‘Sankara’ JP Manova (19h07, Not on Label/Self-Released, 2015)

[Intro : Sample]
"Les masses populaires en Europe ne sont pas opposées aux masses populaires en Afrique. Mais ceux qui veulent exploiter l’Afrique, ce sont les mêmes qui exploitent l’Europe. Nous avons un ennemi commun."

 ‘The working-class in Europe are not in opposition to the working-class in Africa. Those who want to exploit Africa are the same who exploit Europe. We have a common enemy.'

Thomas Sankara, president Burkina Faso, 1983-1987

In a 2015 interview entitled ‘I met JP Manova, the invisible man of French rap’ - originally in French - by Ramses Kefi the very, very famous French rapper MC Solaar refers to Manova as the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ for his secretive, or publicity-shy ways. (Manova asked the interviewer repeatedly why he wanted to meet him). But despite his low profile, Manova offers a fine continuity with the past and the contemporary hip-hop scene in France. 

This track, ‘Sankara’ is a perfect example of Manova’s skill to present a powerful argument, keeping it cool, while skewering the hypocrisy of Westerners looking at Africa, whatever that means; see, for example these great lines:

À ceux qui pensent l'Afrique comme un clip de Shakira
Où le blanc mène la danse et les nègres suivent le pas

(For those who think Africa is like a clip from Shakira/Where the whites lead the dance and the negroes – or niggers, it’s the same in French - follow the steps)

There is a submerged intensity, or anger in this song and the way the lyrics are delivered, alongside a kind of intimacy where the repeated refrain suggests that if you – we – have these questions, or prejudices we will keep coming back to Thomas Sankara, the great revolutionary leader who promised another way forward in the post-colonial era.

From the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Sankara:  

‘Sankara declared the objectives of the “democratic and popular revolution” to be primarily concerned with the tasks of eradicating corruption, fighting environmental degradation, empowering women, and increasing access to education and health care, with the larger goal of liquidating imperial domination. During the course of his presidency, Sankara successfully implemented programs that vastly reduced infant mortality, increased literacy rates and school attendance, and boosted the number of women holding governmental posts. On the environmental front, in the first year of his presidency alone 10 million trees were planted in an effort to combat desertification. On the first anniversary of the coup that had brought him to power, he changed the country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means roughly “land of upright people” in Mossi and Dyula, the country’s two most widely spoken indigenous languages.’

Here is an interview – in French – with JP Manova around the release of his record where he speaks about the values of hip-hop and gives his thoughts on Trap among other subjects.

Manova grew up in the 18th arrondissement, the area in northern Paris where there are large North African and West African communities, he has described how this experience of not growing up in the banlieues  (the poor, largely immigrant neighbourhoods surrounding central Paris) gave him a particular perspective.

As he told the online magazine Le Bon Son in 2015

‘We’re not in the banlieue, but the edge of it; we’re not in Paris, but on the edge of it. It’s a working-class area … where there are workers, immigrants, but also Sacré Cœur the tourist site the whole world wants to see’ (this is my neighbourhood as well, so I appreciate this description when I’m so far away).

Coda: