Côte d’Ivoire: Tiken Jah Fakoly

Interview with
Tiken Jah Fakoly

By Ole Reitov


Transcription of the full interview

When was the first time that you realised that your music could be dangerous to the policy makers?

I think it was in 1999. I did an album which title was ‘Cours d’histoire’. I was talking about how people came to live in the Ivory Coast. Because our old president who was in power during 33 years, it was Felix Houphouet-Boigny, and his people was Baoulé, and everybody in Ivory Coast were made to believe that they were the ‘first people’ there. That was what they taught us in school. But I had talked with some old people, some teachers in Burkina Faso… I don’t know if you know Kisabo — he was a big history teacher … I met him and talked with him, and he said: “It is not true. The first people who came to the Ivory Coast were the Kru people, and after the Kru, the Mandingo came” — my people. And after the Mandingo, the Baoulé came. I talked about that in my song, and the Baoulé who were in power, they didn’t like it. They said I am a liar because I want to change the history. I said: “No, I don’t want to change history. You wanted to change the history, and I’ve come to tell the truth.”
This was the first time I realised my music is doing something.

The Berber musician Lounes Matoub once said: ‘Those who knows and shut up are crooks.’ — that if you know something you should speak up…

I think it is very important for the musician to say what is true because sometimes the politicians would want to change the history because of their own thing — because they want to stay in power, or something else… I think today we cannot even trust the opposition, because everybody wants to be friends with France or the US. The opposition wont say the truth, because if they do, they will never come in power. So I really think the musician is the hope for the people. They are the only ones speaking the truth.

One time I met the president of Senegal, it was in 2004. The United Nations had invited os for a meeting in Dakar. We were talking about AIDS, together with the president from Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade. I was there together with Baaba Maal, and one singer from Mauritania, Malouma. And one artist from Congo. And Momodou Konté. Then the president from Senegal told us: ‘You, musicians, you have to change Africa. You have to say the truth. Because I am a politician, I cannot say the truth. If I say everytime the truth, nobody will vote for me. But you don’t need anybody to give you a job. You have your job, and people support you, and people listen to you.’

This is why, last time when I went to Senegal, I said what I wanted to say, because the president had told me this. When I came to Senegal I had heard that people were talking about how the president wanted to pass the power on to his own child. And I said: ‘No, our countries are not kingdoms. We are democracies. So, if somebody wants to be a president he has to be elected by the people, not by his father.’

I took my airplane to go to the Ivory Coast, and then I heard in Radio France International that I was a wanted man in Senegal. That I could never come back in Senegal again. Crazy things! I was very surprised, because I remembered what the president from Senegal had told me. And I had even been so proud of him since that day because.. an African leader talking like that to the musicians. I was very surprised. And I said: ‘Okay, I can see that we musicians are very important in Africa today!’ Africa must change! There is a lot of suffering around us, so we cannot see all that and not say anything, and just be quiet.
I hope one day they will try and find a solution so that I can come back to Senegal again.

You have experienced censorship and exile. Self-censorship is another issue. Do you find that many artists in Africa are self-censoring themselves, being afraid of what could happen to them, avoiding singing about issues like you sing about?

I think we are not many because [Video clip begins] most of the artists like to sing something where people can dance and laugh. But I am doing reggae music. I think reggae music is different. Reggae is the music which Bob Marley promoted and made famous all over the world. The voice from the people. If the people want to say something, and they don’t have the right to say it. I am just following the road from Bob Marley. I can sing a love song, but I think the very important is to sing the message from the people.

It is a pity because today the opposition in Africa… because everybody wants to be a friend with the French, or the American, or the Chinese. Everybody want to… you know… So nobody talk for the people. They try to give a dream to the people, but they don’t want to talk about the real situation. We are the friend of the people. It is the people who buy our CDs and come when we have shows, and people support us. So we have to talk for them. That is why I am taking risks all the time. But I think it is important. I want to do that because I want to be in the same way like what I am saying in the songs. I don’t want to say something and then to be doing something else myself.

One time I had some problem, too, when the military came to power in Ivory Coast, it was in 1999. And the first speach was: “We are here to fight against corruption. We are here to tell the politicians to do the real politic.” This was the first speech. Then they stayed six months, one year. And then we could feel it changing, the leader holding on to power indefinitely. And I recorded this speech on CD and kept it. And when it began changing I went to the studio, and I did an album we called ‘The Chameleon’ — the animal that changes colour. I put this album in the market, and everybody thought they would kill me because everybody was afraid of the military. It was in a small night club, and we invited some journalists, and we did a press meeting about this album.

The day when we put the album in the market, in two days we sold 35,000 albums. I remember when I went to my music label to take some CDs, the CD traders said: ‘Oh Tiken, we don’t have enough, you will not come to take away our last CDs, because everybody want to have it!’ This was a big day for me. Because I realised that my music is doing something real for my country. Yes.
[End of video clip]
The Freemuse Award — does it make any difference to have yet another award? Does it give meaning to have a ‘Freedom of expression award’ to musicians?

I think this award is different compared to all other awards I got before. Something special because it concerns the freedom of expression. And my music is music to fight for the people. I think Freemuse has not given me this award because I sell a lot of album. It is because of my fight. And I am very happy, because that means that it is not only in West Africa that people will know what I am doing. You know, it is a project for me. And I am very happy to be the first artist who get this award.

About the artist

Tiken Jah Fakoly (real name: Doumbia Moussa Fakoly) was born in Odienné in the North-West of the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) in 1968 — into a griot family of the Malinké ethnic group. The following biography was written by Lydia Martin in September 2005:

Tiken Jah Fakoly discovered reggae in his late teens and has been releasing tracks since his 20s. He and his group Djelys were well known in the Ivory Coast with regular performances and successful album releases. But it didn’t take them long before they were rocking the political boat at home with their lyrics.

In 1994, the group released their second album ‘Missiri’ during a time of violent upheavals in Ivory Coast. The tracks on ‘Missiri’ were openly critical of the political elite which went down well with the youth but provoked those in power. The album opened the doors for Fakoly as a solo artist and he soon found himself invited to political meetings and playing to stadiums of 20,000.

A new solo album released in 1997 ‘Mangercratie’ went over the 500,000 sales mark on the continent and two years later saw its European release, international tours and Fakoly working with Jamaican reggae maestros.

Outside West Africa, France has become Fakoly’s second fan-base, where he won the 2000 RFI Découverte Afrique award with over 100,000 albums sold and in France he now wears the mantle of the best selling African reggae artist.

In 2002, he was getting recognition in America and was rubbing shoulders with Sly and Robbie, Earl Smith, Tyrone Downie, all working in Jamaica on Fakoly’s new album: Françafrique. And they have all come together again for his 2004 album ‘Coup de Geule’, produced by Tyrone Downie, with Sly and Robbie providing the reggae rhythm section.

As a collection of tracks Coup de Geule is provocative with Fakoly speaking out as he always has. He sings about corruption:

    • “Go and tell the illusion-sellers
    • that our consciences are not for sale”
    • (‘On a Tout Compris’).

About Côte d’Ivoire
More than 60 different ethnic groups live in Côte d’Ivoire, but most Ivorians belong to either the Baoulé (23 percent of the population) or the Mandingo. The Mandingo people are primarily Muslim and from the northern part of the country. They own many of the businesses in the capital city Abidjan. The Baoulé people are mostly Christian and hold many positions within the government.

When the head of the country, Henry Konan Bedie, told the nation in 2001 that Baoulé Christians were the first people to arrive in the Ivory Coast, and that the Muslim Mandingo people were outsiders, young Mandingo men started protesting against the government, which fought back violently by sending soldiers to target and kill them. The capital Abidjan which at that time was a tourist attraction known as the ‘Paris of Africa’ for its beauty and economic stability, became a war-zone.


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  Interview filmée en français


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“In short, Tiken Jah has turned himself into an ardent defender of human rights, a people’s attorney who comes free of charge”
Soeuf Elbadawi, RFI
“Nothing is spared from Fakoly’s harsh lyrics and it’s not easy listening, despite the reggae sound. This is Africa at its cutting edge…”
Lydia Martin, Fly

Read review of the album L'Africain
Tiken Jah Fakoly’s eighth album, ‘L’Africain’ 

Click to go to Tiken Jah Fakolys official home page
Tiken Jah Fakoly was the first artist to receive the annual Freemuse Award 

Press: Download photo of Tiken Jah Fakoly

This interview with the West African reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly was recorded in Dublin on Saturday 23 August 2008 in connection with handing over to him the Freemuse Award 2008.

Click on photo to see video from the event

  Click to read more about the Freemuse Award ceremony

Read more:

First Freemuse Award announcement
About the Freemuse Award statuette
‘Côte d’Ivoirian reggae singer banned in Senegal’

Tiken Jah Fakoly’s official home page:

Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘Tiken Jah Fakoly’


Selected media coverage:

Reggae France – 8 September 2008:

‘Interview: Tiken Jah Fakoly’ (in French language)

Irish Times – 26 August 2008:

‘Arts Reviews – Last weekend’s Festival of World Cultures’

Irish Times – 21 August 2008:

‘Songs that sing against censorship’

RTÉ Radio 1, The Dave Fanning Show – 21 August 2008:

‘The Festival of World Cultures’

Destin de l’Afrique – 21 August 2008:

‘Songs that sing against censorship’

Irish Times – 21 August 2008:

‘Songs that sing against censorship’

– Issue 51, April-May 2008:
‘News: Freedom now! – Tiken Jah Fakoly’ – 11 March 2008:

‘Tiken Jah Fakoly, the first artist to receive the annual Freemuse Award’ – 6 March 2008:

Exiled Reggae Singer Awarded Freemuse Award – 5 March 2008:

‘Musique – Tiken Jah Fakoly: non grata au Sénégal, honoré en Suède’

IFEX – 4 March 2008:

‘African Reggae Star Wins First Freemuse Award’

World Music Central – 3 March 2008:

‘Exiled African Reggae Star Tiken Jah Fakoly first Freemuse Award winner’

SR, Swedish Broadcasting Corporation – 3 March 2008:

‘Freemuse Award till Tiken Jah Fakoly’



Tiken Jah Fakoly receiving Freemuse Award 2008 has been reported all over the world. Below the article you will find a list with links to media coverage.

Feel free to contact the Freemuse Secretariat to report media coverage that might be of interest.


Tiken Jah Fakoly sings ‘Ca va faire mal’ – video on YouTube

29 April 2007

More video clips…


Read more:

Radio Without Borders: Listen to the Banned
Here on Earth – Radio Without Borders, a one-hour live programme on Wisconsin Public Radio broadcasted a special feature programme about the album ‘Listen to the banned’
10 November 2010
Songlines review of Freemuse CD: ‘It is Top of the World’
Songlines, an influential UK-based world music magazine, has chosen the CD ‘Listen to the banned’ as Top of the World in their August 2010 issue
11 August 2010
CD: Listen to the banned
Compiled by the artist Deeyah and Freemuse, this CD compilation album is published on 3 March 2010 by Norway’s most successful music label, Grappa Records
15 March 2010
Facts about the CD ‘Listen to the banned’
Track list, cover photo for download, and general information about the Freemuse CD ‘Listen to the banned’, published in March 2010
03 March 2010
Press release: New Freemuse CD: Listen to the banned
The new Freemuse CD ‘Listen to the banned’ is a unique collection of 14 contemporary songs by artists who have been censored
24 February 2010
Freemuse: Tiken Jah Fakoly recoit Freemuse Award
“Il faut continuer de questionner la corruption en Afrique”, disait Tiken Jah Fakoly pendant une interview avec Freemuse en connexion avec la remise de prix.
02 October 2008
Freemuse: Video interview avec Tiken Jah Fakoly
Interview filmé avec Tiken Jah Fakoly en langue française. Il parle de la situation en Afrique aussi bien que du rôle et des responsabilitées des artistes aujourd’hui.
01 October 2008
Burma / China / Cote d’Ivoire: ‘An Independent Mind’
Tiken Jah Fakoly, who received the Freemuse Award 2008, is one of the main characters in a new documentary film, ‘An Independent Mind’ about freedom of speech
22 September 2008
Tiken Jah Fakoly
Video interview with the West African reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly, recorded in Dublin on Saturday 23 August 2008 in connection with the Freemuse Award 2008 ceremony
04 September 2008
Freemuse: Award ceremony in Dublin
“We have to continue questioning corruption and poverty in Africa,” said Tiken Jah Fakoly as he received the Freemuse Award at the Festival of World Cultures in Ireland
25 August 2008
Press release: Freemuse Award to Tiken Jah Fakoly
Tiken Jah Fakoly receives Freemuse Award in Dublin, Ireland
20 August 2008
Freemuse Award to Tiken Jah Fakoly
The first Freemuse Award is given to Tiken Jah Fakoly from Côte d’Ivoire – an outspoken reggae singer who has tirelessly denounced political corruption.
20 August 2008
Freemuse Award announcement at Music Freedom Day 2008
Announcement of the first Freemuse Award winner: Tiken Jah Fakoly from Côte d’Ivoire
03 March 2008
Radio Freemuse: ‘Music censorship in Africa 2008’
Listen to or download a 15 minutes radio report explaining about music censorship in Africa today. Hear what the African musicians have to say themselves about the topic
27 February 2008
Senegal: Cote d’Ivoirian reggae singer banned in Senegal
Reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly from Cote d’Ivoire was declared ‘persona non grata’ in Senegal in December 2007, after critizing Senegal’s president and calling for democracy
08 January 2008

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