“Let’s dare invent our future.” – Thomas Sankara (Dec. 21, 1949–Oct. 15, 1987)
Hip hop artist, actor and political activist, Serge Martin Bambara aka Smockey was born in Ouagadougou on October 24, 1971 to a Burkinabe father of Bissa roots and a French mother. Growing up as a teenager in the ‘80s, he witnessed the leadership of Thomas Sankara and like most young Burkinabe was inspired by the revolutionary army captain who ruled the country from 1983 to 1987 when he was assassinated.
As the ’80s began to fade out, Serge was drawn to an emergent hip hop scene which had begun to take shape in Ouagadougou. However, he left for France to pursue studies in food and hospitality services in 1991. In the course of his academics, he made friends with a Cameroonian who was working in a music studio, and seized the opportunity to learn studio programming.
After his studies, Bambara refused to return to Burkina Faso choosing to stay back in exile. In 1999, he signed a deal with top record label EMI and released a single “La Steupie” featuring the female French singer of Tunisian descent, Lââm. By this time, he had adopted the moniker Smockey, which was derived from the French word Smockée.
“La Steupie” was well received back in Burkina Faso and it set the stage for his homecoming in 2001. His debut album, Epitaph was released soon after his return and the strong lyrical content which challenged the authorities made him an instant hero with the Burkinabe youths. The socio-political campaign theme was sustained in subsequent albums and Smockey was awarded the Kundé d’Or for Artiste of the Year in 2006.
In April 2010, Smockey won the Kora for Best Hip hop Artiste in Africa, and dedicated the award to the slain former Burkinabe leader, Sankara in the presence of then president Blaise Compaoré. While some saw the action as impertinence, others saluted it as an act of courage and fearlessness.
That same year, which marked the country’s 50th Independence anniversary, Smockey released 50 Ans 2 Dépendance to highlight that the country like most of Africa is very dependent.
“We are given billions of CFA Francs in foreign aid, even though we have natural resources in the earth, on the ground, in the air. Oil, gold, cotton, solar energy. Nonetheless, we have to face power failures again and again. As a consequence, we often cannot produce music in our studio…”
Running out of patience with the government and realizing that there was more he could do beyond the music, Smockey teamed up with reggae artiste Sams’K Le Jah to create a grassroots political movement called Le Balai Citoyen (Citizen Broom) in 2013. From Ouagadougou, the movement spread through the nooks and crannies of Burkina Faso.
Series of rallies, demonstrations and protest marches were organized by Le Balai Citoyen led by Smockey and Sams’K Le Jah and other colleagues. They hosted conferences, visited universities and met people all over the country, especially youths, sparking a revolution which brought the 27-year old government of Blaise Compaoré to an end with the president’s resignation on October 31, 2014.
In a BBC interview in 2014, Smockey said about Sankara’s legacy that, “It allows us to be more proud to be Africans and to pull out of that inferiority complex, to realize we can accomplish things.” Indeed, the people of Burkina Faso have taken their destiny in their hands to accomplish things.
Afro Tourism salutes the hip hop artiste/producer, political activist, city icon and national hero, Serge Martin Bambara aka Smockey!
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