Burkinabe music reflects the country’s openness to globalisation

Screenshot of artist Smarty’s YouTube channel showing him standing near the monument of Thomas Sankara.

Burkina Faso’s dynamic music scene is a testament to the country’s openness to a wide range of cultural influences, both from within Africa and beyond. This has resulted in a vibrant mix of musical genres and styles, which have gained popularity both locally and internationally.

Amadou Balaké (1944–2014) is celebrated as an icon of Burkinabe music and was widely regarded as one of the country’s most talented singers. His musical career reflects the evolution of the Burkinabe music scene, as he seamlessly blended traditional Mandé and Mossi languages before adopting Afro-Cuban salsa, during his time with the Senegalese band Africando. Today, this fusion of traditional and modern styles remains a defining characteristic of Burkinabe music.

While not as widely recognised internationally as Mali’s music, the music of Burkina Faso boasts a diverse range of unique genres inspired by the traditions and languages of its peoples. The Mooré language, spoken by the Mossi people (who make up 52 percent of the population in central Burkina Faso), is the most commonly used language in Burkinabe music. Other languages are also spoken in Burkina Faso: the Gur languages, for example, are spoken by the Gurunsi, Gurma, Dagaaba, and Lobi people in the southern region, while the Fula language is predominant in the north. Meanwhile, the Samo, Bissa, Bobo, Senufo, and Marka peoples in Burkina Faso speak various Mandé languages. Together, these diverse linguistic and cultural influences make up the rich tapestry of Burkinabe music.

Yonko, beat-maker and photographer, highlights the important role that local languages play in this music scene:

Do you think that it’s possible to make a name for oneself in Burkinabe music, especially in rap, without using local languages? In my humble opinion, it’s unlikely.

—Yonkō (@AAsHbeats) July 18, 2021

The ethnic diversity and mix of languages have allowed the country of Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso's president from 1983 to 1987, to find a way to create a multifaceted musical identity.

The precursors

Many artists and groups of artists have committed themselves to the development and promotion of Voltaic music (a reference to the former name of Burkina Faso, French Upper Volta, during the colonial era). These groups and artists have written some of the most beautiful pages in the country’s music history: Amadou Balaké, Georges Ouédraogo, Joseph Moussa Salambéré, Mangue Konde & Super Mandé, Orchestre Volta Jazz, Orchestre Harmonie Voltaïque, Orchestre C. V. D., Tidiani Coulibaly & Les Dafra Stars, Sandwidi Pierre and Simporé Maurice.

This video of Georges Ouédraogo is a testament to this heritage:

A new generation embraces modernity

A clear divide exists between the pioneers of Burkinabe music and the emerging artists of the present era. The arrival of modern trends, both locally and internationally, brought about a new wave of musical energy during the 1980s and 1990s, which introduced fresh sounds. Afro-zouk, reggae and other rhythms gained popularity under the guidance of notable figures like Amity Meria, Bil Aka Kora, Solo Dja Kabako, Idak Bassave, etc.

Hip-hop, rap, and R&B trends have also emerged, with groups like Sofaa, Kouma Kan, Clepto-Gang, Yeleen, and artists like Smarty, a former member of the band Yeleen.

In this video, the artist Smarty appeals to the collective conscience of the Burkinabe people.

Zouk and Ivorian coupé-décalé are also among the musical genres that have influenced the new generation of Burkinabe artists. According to Francophone Wikipedia:

Le coupé-décalé est un genre musical né au début des années 2000 dans la communauté ivoirienne à Paris et devenu populaire en Côte d'Ivoire et dans beaucoup de pays d'Afrique subsaharienne durant les dix années qui suivirent.

Le coupé-décalé prend le contrepied du zouglou. Aux critiques du matérialisme exprimées par le zouglou, le coupé-décalé affirme son attachement aux biens matériels, et au regard satirique sur sa société, le coupé-décalé met en avant le divertissement et la mise en scène. Ainsi, «on passe d’une musique engagée et réflexive sur sa société à une musique d’ambiance qui permet de faire la fête.»

Coupé-décalé, a music genre that originated in the Ivorian community in Paris in the early 2000s, became popular in Ivory Coast and many sub-Saharan African countries in the following decade.

Unlike the critiques of materialism expressed in zouglou (another music genre), coupé-décalé expresses its attachment to material goods and emphasises entertainment and spectacle while satirising society. As a result, “There has been a shift from music that is socially engaged and reflective to party music.”

A popular and modern rhythm, coupé-décalé has attracted many Burkinabe artists such as Floby, Dez Altino, Dicko Fils, Imilo Lechanceux, Kayawoto, Huguo Boss, Razben, Barsa 1er, Agozo, Bebeto Bongo, Greg Burkimbila, David Le Combattant, and Sofiano.

In this video, the artist Floby showcases the influence of coupé-décalé:

Here is another video of Moise Ouattara, who finds her inspiration in zouk:

Another music genre making its way onto the Burkinabe music scene is slam poetry. It is one means for its fans, especially young people, to raise awareness and engage people on social issues. Young artists such as Malika la Slameuse, Rama la Slameuse, and lyricist Donsharp de Batoro are among the proponents of this genre of music.

In this video, Malika la Slameuse raises awareness about the importance of children’s nutrition:

These artists’ contributions to the Burkinabe music scene are much appreciated on Twitter.

These artists are Burkinabe, but they do not create what is considered “BURKINABE MUSIC.” Yet, when listening to artists such as Awa Boussim, Nabaloum, Alif, and Floby, there is a common element that defines it as true Burkinabe music.

—Burkiñd Bilã (@sweetybananaa) July 20, 2019

Tradition is not forgotten

Burkina Faso can also rely on celebrities such as Bil Aka Kora, Nabalum, Miss Tanya, Alif Naaba, and many other talented artists, whose music is a blend of old and new sounds. Through their songs, some of these artists pay tribute to the country’s history, while others denounce certain issues and raise awareness.

Alif Naaba’s collaboration with the Senegalese artist Ismaël Lô, in which they say no to discrimination, is a perfect illustration of this:

As mentioned on the website www.musiques-afrique.net, tradition remains very much alive in the realm of music.

Il y a de nombreux artistes très respectés qui font de la percussion (Adama Dramé) de la musique au balafon (SaramayaLes Freres Coulibaly) ainsi que des ensembles de musique et danse traditionnelles tels que FarafinaDjiguiya ou le Troupe Saaba. Il y a également la musique dite world de Gabin Dabiré, qui, basé en Italie depuis des longues années, s'inspire sur la tradition.

Numerous highly respected artists specialise in percussion (Adama Dramé), balafon music (Saramaya, Les Freres Coulibaly), as well as traditional music and dance ensembles like Farafina, Djiguiya, and Troupe Saaba. Furthermore, Gabin Dabiré’s world music, based in Italy for many years, is also inspired by tradition.

A comprehensive playlist of Burkinabe music is available here. Other playlists featuring music from around the world are also available and can be found on the Global Voices Spotify account.

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