Musicians continue to be outspoken activists at the forefront of political change throughout Africa, often bearing the brunt of oppression – Angolan dissident rapper Lutay Beirao is on hunger strike in prison, Burundi musician Pascal Tresor Nshimirimana was found dead today and The Gambia’s Killa Ace facing death threats in exile.
Rap activism is inspiring a #LyricalRevolution and Killa Ace has proven that “you can kill a man but you cannot kill ideas.” That is: ideas that bring about revolutions for better change.
In his living room in the former French colony of Senegal, rhyming in its buzzing busy capital, Dakar – are the adorable rap choruses from his daughter Yassin (Lil Ace) and niece Nancy (Lil Jawz). It is the cutest thing ever in rap activism.
Ace is working on his highly anticipated new album, Lyrical Revolution after leaving his native Gambia due to death threats to him and his family. His song ‘Ku Buka C Geta G,’ was featured on Aljazeera, Guardian and the Daily Mail. In a country where its presidents are extolled with praises by musicians, Killa Ace took a different route joining the likes of Bob Marley and 2Pac to denounce oppression and corruption.
‘Ku Buka C Geta G’ was the first song to be famously critical of The Gambia’s tyrannical regime, which is led by the country’s long time ruler, who wants his subjects to address him as His Excellency, Sheikh Professor Dr Alhagie Yahya Abdul Aziz Jamus Junkung Jammeh Babili Mansa.
At the end of the song, Ace did already let people know that if they do not see or hear from him again, we should know where he is. Jammeh is notorious for kidnapping, arbitrarily arresting and detaining, torturing and summarily executing his critics and opponents.
Seeing his daughter Yassin ask him if she can join him in the studio and rapping in the local Wollof dialect means even if after Ace is gone, the lyrical revolution will inspire generations for Lil Ace (Yassin) will carry it on some way, somehow – “Gena Duga.”
“The Lyrical Revolution Album is going to be the same lyrical Ace, although I’ll want to focus more on awareness, civic education and social and economic injustice and youth empowerment,” Ace whose real name is Ali Cham said.
Growing up in the hood of New York’s Harlem borough, Ace was not old enough to see the American gangster era of Bumpy Johnson, Nicky Barnes or Frank Lucas but when he arrived in The Gambia as a teenager, he saw the gangster of them all amid a type of poverty worst than he saw in the projects – Yahya Jammeh, the military ruler turned civilian who rules his native Gambia with an iron fist.
He entered a #FlightMode mentality with an urgency to inspire and give hope to the youths – a positive revolution which encompasses a “type of change that starts from within us: from the way we think to the way we treat one another.”
Killa Ace, also favoritely called Ali Baba Bondehyee is a man who is his own competition. Last month, he released a new single, Jambarr Dawut translating to “the warrior did not run.” He has gone to develop himself to be armed with all he needs to effect change and unveiled his new website www.killacemusic.com on his birthday.
He knows anything is possible if you believe in yourself and will not allow to be pushed by difficulties of being exiled. He instead used the problem to lead his dreams and develop his career. This is the kind of strong believe that runs his #TeamGomSaBopa – meaning believe in yourself.
“If you have these qualities blend with talent, you can make it anywhere,” Killa Ace
Most might think he has found himself nowhere. Yes he could be anywhere but he does not see it as such.
Senegal to Ace is nothing unusual like anywhere though. The Gambia and Senegal were one nation and are of the same people, share the same values, cultures, language and food. The two nations called SeneGambia is the home of Jollof Rice locally called Benachin, which is very tasty with fish and a green stuffing called ‘Ruff’ were separated by the French and the British.
In 1981, Senegal helped suppress a rebellion by Marxist leader Kukoi Samba Sanyang and reinstalling then President Sir Dawda Jawara as president. They later signed the SeneGambia Confederation integrating their military and economic activities. It broke later but the two nation’s economy and security are very much dependant on each other to date.
Ace does not see Senegal as a foreign land. He recently visited Koalack for the Gamo Medina Bai. Ace was in Senegal representing The Gambia in international festivals before his exile six months ago.
He has become a well-respected rapper in Dakar and has appeared in many performances, TV shows and radio interviews. His believe in hard work, dedication and partnership brought him thus far and plans to return to Gambia every day.
“Return we all must,” he said. “Home is where the heart is.”
Harley Leigh is a Gambian producer, who works closely with Ace. He produced the hit song “Ku Buka C Geta G.” He had been following his music before he first produced a song which led to collaboration with Silky Cris called ‘murder dem,’ which did well in The Gambia.
“I have nothing but absolute respect for Killa Ace,” Producer Harley Leigh
Leigh sent Ace an instrument and he did not respond for a month. Quite interesting or puzzling that might be. Well, it was probably a month of hard work as the lyrical Ace put together a record that will break the internet and leave jaws on the floor. He resiliently took time to put the lyrics together.
Out of the blues called Ace wanting to record a song on the instrument and asking to be connected to a studio in Dakar, where he is in exile now. There he met the group Alienzik.
“Ace told me the song will shake The Gambia,” Producer Leigh said.
Remember when we said jaws will drop. That’s what happened to Harley Leigh when he first heard the song ‘Ku Buka C geta G.’
“The first time I heard the raw mix my jaws dropped,” Leigh confirmed.
The producer tried to talk him out of it and to change some of the lyrics, but Ali Cham insisted it is “his duty and ready to face anything that comes with it.”
Not too convinced, Leigh tried Cham again and the answer was consistently the same.
Leigh reflected on the power of music to bring change. He came to realize the song was speaking for the masses.
“It was like everybody wanted to say this but are scared to,” said Harley Leigh. “For me it was like he delivered the message to the world – this’s how my people are living in fear and the poor quality of leadership we have.”
“He did it for Gambia. He was not paid a dime for this. His conscience would not let him sit and watch what was happening to continue unaddressed.”
Ali Cham (Killa Ace) believes in consistency, loves freestyle (which he posts every Wednesday on YouTube and Facebook) to the joy of his fans. He keeps in touch with them despite his situation; they keep him going.
“Check it out. I recommend you do,” he said smiling graciously – referring to his Freestyle Wednesday videos.
He does not know I watched them all. I follow him religiously.
Full of humility, he thanked the people for their support, his unflinching fans and partners “whose encouragement has been tremendous.”
Jambarr Dawut is available on CD for USD 1.
(Reporting from Dakar; Writing by Sainey MK Marenah; Additional Writing by Sam Phatey; Editing by Sam Phatey)