On 3 March in Belfort, France, Burkinabe rapper and activist Smockey began a two-month long European tour, despite having his studio destroyed twice in recent years. The rapper, whose given name is Serge Bambara, was the inaugural Index on Censorship Music in Exile Fellow in April of the same year. Just three months after the awards, his recording studio, Studio Abazon, was wrecked in a devastating fire.
“All my music files since 2001, including my master tapes and those of my productions and clients, were lost,” Smockey told Index in September 2016. Two years on, it remains unclear how the fire began.
Smockey’s studio was also bombed in September 2015 by armed forces loyal to Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaoré. This was a vengeful attack for his political activism and music critical of Compaoré’s regime.
Despite these aggressive and censorious acts, Smockey continues to record and perform, combating different forms of injustice with each track. As the founder of the grassroots political movement Le Bilai Citoyen, which helped to oust Compaoré, he often promotes the progressive ideas of Burkina Faso’s former socialist leader Thomas Sankara. The Sankarist ideology involves advocating for women’s rights, fighting corruption and imperialism, and upholding the integrity of Burkinabe people, all of which are reflected in Smockey’s lyrics. La Bilai Citoyen translates as the “the citizen’s broom,” which is “a tribute to Thomas Sankara, who organised weekly street-cleaning sessions,” Smockey told the BBC.
In March 2018 Smockey told news website Africa is a Country that Sankara’s image was that of “simplicity, modesty, and integrity … a model for anyone aspiring to manage public property”. He also noted that Sankara had the “courage and determination to build a Burkina Faso of social justice and inclusive development.”
Although the uprising of 2015 was successful in ridding Burkina Faso of an oppressive twenty-seven-year regime, Smockey is not an enthusiastic supporter of the country’s current government led by the progressive former opposition leader Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. Smockey is still a watchdog for human rights violations within his country. “The ones who were our friends before the revolution can be our enemies today,” he told Quartz Africa in July 2016. “We helped them have this power, but we are not friends because we are still sentinels.” For example, his song Tomber la Lame takes aim at widespread Female Genital Mutilation throughout Africa.
Despite multiple attempts to stop his political and artistic expression, Smockey continues to create and share his music globally. Over six weeks he will perform throughout Europe, finishing his tour in Brussels, Belgium, on 14 April.