In Mali, there is no rapper who provokes controversy like Iba Montana. As soon as the name is heard in a crowd, you will see a variety of interesting reactions. Some will refer to him and his work as blasphemous, loathsome, unconscious or even “cursed.” Others, especially the youth, will say he is as expressive as he is misunderstood.
Discovered on the rap scene in 2012, 23-year-old Sidi Sissoko grew up in the streets of Kaye, Mali, employed as a mechanic’s apprentice in order to support his mother. His songs are inspired by the disappointments of growing up impoverished and the struggle of having to fight in the street to make ends meet. Through adversity, Iba was able to forge a mind and an identity in his music. He touches on topics considered sensitive and taboo in a country with modest and moral characters such as the birthright, debauchery, politics, and Muslim religion. Youtube videos for songs titled “Gangstar,” “Mali contre (against) Montana,” and “Ou son les Tchalés” generated thousands of views and his popularity (good and bad) caught the eyes of many, including the authorities which costed him several sanctions and prohibitions.
One music video for a song title “Siriké Djo” sparked outrage in Mali’s capital, Bomako. The images show the rapper and company showing off knives, machetes, and marijuana. Adjama Berete, the mayor of the commune IV of Bamako where the video was shot, banned all video clips of the rapper in his commune. This decision was due to local residents who contacted the local official with concerns of violence and disturbances to public order. He also had concerts cancelled in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso (West Africa) due to public disapproval. In the midst of this controversy, videos and photos began to surface showing children imitating his “, using knives, machetes, and even singing his songs on social networks. Iba Montana made a statement defending his art and integrity following the accusations to his character, stating:
“I am interested in the issue of juvenile delinquency in my neighborhood, because I am from this milieu [social environment] myself. It is thanks to rap that I got out of the ghetto. People say that the messages I carry in my raps incite children to violence. Yet, that’s not my intention. If I introduced the machetes in my clips, it is to denounce what happens in the ghettos. Because today, 80% of children would walk with knives and other weapons with them to spread terror in some places … My intention is simply to show this reality and please those who love me. Listen.”
In a society where tradition and religion have a strong impact, the youth in Mali are interested in this rather new discourse that frees itself from societal norms. Iba Montana pushes the boundaries of censorship in his music through provocative and donunciative imagery. Regardless of the ridicule, his lack of restriction will continue to contribute to his popularity and fame as he navigates rap in Mali and beyond West Africa.