Page last updated at 23:19 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 00:19 UK

Guinea's musicians echo decline

By Will Ross
BBC News, Conakry

The frustrations of young Guineans have boiled over into mass riots and military mutinies and this has been reflected by a new generation of musicians, breaking a long tradition of singers praising national leaders.

Phaduba Keita

"When injustice becomes law, to revolt becomes one's duty," says Guinean rapper Phaduba Keita.

Most rap stars may not quote French philosophers, but for this 27-year-old, the words of Albert Camus ring true.

"I don't think there's anywhere in the world with more corruption than Guinea," he says.

"Today Conakry the capital is the darkest capital in the world - a capital without electricity, water or infrastructure," says Keita.

On his album A Quand L'Aubaine? (When Will The Windfall Come?) the Guinean rap star asks when things will improve for people in and outside the country.

"It is not just to the political leaders here but also to the powers in the West, because the future of Africa is in the hands of these two groups. It's the intellectuals who hold the power."


There is no doubt that most Guineans are thoroughly fed up with their situation: huge mineral wealth underground but mass poverty above it, and the fingers are pointing en masse at the politicians.

Many are so fed up they are willing to risk the desert or sea for an illegal journey to Europe, and in his hit Le Voyageur, Keita blames poor leadership for this exodus.

Another young musician, Ablaye M'baye - aka Skandal - also lashes out at the country's leadership before singing a line from his hit reggae song Levez les Rideaux! or Open the Curtains!

Ablaye M'baye, aka Skandal
"Everyone says they want change but the politicians want to stay," he says.

"They have tasted the power and they are not working but still get lots of money very easily - the population's money.

"They live well with their families when the population is suffering from hunger."

Skandal, who performs with Degg - J Force 3, says the Guinean people have to "Open the Curtains" and change their mentality.

But he also knows the population has few options.

When they took to the streets early last year to protest against poor governance and lack of leadership, the military and police replied with bullets.

More than 130 people were shot dead.

With the opposition weak, people had put their faith in the trade union leaders who called the strikes that brought the country to a standstill.

Ailing president Lansana Conte was forced to hand some power to a prime minister, but he was later sacked and the lasting change people had dreamt of evaporated.

Motivating people

In the period after Guinea won its independence 50 years ago, the situation was quite different.

In his living room Sekou "Le Grow" Camara is listening to CD of a concert from the 1960s.

"That's me introducing the band," he says as an enthusiastic audience bursts into applause as each member of Bembeya Jazz National is presented.

The trumpet player with one of Guinea's best loved groups knows the power of music all too well, as his band was part of the post-independence revolution.

Old record label photo of Sekou "Le Grow" Camara (left)

"In Africa there's music in everything we do," he says. "Everything is bathed in music."

"The idea of motivating people through the music came after independence. Because [Guinea's first president] Sekou Toure knew that music had an extraordinary impact on the population."

As a national orchestra Bembeya Jazz was pretty useful for the government.

Who do you call on when you are trying to get a national airline off the ground? Three minutes and 21 seconds of the song Air Guinee and the whole population wants to board your plane.

Although Le Grow says the band never directly praised Sekou Toure, it is clear the independence leader knew the musicians played an important role.

The house I meet him in was a gift from the former president.

One of Bembeya's best known hits from 1969, Armee Guineenne, is a song to encourage soldiers in the national army and is still frequently played on state radio - though the soldiers these days are harder to please.

'A mess'

Drive past the military barracks and the dilapidated state of the accommodation is on full display.

In recent months they have mutinied, a chaotic and worrying event that was met with a pay rise.

People still dance to the uplifting independence songs, although not as enthusiastically now.

They talk incessantly about the hope and need for "Le Changement", but do not know how long they will have to wait.

Sekou "Le Grow" Camara
Sekou Camara believes today's young musicians can make a difference
Le Grow, who has watched the country descend into economic decline and political chaos, says the president "has done some good things".

"But since his illness in 2000 he hasn't been able to stay in charge of the country," he says.

"It's a mess which doesn't augur well for a bright future."

He says the chain-smoking president will not step down because his entourage want him to stay until the end of his mandate in 2010.

"If there's a change, they will lose their privileges," says Le Grow.

Legislative elections are due in December, but these have been postponed and there are few Guineans who have faith in any politician - whether in or out of power.

The man who played a prominent political role with his trumpet believes the young musicians can make a difference through their own songs.

"I think they are doing a good job and their message is getting through," he says.

And he says that after 50 years of independence, he also intends to compose a protest song.

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