Alpha Blondy & The Solar System - Yitzhak Rabin (1998)

«In the latter half of the 1980s Alpha Blondy put African reggae on the world music map. He has been described approvingly by one writer as “Outspoken, multicultural, and definitely off the wall” (Chuck Foster, Roots Rock Reggae, 1999, p. 135). Another writer has identified some of the reasons for his international success, noting that “As the first African reggae artist to attract an international audience, he has brought a unique sensibility to the genre. Never an orthodox Rasta, he has stayed true to the vision of reggae as liberation music and spiritual celebration; yet he has comfortably adapted the idiom to his own world view and fitted the lyrics to address the issues of Africans.” (Susan Cummings Maroni, The Beat vol. 19#2, 2000, p. 49)

Alpha Blondy was born Kone Seydou in a multicultural village in the centre of the Ivory Coast. He has said of Dimbokro that it is “a small village where all the big politicians went to school. There is a Catholic missionary school that we all attended […] and then during vacations they sent me to Koranic school. In Dimbokro we are so mixed. So do not judge somebody by his Muslim name […] he may go to church, he may drink wine [...] Christian make baby with Muslim [...] The Imam of the biggest mosque in the Ivory Coast [has a Catholic wife].” (Maroni, p. 50). This exposure to religious diversity and tolerance influenced his universal outlook. […] It is not only religious but also national identity that is challenged by Blondy's perspective. He has said that “I don't believe in geography [...] whether I am in America, or Paris, or Abidjan [...] I am living in the big Israel, because creation began in Israel.” (ibid., p.73).

Alpha Blondy's hybrid music expresses the diverse aspects of his unique identity. Singing in Dioula, French, English, Hebrew and Arabic, he has also said that his “secret aim” is “to give the two-coated dimension to the cake: reggae and rock. That's the culture I have in my head.” (Foster, p. 134). Explaining the context of his artistic and cultural development he has said that “This African generation is more rock and roll than African [...[ People ask me, 'Why as an African, don't you play African music?' They don't ask Guns n' Roses to play country music! This African music they relate to is a lot of tom-toms and Tarzan yodels. I call this touristic; this is not the reality today. [...] This pure, wild young African cannibal is over. The coconut tree is over. Now, no matter where you come from, there's got to be a school, a radio. [...[ We're part of that dream, that universal big American dream. [...] So people ask why don't you sing like Salif Keita? I say, 'I wish I could! But I grew up listening to Mick Jagger. He doesn't sing African music. But the one he plays, we love it!' (Foster, pp. 132-3)

The step from rock to reggae came easily. Foster has noted that Alpha Blondy “saw reggae as a natural extension of '60s music. 'The Rastas, [Blondy] says, 'are really black hippies.” (ibid., p. 134). Yet if Rastafari came naturally to Alpha Blondy, it so perturbed his parents that they had him committed to a psychiatric hospital for two years, and in 1976 they sent him to Columbia University in New York to study to be an English teacher. There he became friends with Clive Hunt, the Jamaican musician and producer who would later produce "Elohim". Blondy credits Hunt for encouraging him to sing in African languages. Blondy's studies were interrupted by inadequate finances and by illness and in 1978 he returned to the Ivory Coast where he released his first single, "Briagadier Sabari". This was followed by an appearance on national TV, and this led to "Jah Glory", his first full length recording. His popularity grew rapidly in the region and in the mid 80s he was playing to packed football stadiums in Ghana. The international release and distribution of his music, together with performances across the globe, introduced him to the world market, and he regularly performs to capacity audiences. His collaborations with The Wailers (on the albums "Jerusalem", "Cocody Rock" and "Yitzak Rabin", as well as his use of The I-Threes, Bob Marley's backing singers on "Yitzak Rabin"), is particularly appropriate. After all it was Bob Marley and The Wailers who were marketed as a rock group by Chris Blackwell of Island Records, and this led to them becoming the first Jamaicans to make a major impact on the global musical scene. With Blondy recording in Jamaica (at Marley's Tuff Gong Studio) reggae has come full circle. […] But don't expect a one-way pilgrimage on his part. For "Yitzak Rabin" and "Elohim" he brought some of the above-mentioned musicians to Africa to record at his own 24 track recording studio in Abidjan. […] “Instead of me going to Jamaica, we wanted Jamaica to come to Africa. I wanted the musicians to learn the real Africa, not the stereotype.” (Maroni, p. 49)

But if aspects of his identity appear confused and bohemian, at least to those who do not identify with his universalist message, Blondy is also capable of providing very direct socio-political commentary. […] He is also not shy to give praise where he believes it is due – "Yitzak Rabin" was homage to an assasinated politician that Blondy viewed as a peacemaker.

Alpha Blondy's unique synthesis of music and culture has struck a chord across the globe. World music is all the richer for it. (People.africadatabase.org)

French bio: http://www.kima-arts.com/modules.php?name=Alpha_Blondy

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martin said...

interesting. thanks, radu!

Anonymous said...

Again........you always provide unique artists.


Radu said...