explained, they see music as very powerful tool that allows to send any message across the world in an instant.

“The words of music are often more important than any sort of political discourse. (The music) is much higher than the political discourse. Everybody listens to it, it gets everywhere. When people listen to your music, they are looking to find the meaning of your music and so your message travels across the world in an instant. That is why for us it is indeed music in exile,” Touré said.

It was his first time in the DR Congo and award-winning artist Stromae did not disappoint his fans. 6,000 people packed the parking lot of the Pullman Grand Hotel to watch Stromae deliver hit after hit.

The 30-year-old musician born to a Rwandan father and Belgian mother, Stromae said the tour of Africa was like a personal “initiation” for him.

Stromae, who sings in French and whose witty lyrics tackle family, loneliness, drunkenness and Twitter, had to abandon the last two appearances of his first Africa tour in June after falling ill.

Reports said he suffered side effects from anti-malarial medication and returned to Brussels for treatment.

At a news conference, Stromae apologized for not making it to perform the first time round and paid tribute to several Congolese artists he said have heavily influenced his music.

“I think Congolese music gave birth to many movements, especially in Nigeria currently or in Ivory Coast, etc. For me, the Congo is of paramount importance musically. I’m thinking of Koffi Olomide, Papa Wemba, Zaiko, Franco, and so on. This is music that we listened to tremendously and that African diasporans, not necessarily Congolese, at some point listened to Congolese music. It’s a must, so it is understandably part of who I am,” Stromae explained.

On his Africa tour, Stromae also performed in Senegal, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Congo Republic.