Not The Rebellion Nor The Revolution We Imagine?
I want to believe that they–the rappers and slam poets, are radical, and committed to fighing power, and transforming the state. I want to hear rhetoric that talks about tearing the existing political structure apart, and rebuild a better and more equitable one. I want to find the true commitment to Sankara, to see mirrored in action, his vision. But I realise, while speaking to Basic Soul, that I will not find any of these imaginary aspirations here with him.
Ouedraogo Souleymane, otherwise known to his fans as Basic Soul, is no revolutionary. A member of Le Balai Citoyen, he refuses the posture of the radical. “I speak softly, and my work does not scream ‘fuck this…’ or ‘fuck the system…’.” The more we speak to him, the more I try to provoke him to offer more radical thoughts, but he refuses to give in. “My music, my rap, focuses on showing people how to live better, and to help themselves.” He smiles, languidly sitting back in his chair as he says this. Basic Soul carries himself with a rather casual calm, seeming to survey the world around him through languid and lethargic eyes. It is as if nothing really bothers him, and that his presence here at the head office of Le Balia Citoyen isn’t a reflection of his politics, but merely an accident. As we proceed through the interview, I find that his responses remain in the ‘safe’ zone, never trespassing into problematic political polemics or denouncements of power.
But could his reticence to critique aggressive be because Basic Soul is a product of the very regime that has now been toppled? I do not ask him this question, but it is one that is provoked by research into the history of the rise of popular music in the country.
There is an irony here that is difficult to ignore. The Campaoré regime encouraged–through the creation of events such as the Grand Prix de la Musique Moderne in 1999, and the establishment of the Centre National des Arts du Spectacle et de l’Audiovisuel (CNASA), a performance space for amateur musicians, and the awarding of grants through the Programme de Soutien aux Initiatives Culturelles (PSIC) , greater cultural production [Somé, 2012, 71]. This very opening, and support, unleashed the voices that took down the regime some sixteen years later. This is also the period in which musicians like Basic Soul became household names, and are today among the most popular and famous rap artists in the country. The very system that enabled his success and fame, is the one that has been torn down around him. Is this perhaps why he is unprepared to condemn the regime as so many of his colleagues actually have done?
“Yes, my music is a critique of the system, of the reality that has been created for me. But it isn’t an aggressive critique.” We are sitting in the Le Balai Citoyen head office. It has taken me a few days to get Basic Soul to sit for an interview. He was evasive about sitting with me, until I found him at the offices one afternoon and had my assistant insist that he give us a few minutes. Now, looking relaxed and comfortable on a metal chair not designed with relaxation or comfort in mind, he languidly answers my questions. “My raps focuses on telling people about how to change their lives for the better. I am not about screaming at the system. I am just a musician, an artist.”
Have I misunderstood the uprising against Campaoré? Have I projected an assumption that the movement, led by Le Balai Citoyen, was revolutionary in intent? In a critique written soon after the elections, Chouli raised perhaps the most troublesome question about the nature of the civic protest movement:
Our time is short. Basic Soul seems content with his responses. Unable to get him to dwell into the motivations and inspirations for his work, or unveil a deeper political and social engagement against the system, I end the interview. But the conversation leaves me asking myself what the uprising was really about. What did I expect to find when I came here? The more I speak to members of Le Balai Citoyen, the more I think that despite the Sankarist discourse, the aims of the uprising that toppled Blaise Campaoré were far more prosaic.