Iba Montana Shakes Up Mali

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.

Ami Yèrèwolo Takes Mali

While Mali is not so famous for its rap scene— and even less so for its female rappers— Aminata Danioko is a rare exception. Known to her fans as Ami Yèrèwolo, she is one of the first Malians to produce her own album and solo tours. Even down to her look, Ami has abandoned the traditional colorful fabrics and crown-like head wraps worn by Malian women for short swinging dreads and casual wear. She has gained a continent-wide following paired with high-energy performances that bluntly address issues such as sexism, injustice, and backstabbers. Ami considers herself to be an activist, committed to the right of women. Her single, “Non À La Violence Faites Aux Femmes,” was so influential that she was invited to present it to the press at the National Museum of Bamako in the presence of the Canadian Embassy’s political advisor to Mali, Miriam Van Nie, and the representative of UN Women, Coumba Bah. The song, written in a mix of French and the regional language of Bambara, calls for the liberation of women and hopes to make change so that the woman are no longer terrorized.

Yèrèwolo’s Facebook page has 99,000 followers and most of her YouTube videos have approximately 40,000+ views. While these numbers may not seem impressive to those who are used to the million-view superstars we have in America, only 12% of Mali’s 18 million population have access to the Internet. Not to mention much of Mali’s music is spread through unregistered file sharing on cell phone networks, making a regional following impossible to track. Regardless, her concerts and shows fill parks and stadiums. One of Ami’s highest achievements was when she was named in the Top 10 Finalists for the Radio French International Discovery Prize held in Senegal. Her positive messages and impactful numbers are giving a new image to her native town of Bamako, Mali.

HHAP Episode 28: Politics & Hip Hop from the Children of Sundiata

This episode is a conversation with Malian hip hop artist and activist Amkoullel L’enfant Peulh on hip hop and politics in Mali. Amkoullel has been involved in hip hop culture in Mali for many years, and he’s been vocal about politics inside and outside of the country. Having lived in France and the United States, Amkoullel is back in Mali where he remains involved in the hip hop community. He is also involved in mentoring artists and working in TV and radio production and distribution in Mali.

A strong voice in Malian hip hop, in this conversation we discuss the political nature of Francophone rap in West Africa, specifically in Mali, Senegal, and Burkina Faso. Amkoullel traces how hip hop artists in Mali developed their own lyrical identity, based in large part on their own oral traditions and cultural identities. 

In discussing the past and current political events in Mali, Amkoullel talks about the roles of artists in social change and the importance of artists  representing the voice of the people when they use their platform on the international stage. Amkoullel also discusses the impacts of the media’s misconceptions of Mali within the country, as well as the impact of political events in Mali on Malian hip hop.

We begin the episode with one of Amkoullel’s early songs, “Farafina”, which was released in 2010. 

The next song is “Maliko”, which was recorded by several Malian musicians, including Amkoullel. The song is a call for peace and an end to violence against women.

Amkoullel is on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amkoullel_a.k.a._ez_ba/ 

Continue reading “HHAP Episode 28: Politics & Hip Hop from the Children of Sundiata”